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Who socialises business strategy – PR or marketing?

To many, the reputational importance of publicly speaking to anyone and everyone on social media means that public relations is best placed to devise an organisation’s social media policy.

Therefore, when social media strategist and consultant, Matt Jackson, tweeted that it was a marketers job to socialise business strategy it raised a few PR eyebrows.

We invited Matt to expand on his thoughts and for Founding Chartered PR practitioner Ella Minty to put the case for public relations being the social voice of any organisation.

Why should socialising a business strategy belong more to Marketing? And who currently is more likely to be responsible for this?

Matt Jackson: I realise this is quite a sweeping statement, given that it sits within a 140 character limit for a tweet. It’s a quote, which I heard a lot when I first started working in social media around 8 years-ago but I was never able to attribute it to anyone. At the time and working with FTSE 100 companies, it represented exactly how I felt about ownership of social media channels within big business.

Back then, social media was seen as extra channels through which they could broadcast their advertising campaigns and it was all very sales oriented.

However, in the intervening years, Marketing departments spent a lot of time, effort and money on creating a social media strategy separately to their overall business strategy. In my personal opinion, it’s more important to focus on your business strategy and identify the opportunities within its framework to be more social.

In my experience, the businesses that thrive today when it comes to social media are those that have a dedicated social media team, which sits between all the other departments on an equal footing.

Ella Minty: Today any business strategy needs socialisation: it needs to reflect the values, ethos and purpose of the business and how those relate to or serve the interests of all groups of stakeholders/society that organisation operates in.

PR is, as far as I am concerned, the lifeblood of any organisation – it’s the relation that that organisation has and can foster with its ‘publics’.

However, I am not sure that many organisations understand the importance of ‘socialising’ their mission and activities – I’ve seen various departments in charge of just a section of this process, namely pushing out the interests of the business, without paying the importance required to the feedback received from the ‘outside’.

Do we mean social media strategy or are we looking at deeper business goals?

EM: This is a significant error, one which I may say is not as rare as we would think. Social media is just a channel of communication and engagement, nothing more and nothing less. It has the power to influence an organisation’s publics, consumers, service users but that influence is still a long way from being translated into actual business impacts.

Social media, if done appropriately, can ‘socialise’ the business with a segment of the population. And to give you an example which would probably help clarify this segmentation further, Rolls Royce Motor Cars has over half a million Twitter followers – does this mean that every single one of those followers owns a Rolls Royce or has the ability to bring Rolls Royce to the brink of bankruptcy? Absolutely not! And how likely is it for a potential Rolls Royce buyer to check the manufacturer’s Twitter feed to see whether buying a Rolls Royce is a good purchasing decision? Let’s be serious here – social media can be a powerful marketing and PR tool for many businesses and Government departments, while it is completely irrelevant for others.

MJ: Initially, I was only concerned with social media strategy as that was my area of expertise. However, experience has shown me more and more that social needs to be considered at a much deeper level. Companies that have placed social firmly at the heart of their business goals continue to enjoy massive success both socially and in terms of traditional business metrics. Social isn’t just about Facebook and Twitter anymore, it’s also about social responsibility, communication and removing old-school preconceptions of the faceless corporation.

Brands that are often held up as great examples of this tend to be in retail, like Starbucks, Nike, T-Mobile, Red Bull or Innocent. Mainly because they’ve embraced and encouraged a social culture within their stores as well as higher up in the organisation and deeper within their overall goals. But the beauty of social media is that any business, of any size, can achieve the same results.

Are the goals of PR and marketing professionals the same, and therefore who takes responsibility for ‘socialising’ is more a matter of method than outcome?

MJ: Ultimately, both Marketing and PR groups’ goals should be aligned to the overall success of the business and if both are invested in a social first culture early on, then they should be working together to leverage the opportunities that presents.

I think it very much depends on the business you’re in and the responsibilities already ear-marked for PR and Marketing. In general, business is still very much fixated with separating the traditional roles of PR and Marketing in a very rigid sense. I think in the modern business world there is an overlap of skills, roles and responsibilities in the social arena which should mean a blurring of the lines as to where social sits within any business. There is no right answer that will work for every company out there, it’s very much about working out where it sits in your organisation and developing your own structure and style that suits.

EM: With all due respect for the marketing professionals, I very often make this analogy when it comes to PR and Marketing – PR is the body and Marketing is the clothes.

The clothes, if put on a skeleton or lay flat, don’t look the same as when they are put on a nice, taut body. The same goes in business terms – regardless of the advertising spend, marketing collaterals and all the other efforts they put in, the proof is in the pudding as they say: can you offer the service you claim you do? Is your product as good as you claim it is? Will it change my attitude/behaviours towards significant issues/concepts? How can you prove it does? How have you changed or improved the lives of the people in the communities you work in? 

Does ‘socialising business’ fall better within the measurement framework of either PR or marketing?

MJ: It’s important for businesses to realise that in the digital age you cannot necessarily expect to shoe-horn social measurement into any existing measurement framework.

As a still relatively new medium, social hasn’t necessarily been subject to the intensive focus or pressure to deliver valid and rigorous measurement and evaluation of its activity that PR or Marketing has.

EM: We moved – at least I hope so – from measuring column inches and assuming that significant media coverage is the key to everything we do in PR. It isn’t.

We need PR to investigate, analyse and validate the business decisions and their overall impact on the perception of the business. We need Marketing to inform the purchasing decisions and the customer value propositions of the business. To me, PR is strategic and Marketing is tactical.

Is the fact that we’re even having this discussion further proof that PR and marketing are converging?

EM: My honest answer is no, I do not think so. What I strongly believe is that Marketing and PR should co-exist and be run as separate business functions because they are so divergent in terms of their approach to research, analysis, influence and impact on the business. This is not a competition and we should stop trying to merge them. I am of the opinion that an experienced PR person would find it is easy to lead a Marketing Department – my experience has taught me that it is very difficult for a Marketing practitioner to run not just a PR department, but the entire suite of Strategic Communications functions.

MJ: I think we’re looking at the next stage of evolution in digital PR and Marketing. We’ve already seen the emergence of community managers, social media managers and social media marketers, but now I think there’s an argument for more. What those roles will be remain to be seen, but it is an exciting time to be involved in the shape of things to come.

Image courtesy of pixabay

Rob Smith

The editor of Influence, I'm a reporter with a background in business journalism.

Posted in Editor's Picks, Public Relations, Social Media

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