Is Social Media Wasted on PR Agencies?

First, let’s get this out of the way: I know some very smart people in the PR field. Yes, some of my best friends are PR people. But good grief. I’m ready to conclude that many PR agencies don’t really get it when it comes to social media. Either that, or they’re just choosing to frame the discussion in such a way as to greatly limit the potential of their clients’ social media initiatives.

Recently I was made privy to a social media plan authored by a client’s PR agency. The stated objectives of said plan were:

* increase awareness amongst bloggers, influencers and prospects
* enhance company’s image by delivering insight to key online communities
* promote company’s approach to [company’s technology & product category]

Reasonable enough, right?

Except awareness and thought leadership represent only a fraction of the potential return from social media, and in fact (I would argue) place well behind the windfall that social media makes possible in the areas of lead generation and lead nurturing. If I were to have written the plan, the primary objectives would have read:

* drive search-generated traffic and net new sales leads
* use targeted, insightful content to attract and engage with qualified prospects
* expand company’s leads database and community of followers
* educate, cultivate, and nurture existing customers and prospects

So why does it matter? Isn’t this just a question of two different approaches? Aren’t PR agencies paid to generate awareness and propagate their clients’ points of view? All true. In practice, however, adopting a narrow focus on social media solely for PR purposes (just when did social media become the province of PR anyway?) is doing clients a disservice. By viewing social media exclusively through the PR prism, and designing blogs (for example) as platforms for propagating the company’s news and views and little else, clients and their agencies are leaving opportunities on the table.

I would argue that social media can accomplish all that PR firms seek to achieve and yet still be a primary driver of new leads, Web traffic, and the conversion of raw inquiries into educated, qualified, sales-ready prospects. Yes, you can have your social media cake and eat it too.

Moreover, by adopting a more aggressive, response-oriented, lead generation view of social media, companies can expand their community of followers, increase their database of subscribers, generate more search traffic, and in the process, create more awareness, thought leadership, and all the things that make PR directors happy.

In a recent post I outlined some of the tactics we recommend to clients who are looking to generate more leads from their blog and social media in general. For those companies just dipping their toes in the social media waters, my advice is to look at blogs, Twitter, Facebook et al not just as PR tools, but as a key part of their overall demand generation and lead management strategy.

9 thoughts on “Is Social Media Wasted on PR Agencies?

  1. Steve Farnsworth

    Howard, this is a hit-the-nail-on-the-head post. I don’t agree entirely about giving up on PR agencies for social media advice, but I would with a qualification.

    I think PR’s traditional foundation and dynamic is what has put blinders on some very smart PR agency folks. When working with editors you have to walk the fine line between helping them develop an interesting, but balanced story, while getting your client’s message through. While there is no delusion by the editor about the PR pro’s motivation, there is no quicker way to turn an interested editor cold than sound too self-promotional.

    This sensitivity is a healthy talent for the PR professional, but an over sensitivity, or disregard for lead generation, is a significant obstacle when working closer to the customer as in social media. When customers raise their hand to your product they are asking to engage.

    Before I would seek a PR agency’s paid advice on social media, I would want to see their track record. Many have some background. Surprisingly, most are just now starting to take social media seriously.

    I think the best way to evaluate them is to ask what their goals would be if they work with you, and how they are going to measure those goals. If they fail to include all of your points, I would look for advice elsewhere. They just don’t get social media’s potential.

  2. Lauren Coleman

    Publicists have never been called to generate leads and typically don’t even make enough to do that. That is called marketing. PR is a part of the overall marketing MIX. Once we all get that being a jack-of-all trades serves no one, the industry will fair better. Don’t hire a PR person to do a marketers job!

  3. Andy Vincent

    Some damn fine points there Howard. I particularly agree with you when it comes to the long term effects of Social Media. I think a lot of Social Media “experts” are still focusing on the somewhat one-sided view of PR where the entire aim is to get a singular piece of coverage.

