One team pitches editors and reporters. The other posts directly to accounts. One tries to encourage third parties to tell their story. The other tells stories through text, images and videos and reshares the best of what’s created by third parties.
These make public relations (PR) and social media sound like very different kinds of groups within an organization, but they both serve the same ultimate goal, which is to make an organization’s ideas and messages better understood by the communities they serve.
PR, to be sure, has a longer history, stretching back to at least the year 1900 when one of the first agencies, The Publicity Bureau, opened in the United States. Over time, PR has expanded and become more specialized to develop corporate communications strategies to reach investors, government agencies and even internal stakeholders like employees.
Social media, of course, began with early platforms like MySpace and Friendster before really taking off with the arrival of Facebook, Twitter and (more recently) Instagram. These services were introduced at about the same time we saw an overall shift to digital experiences thanks to cloud computing and mobile devices.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule on how social media and PR duties should be handled within a company, especially if it’s a small to medium-sized business (SMB) versus a large enterprise. Some firms have a dedicated social person to post and manage marketing-related content as well as an internal PR person. Others combine PR and social media into one department, or farm out part of the work to external parties like agencies.
Whichever path you choose, be aware of the ways PR and social media activities should complement each other, and think about how to drive greater collaboration between whomever handles each area.
Let’s take a hypothetical example to make this easier: A startup company is getting ready to launch its latest product. In addition to paid ads which it may run across various sites or on TV and billboards, the company has developed content marketing assets to help drive more organic kinds of awareness.
These might include a blog post ghostwritten for the company’s CEO, and maybe a video that walks through the product’s essential features. The firm can post both of these assets on its own website, of course, but there may be a much bigger audience that's interested beyond your site’s visitors.
PR and social media teams could also make use of those assets, but in different ways. For PR pros, those assets might help form the basis of a press release that’s sent out to newspapers, magazines and third-party bloggers that cover their industry. A social media manager might simply send links to the blog post and video to the company’s Twitter or LinkedIn account, or perhaps add a few explanatory lines of context about why its followers should click through.
These are just different channels, in other words. The underlying message can be the same, but it might be tweaked to drive different kinds of action. The PR team might want journalists to respond to the message with a request to interview the company for more information.
Elsewhere, the social team might need to have more details in the content, given that it will be shared to channels where it is consumed directly by customers and prospects who might not be as knowledgeable about the company as the media who cover it.
A press release or statements crafted by a PR department could also become an asset that could be shared across social media through a simple link. That’s not the only way to cross-promote each other’s efforts, though.
Those in PR can include links within a content asset like a press release where certain phrases are highlighted with links for sharing, or where key points are boiled down into a “click to tweet” callout area. This can help make it easy for journalists to get news out on their own social channels, or to quickly identify the social handles of the companies they’re covering.
Similarly, there’s nothing stopping those on the PR team from resharing or commenting on content about their companies on social platforms like Facebook or LinkedIn. Social media teams, meanwhile, should be ready to help amplify the content individual members of the PR team create and post on their own professional accounts.
What if you tweet or share something on Instagram and nobody pays any attention? That’s a lot less likely when you have a PR team that knows the names of the most influential journalists who might be interested in following a firms’ accounts and learning about its latest news through those channels.
Similarly, social media is often a way for brands to get to know their customers much more intimately. That can come in handy when PR teams are looking for opportunities to involve their customers in the work they do, whether it’s a webinar or live event. Those same journalists, meanwhile, can become easier to track and to send direct messages, if the social media team helps out their PR counterparts by building Twitter lists, for instance.
All this comes down to the age-old issue of communication. While both social media and PR team members are forms of professional communicators, it’s how they establish and maintain a healthy dialogue with each other that really makes the difference in how effective they can be.
One last suggestion: if you’ve had social media teams and PR teams operating in silos up until now, look for ways to galvanize a more strategic alliance.
Conduct a chat using an internal social media tool where PR pros can share the questions about social they’ve always wanted to ask.
Get the social team to draft a press release about what they think the key priorities of the PR department are today.
Start the conversation, and then find the best ways to include your customers in the discussion using the best of what each team can offer.