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PR getting the social media budget

Written by Simply Zesty on

So the numbers are in, and it's not good news for us specialist agencies! According to a report issued by USC Annenberg , apparently 25.4% of corporate participants in the survey gave 81-100% budgetary control of social media to PR/Comms. With 12.6% claiming they gave the same amount of control to marketing, PR is clearly winning out. And it's a battle that's been long-fought and probably won't go away any time soon. While the report covers many interesting areas of social media marketing, including how organisations rate the different areas of social media, it's the budget part that I'm interested in!

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="240" caption="Courtesy of Bright Tal(Political)"]

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The landgrab

For us in the social media industry, we'll all be familiar with the landgrab that's currently going on. Ever since the concept of social media emerged, different industries have tried to claim it as their own, be it marketing, PR, advertising or search. Due to the conversational nature of social media, it's not too surprising that PR are the ones getting their hands on the social media budget. I still maintain however (well, I would!) that social media marketing is a specialism and an industry in its own right, separate to any existing communications method. You can certainly see the slant that different marketing agencies take towards their social media efforts - the web companies build an app, PR invite bloggers to a launch and the advertisers pump their dollars in to buy fans.

This typical fragmented approach misunderstands social media. The problem with making social media fit into your established marketing methods is that it kind of misses the point. It isn't about one app, or one launch, or one set of ads. It is about a combination of all of these contributing to a unified social media strategy. It is also about using the method that fits the product, service or audience.

So who owns social media?

The debate has been going for a while and it still doesn't seem like we're coming to a conclusion. The problem may well be with the question itself. If you ask yourself 'who owns social media?'  the answer is of course - everyone. Social media in that sense is the sum of the content that people create. A more worthwhile question which may help us get somewhere, is actually 'who owns social media marketing'? Asking it in the first sense - who owns social media?- leaves us with the answer that it's a medium, therefore no-one owns it. When you come to think of it as social media marketing however, that's when you find a more meaningful answer. It's the difference between asking 'who owns TV' and 'who owns advertising'. The second one is easy to answer and we know which agencies look after that.

It comes back to my earlier point in arguing that social media marketing can be carried out by a particular agency with their own slant on it, such as apps, online press releases etc.. But this is using a particular tool of social media. In my opinion, it is not a complete social media marketing strategy in itself. It also comes down to the fact of what you're using social media for. To raise awareness, increase sales, source product innovation, customer relations, product launch. More often than not, it is a combination of all of these! That's why it's important to remain flexible in your approach to social media. In reality, it doesn't really work to say we're doing social media for X , but we don't want to answer questions on Y.

To reiterate the original survey, it's interesting that this points to who is getting control of the social media budgets, but not where this is ending up. (And let's remember that the survey only asked who gets control out of marketing/PR, and didn't include social media agencies within this). It is often the case that it's the PR company who then outsources the social media activity to specialists. It falls within their remit, but not directly within their service offering or capabilities.  Whether this is sustainable is questionable. The role of PR and social media marketing can be very different and it likely points to the fact that as social media is so new, brands would like it handled through a more established partner such as their PR agency. Or that the PR company is enlightened enough to realise when something needs the support of social media. I wouldn't suggest that such a 'hands off' approach is advisable for a company, as there's little point in doing social media if you don't really want to get your hands dirty.

Clearly we are at an exciting point in social media, where all these questions are being debated right now.  It may well be a while until the debate is decided, if it ever is. Take the example of public relations. It certainly wasn't the case that PR just 'emerged' as an industry in its own right. It was largely pioneered by one man, (or two, if you consider Ivy Lee) who employed disciplines from psychology and propaganda, in much the same way that we're now seeing social media 'borrowing' from other areas, while emerging as a practice in its own right.

It's important to remember that compared to other marketing areas, social media marketing is really still in its infancy. Where the marketing dollars end up is going to shape that industry and I would hope for more of a shift towards specialist practitioners, in the interests of advancing the industry the way it should be.

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