Social media and online PR- specialist or not

In a post about Bell Pottinger’s launch of a new Search Relations service, Flipper has an interesting take on the spat between Rainier/Custard and Weber Shandwick. The spat started with a letter to PR Week from Custard’s Gareth Davies, in which he argued that Weber Shandwick’s launch of a dedicated social media team was unnecessary.

I deliberately didn’t comment on it at the time as rather embarrassingly Gareth also said “Apart from perhaps a handful of people in Silicon Valley and potentially Stuart Bruce’s new social media focused agency, there are not a lot of companies that can honestly say they know exactly what they are doing across all social media.”

The reason that I’ve picked up on it now is that Flipper draws the parallel between publishers hiring ‘specialists’ to work on online news, before they realised that it actually made more sense to integrate the two and get traditional teams to learn the new skills.

My belief is that for public relations it will be much the same. At the moment social media and online PR does require specialists, because so few PR people have the required skills. But it is such as a core, fundamental part of public relations that everyone needs to get on board.

The role of specialists is more in the application of the skills, so we will always need analyst relations, CSR, issues management, financial etc specialists, but they too will need social media and online PR as part of their core skill set.

XP: Wolfstar Pack Blog


About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://understrictembargo.wordpress.com/ Daljit B

    The original Gareth Davies letter/tantrum also struck me as rather odd at the time. Having read some other blog comments from Custard staff there seems to be an attitude that social media is a cunning ruse invented by certain agencies to get coverage in PR Week!

    The creation of specialist social media/search divisions has always struck me as odd and reflecting a lack of real understanding on how fundamentally the communication landscape is changing. As I’ve written before siloing social media expertise within an agency is not the way forward.

  • Ross Brown

    "At the moment social media and online PR does require specialists, because so few PR people have the required skills."

    I know what you mean, I read this story yesterday where the writer demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of a concept they were accusing others of misunderstanding.

    http://www.wolfstarconsultancy.com/2007/11/21/are-hotels-missing-the-long-tail/

    If you could tell me what "the long tail" has to do with that story, then I'm all ears!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tail

    Something about glass houses and stones comes to mind.

    RB

  • http://profile.typekey.com/stuartbrucepr/ Stuart Bruce – Wolfstar

    Ross, I only partially agree with you. For a start there is a difference between strict definitions and how a term is used. I'm not a huge fan of Wikipedia, but even the definition you link to says "The long tail is the colloquial name.."

    About colloquial Wikipedia says "Words that have a formal meaning may also have a colloquial meaning that, while technically incorrect, is recognizable due to common usage."

    I took the headline to simply be a loose reference to 80/20 which could potentially refer to anything in the post.

  • http://12commanonymous.typepad.com/ Lauren Vargas

    Agree completely about social media becoming part of the core skill set. I am still distressed over basic pr functions not being performed correctly. We need a blood infusion horizontally.

  • Ross Brown

    Hi Stuart – thanks for the definition of colloquial. ;-)

    You definitely saw something in the post that I didn't because the post I read was essentially "why don't hotels do blogs?".

    Other than that, there was a single mention of Second Life – but nothing 80/20.

    I didn't raise the point to be a smart arse (though as I'm off ill today, it probably does mean my 'smart arse gene' is more to the fore), merely to make the point that not even "us experts" always get it right. Yet!

    RB

  • http://www.notetoeditors.co.uk Paul Wooding

    At the risk of kicking all this off again, I don't follow the argument that Social Media relations is an application where as AR, crisis etc are specialists.

    You work with analysts in a completely different way than you do with the media and likewise you work with bloggers and end users (as so much of social media relations is direct to consumer) in a very different way than you do working with traditional media.

    At Weber Shandwick, far from being in a silo, the fact that we have a social media team means that we can have dedicated specialists working across the agency. Quality rather than quantity wins every time in my book.

    Still, I'm going to stop prattling on about this now as the head of the practice at WSW is far more adept and articulate on the subject. I'm just an account grunt.

    1-2-3-4 we love Marine core.

  • http://prday.blogspot.com/ David Phillips

    This is quite an interesting debate. One of the problems that any account team has is keeping up with the combination of client and competitor news and activity, developments in PR practice and the evolution of social media. Add to this the heap of research that comes out every week about the media (of all genre), new and developing forms of monitoring, analysis and evaluation and the implications on daily practice and one feels that there is a need for some organisationational capability that can be relied on to help everyone keep in touch with developments.

    There is a need for specialists who are well grounded in practice to contextualise all this stuff.

    What is happening is that PR is moving from a cottage industry to a professional practice which includes specialists to cover off the wider domains of practice as well as core competence (including a pretty good understanding of internet mediated PR).

    Today, there is a need for expertise in the use of semantic sciences to be capable in networked communication. Last year it was not even on the horizon.

    This is a fast moving environment and there is a place for specialists to spread the knowledge.

  • http://www.sixtysecondview.com David Brain

    We think our digital specialists are like a pretorian guard ahead of the main bulk of us. They are better socially media educated technically and we use them where we need high input, but the agencies that win out will be the ones that make as much of these skills mainstream as possible as qucikly as possible. We have been training, training, training people at this for a while now and spending quite a bit of cash on research to back this up. Social media (and digital) is just the channel through which a very new democratised society is emerging and that is putting new challenges in front of all clients and all agencies will have to grasp this if they are to be in a position to properly adise their clients. Shandwick's structure is much like ours in this and makes total sense.

  • http://topazpartners.blogspot.com Doug Haslam

    Looks like I a merely putting a log on the fire, but I'll add anyway– I always scratch my head at agencies that try to sell a separate social media practice. In PR, our expertise is the communications, not the channels. Agencies who orphan these practices may be doing it as natural evolution (perhpas that is best kept as an internal evolution, invisible to the client?), or as a crass attempt at upselling clients– pay us more if you want us to do blogger relations.

    Yes, it is more work to add more media and sources, but I think more and more clients — those who are paying attention– do not see social media relations as a completely separate and unrelated program.

  • http://jameswarren.wordpress.com/ James Warren

    Stuart, hi. I started writing a comment here but it got so long, the working day expired. I carried on drafting it on the train and somehow it turned into a giant blog post all of its own. My twopenneth after the jump.

    (Please accept this isn't a cynical traffic-driving exercise, I just don't have the time right now to unedit the post back to a comment. Hope you understand…)

  • Mark Hanson

    This is a fascinating debate but lets be honest, I guess most of us are social media savvy and feel that it should be a mainstream skill set?

    The majority of PR people are classic newspaper and magazine jockeys and most clients/brands/organisations are fearful of spending money on areas they don't understand or haven't used before.

    For this reason specialists are necessary. But equally there's a lot of agencies putting out press releases using the latest buzzwords without really having a clue – they need to recruit some specialists!

  • http://www.spotlightideas.co.uk Eamon

    Just throwing this up (I am certainly not an expert on social media which is why I am coming to places like here to learn more) but isn't the key to social media good content? There might be lots of people who are savvy from a technical point of view / understanding the architecture of social media. But that isn't enough either.
    I just think the problem with some PR people is that they are just reluctant to get involved in social media, in the first place (not that they aren't technically savvy.

  • http://www.spotlightideas.co.uk Eamon

    Just throwing this up (I am certainly not an expert on social media which is why I am coming to places like here to learn more) but isn't the key to social media good content? There might be lots of people who are savvy from a technical point of view / understanding the architecture of social media. But that isn't enough either.
    I just think the problem with some PR people is that they are just reluctant to get involved in social media, in the first place (not that they aren't technically savvy.