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Who Does Social Media Belong To?

March 5, 2013

Published here on March 4, 2013

There is a bit of a debate going on in the business world as to which group of communicators should take the reins of social media. Is it a marketing function? Well, what about the ability to pay for placement of a post or tweet? So it’s an advertising function. Yeah, but social media is exalted for the two-way communication benefits it provides. Fine, it’s PR then. But then what do you say to the organizations that scan social media for trending topics that can be used as marketing data?

It’s complicated, and most businesses still haven’t figured it out. Let’s break down how each group uses social media.


How they use social media: Almost all of adverting is about exposure to a product or business. The great thing about social media is that advertisers are able to tailor their ads to you specifically. I just opened up Facebook to check out my personalized ads. On the right, there was an ad for N.C. State bookstores, an ad for melting body fat and an ad for Kejano-Sports – a triathlon company. They nailed it on the head. I’m listed as attending N.C. State, and I’ve “liked” “Fitness” and “Triathlons.”

Does it work? I have only ever clicked on a Facebook ad once, but I am now a loyal follower of the blog that was being advertised. Yes, it’s a triathlon blog. Also, a recent study done by comScore found that users who “liked” a company’s page on Facebook were much more likely to purchase items from that company than the general population.

Organizations can also make use of social media advertising in the form of promoted posts or tweets. If any of you have a Twitter, I’m sure you saw Michelle Obama’s promoted calls to vote during this past election.

Finally, advertising utilizes the virtual worlds created through video games. Despite the ability to teleport as a means to get around, residents of Second Life can proudly display a Toyota or Honda in the driveways of their houses. It’s product placement at its finest.

What social media cannot do for them: The basic notion of advertising – gaining product recognition in effort to boost sales – cannot be fully accomplished through social media because of how social media works.

“An executive can write a blog, for instance, that regularly talks up the company’s goods,” a Wall Street Journal column said. “But that kind of approach misses the point of 2.0. Instead, companies should use these tools to get the consumers involved.”

What’s this 2.0 thing? Web 2.0. It’s more of a theory than a technological improvement, but the difference between this newer version of the Internet and the outdated Web 1.0 is the interactive element. Web 2.0 is all about creating content as much as it is consuming content. The entire Internet is one big conversation.

Advertising is very, very one-sided. Social media is not. Therein lies the biggest problem for advertisers.


How they use social media: A huge portion of marketing is dedicated to research: research on what consumers want, what they like, what they don’t like and how much of that information applies to specific demographics. One of the benefits of social media is that it allows companies to do this research practically for free.

“As a way to obtain consumer feedback and ideas for product development, the online community is much faster and cheaper than the traditional focus groups and surveys used in the past,” the WSJ said. “The conversations consumers have with each other result in some of the most interesting insights, including gift ideas for specific occasions, such as a college graduation, and the prices consumers are willing to pay for different gifts.”

Hashtags and trending topics in Twitter allow marketing groups to see these “conversations.” The organizations have to do some type of follow up research – remember the infamous tweet from Celeb Boutique about Aurora – but this can provide valuable, free information. People who are dissatisfied with a product typically respond by going to the social media page of the company that manufactures that product to complain about it. This is good feedback to a marketing team, feedback that they previously had to rely upon surveys to get.

Marketers have also started creating online brand communities. Examples are Facebook pages, YouTube channels, Pinterest boards and Twitter feeds. 1-800-FLOWERS has a widget on their website through which you can deliver virtual flowers to someone on Facebook.

Lastly, all of these pages, boards, channels and feeds are excellent for SEO (Search Engine Optimization – the better an organization’s SEO, the more likely it will appear in search engine results. This will generate more traffic to the organization’s website.) One key to improving SEO is links to a particular website, links which can be posted on walls, tweeted or pinned.

What social media cannot do for them: Marketing, like advertising, is all about a bottom line: How much of your efforts are raising revenue? While it’s more two-way based than advertising is – since it relies so heavily on consumer research – marketing is still very much about persuasion of consumers and not the reverse.

Social media is a relatively new field when it comes to marketing, and organizations don’t yet have a strong handle on how to use it yet. 44 percent of marketing executives surveyed this past August said they had no desire to use Pinterest at all. Unlike TV and radio, it’s very new territory.

Also, according to a recent IBM study, social media was responsible for a third of 1 percent of sales this past Black Friday. This past Cyber Monday didn’t fare to well either – contributing 0.41 percent of online sales. Twitter contributed absolutely nothing. IBM also pointed out that these numbers represent a decrease from the previous year.

Social media benefits the marketers in providing feedback from much larger groups of people, but it doesn’t do a very good job at influencing those people to change their behavior – one of the fundamental principles of marketing.

Public Relations:

How they use social media: Social media, like PR is about maintaining relationships. With the advent of blogging and Twitter, companies no longer have to rely on press releases or the mercy of traditional media as a way to get their message out to the world. Organizations are becoming more and more like individuals when it comes to an online presence, revealing news through the blogs or congratulating other organizations on Twitter.

PR is based upon two-way communication. The opinion of the consumer is just as important as the opinion of the company. According to PRSA, Public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.Social media is all one big conversation, and through that conversation, the organization and its publics adapt to each other.

The immediacy of social media also helps organizations in the midst of a crisis. They no longer have to wait on the media to host a press conference. More than one company has started a blog in response to a crisis in attempts to keep publics constantly updated. KitchenAid’s leader, Cynthia Soledad, used Twitter to apologize to the public and the President for a former rogue tweet. Using social media humanizes an organization, and the public often appreciates this sentiment.

What social media cannot do for them: Social media hasn’t taken hold in every aspect of society. Obviously users are much more concentrated in the below 50 category, and most social media sites have more female users than male users. AARP is going to have considerably less impact online than is Justin Beiber.

Say a company wants to make a big announcement. If they stuck to only social media, there would be members in its publics that would never hear it. Therefore, traditional media still needs to be included in publicity campaigns.

Other than that, there’s not much PR business that can’t be accomplished with social media. I may be a little biased, but as long as organizations use social media the right way – to generate conversation – then it’s a fantastic resource for PR professionals.

So who wins?

PR! PR makes the greatest use of the two-way, community aspect of social media. Since advertising and marketing are very one-way communication based, they have less of a use of this arena. It’s obviously not worthless to them, but I vote we give the controls to PR.


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