    In my mind, I think the real benefit of Social Media is that you can create people that do genuinely like your brand for the work they do – these people will generate new contacts themselves who will in turn hear about the products in an organic way that will drive them as customers and, more importantly, as participants to the brand – not as “viewers” or simply eye balls.

    With this in mind, I’d definitely agree with Steve when he says how important it is to see the credentials before working with somebody but this doesn’t necessary mean new companies aren’t going to be effective – it takes understanding from the client side to really make these relationships work – if there is a good understanding between client and agency then you are bound to find the best results.

  4. @Iconic88

    Fantastic read Sir.

    This post would rub some people the wrong way, however, your points are hugely relevant and on point.

    You’ve intelligently outlined some great points:
    1) defined the objectives more for PR.
    2) Narrowed it in scope to be more pertinent to the tools used, namely tools for the ‘social web’.
    3) Asked better questions to answer ‘how’ to quantify the qualitative nature of ‘conversations’ in a coherent manner for businesses.
    4) Focused the prism towards measurable objectives.
    5) Looked at the entire campaign from the prism of the client.

    All agencies can do this. The question is, who is willing to ask better questions within the realms of PR for their client.

  5. John MacDaniel

    Howard, well said, and I certainly agree with you. However when I read people talk about engaging, educating, cultivating and nurturing customers and prospects I can’t help but wonder who was doing that before Social Media. In many cases it was the company’s Call Center or Contact Center that was a part of that equation. Who better to engage one’s customers and prospects that the people that currently do it through other channels such as phone calls, emails, and live chat? Eventually internal PR and Marketing departments will most likely feel overwhelmed with the sheer volume of Social Media activity and as with previous channels the Contact Center will be the resource that takes the lead.

  6. Tim Patterson

    After looking at this article and mulling it over for a couple of days I realized I’m already doing a lot of what you discuss, albeit on a small scale. I give away e-books, special reports, prep sheets and other items to tradeshow marketers. On some things I look to capture a name and e-mail address; on others I’m just giving it away because people like to get free things with no strings attached.

    As a result I’ve been asked to contribute articles to online magazines and blogs; do a regular column on tradeshow marketing; appear on podcasts (I do my own podcast as well) and have even been used as a primary source in an expanded article on Social Media in Exhibitor magazine. Folks have reached out to me to pick my brain on how they can ‘do’ social media because they see me doing it.

    Makes me wonder what the hell I could do if I actually had a actual organized plan.

    Glad I found your blog – great stuff…(thanks to Steve Farnsworth who pointed me here).

  7. Sherry Ramm

    Great article Howard.. From someone who has built marketing and social media at multiple companies, I’ve experienced that social media cannot sit primarily with an external PR team. Even if they “get it” there must be an internal driver steering the ship. There are too many touch points internally and to the eco system and content must be incredible. They can be a great partner but I never found them to drive with the daily focus and intensity that my team would. The good news was that I could drive it extremely effectively internally with a very social media savvy jr marketing person. While that person drove hard, they were a huge value-add to the entire PR and even AR and lead gen initiatives because Social media crosses everything. My goals and results were hard based in metrics and not just limited to the obvious (followers, friends, retweets, other engagement aspects). I had metrics for how many customers we got engaged in the content (a cornerstone of great content), how many key influencers could we “interview” or get engaged in our program. After all, great content is the lynchpin to success.

  8. Jim Bob

    When companies stop relying on PR to be their entire Marketing campaign, then you will see social campaigns start to preform at their potential. As someone who works for a PR agency, exclusively in Social Media, the first thing I tell my clients is that Social Media only represents 30% of resources for a successful campaign. The second thing I say is that if you don’t have a Marketing Director creating content, helping to drive traffic and handling the traditional marketing efforts, success will be limited. The third thing is that Social Media is NOT Marketing! It’s about being social. Any idiot can post a message, but can that message invoke a conversation? That is what a good Social Media campaign does, it is the catalyst of conversation. This is a classic example of someone without any knowledge making a decision. This is why you hire a consultant…


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