Last month, The Creative Group (a recruiting firm) posted a discussion about social media and who should own it – marketing or public relations? The discussion pitted Jim Lin, VP of Digital Strategy for the public relations firm Ketchum, against Ted Rubin, a well known social marketing strategist.
As you might expect, Lin argued that PR should own social media. Rubin made the case for marketing.
For most (larger) organizations, this is not an idle question. It can make a huge difference in online strategy, programs and reputation.
To some degree, this is a more contemporary version of the old PR / advertising debate. That debate developed from an even older news editorial / advertising debate at newspapers. There was a time when the ad and editorial staffs at newspapers didn’t speak to each other. There was also a time when the ad and pr staffs at some large corporations didn’t speak to each other. I worked at one.
It’s a question of control, yes, but it’s also a question about an organization’s understanding of itself and the world in which it operates.
Rubin, in his comments, used this definition of marketing: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners and society at large.”
And here I thought all these years that marketing was about selling something. I’ve seen the same or a similar definition for public relations. In fact, this is startlingly close to the definition I remember when I took the accreditation exam for the Public Relations Society of America in 1982.
Rubin considers public relations a subset of marketing, which helps to explain his position on social media.
My professional bias is that public relations should “own” social media. But I’m going to answer the question differently that either Lin or Rubin answered it.
Before deciding who owns the social media function in an organization, one question needs to answered. And answered truthfully. Is the organization focused outward, towards its customers and constituency publics? Or is it focused inward, seeing itself as the center of the universe?
If it’s focused outward, then social media need to be owned by public relations. PR is one of the few organizational functions that (in theory) serve the organization by bringing the external world’s perspectives inside. One of the worst mistakes any organization can make on Twitter and Facebook (not to mention a platform like Reddit) is to be focused on itself – and communicate only its views, its products, its stands on issues, and its news releases.
Marketing tends to be focused from inward to outward, to sell, to market, to promote. Even Rubin’s definition, as altruistic as it sounds, is essentially an inward-to-outward definition.
Public relations may not do social media perfectly, but it will do it better than any of the alternatives.
Image courtesy of ClipArts. Used with permission.