A recent round of discussions on several blogs debating whether or not the PR or Advertising department should be the owner of corporate social media. To be frank, neither of these sits right with me. Social media requires a blend of PR, traditional marketing and old-fashioned relationship-building networking skills. Enter the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and its growing claim that corporate social media is indeed WOMM.
I had a chat with local social media star John Bell about this very topic. He started talking about social media and WOMM as a separate discipline (the topic came up because he’s attending this week’s conference). It should be noted that John sits on the board of WOMMA, a relatively new trade association trying to build measurement, ethics and best practice standards.
My ears perked up. John’s onto something, because as Susan Getgood likes to say, “the lines are a-blurring.“ The reason why social media doesn’t fit into either box is because it requires a blend of all these skills and more. As such, neither PR or advertising is well suited to own social media. It might be a new animal all together.
My past experience involved several years business development for agencies like TMP Worldwide and Widmeyer. In those roles I had to know and understand more than PR. I learned the full gamut of marketing strategy and disciplines to represent my firms’ full offerings intelligently.
When I see excellent social media programs there’s more there. Intelligent brand strategy, compelling calls-to-action, and good salesmanship — which is the art of building long-term customer relationships (a la Dale Carnegie).
Why It’s Not PR or Advertising
By definition, PR means building goodwill between and organization and its community. As such, social media tools naturally fall under this umbrella. However, in general (outside of many friends  already engaging in social media), I don’t believe that the PR industry will ever get it.
The latest round of PR snafus (Andersen, etc.) nailed the coffin for me. And to be frank, anytime PR comes up the discussion always gets mired in blogger relations. Please Note for the Record: Blogger relations makes up a very small part of social media marketing.
But PR may never escape its entrenched media relations history. In fact, most companies see other forms of social media, community development, blogs, creation of applications and videos etc. as a new independent function. And they’re right, because PR types want to control the message and can’t function in this type of role.
Similarly advertising offers great tools, in particular brand management. Great social media communications demonstrate a clear value proposition to communities. In essence, communications understand that they are promising an experience to a community, and seek to back that up with valuable information that stakeholders actually care about. Also, consider the use of RSS subscriptions, etc. as calls to action.
But at the same time, advertising, direct mail and other marketing communication forms are one-way. They are meant to compel people to buy, and do not allow for a conversation. By its very nature, advertising flies in the face of conversational marketing.
I’m not sold on WOMM as the solution for this discipline conundrum. But, I’m listening now.
Tomorrow marks the start of the Word of Mouth Marketing Summit, WOMMA’s annual event. It’s the one show that I regret missing this fall as the agenda looks like advanced social media marketing versus the usual 101 discussion. We’ll see what reports come out of Vegas.