What is Social Media? Advertising? PR?

PR excels at messaging, but advertising focuses on results. So where does that leave your social media marketing?

Who manages your company’s social media?

The social world for marketers remains a space where rules are yet to be written. But whether you think of social media as PR or marketing matters: It changes the tenor and the implications of your interactions, not to mention what you get out of them.

Is Social Media Advertising or PR?

Most companies view their social efforts as a form of PR, thanks to the dynamic nature of the interaction between their brand and consumers. But as social media objectives evolve from “creating buzz” to delivering return, it’s important to view social media through the lens of what you want to accomplish to determine who on your team should own your social media efforts.

The PR argument is simple. Social media is a real-time, open dialog between company and customers. This environment requires the kind of rapid turnaround and message controls that PR groups excel at. PR knows how to stay on message and manage a diverse group of stakeholders to deliver a message across a variety of touchpoints. They have the press and media relationships to make sure the message spreads more organically. And PR knows how to conduct damage control when this all goes horribly wrong, which it inevitably does at times. Clearly this is a PR function…

…But not so fast. Social media is maturing, evolving quickly from just a place to communicate to an environment that can help sell and inform messaging. Many people “like” and follow companies not to be part of a community, but to stay connected to products, promotions and developments. For instance, while they have a huge Facebook audience, few people “like” Charmin on Facebook to share their thoughts on toilet paper usage. The real interaction is around sweepstakes and promotions that drive activation.  Increasing business investment in social media is coming in conjunction with new capabilities that enable tracking through conversion. That’s clearly an advertising metric.

So the argument for viewing social media as a form of advertising is simple: Advertising is far more connected to day-to-day business strategy and the objectives associated with specific products and services. Advertisers are focused more on achieving measurable results and meeting actual sales goals. As investment in social increases, return on investment will become an increasingly important metric. And social media will need to be closely aligned with product news, promotional offers and customer segmentation to drive real success. In other words, the expertise required for future tangible social success clearly lies with the advertising team.

So what’s the right answer for your company? It really comes down to what you are looking to accomplish in social in the first place. The best way to decide is to look at the goals you use to define success. Are share of conversation, buzz generated or customer care metrics the ideal measures of success? If so, your efforts may be more PR oriented. But if you look ahead and see social playing a greater role in generating response, sales and other metrics that you would typically associate with advertising, then you’re thinking of social as advertising and should be developing plans, metrics and messages as part of your overall marketing communications efforts.

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