Who owns social media? Again.

Twitterfall on the wall in Telegraph newsroom Who owns social media? The answer is nobody, because it’s the wrong question. Or rather it’s far too simple a question.

That was one reason why Benjamin Ellis ’won’ the Social Media Week debate that I took part in on ‘Who owns social media, PR, SEO, marketing, digital?‘ He won because he wasn’t trying to win it. I always faced an impossible challenge as I don’t actually think public relations should ‘own’ social media.

The first issue is you’ve actually got to define what you mean by social media. Technologists might define it by the technology platforms, marketing people might say it’s about the conversations people are having about your brands, public relations people could say it’s about what people think about you.

There isn’t even a consistent answer to that amongst people in the same industries or professions. Fundamentally it is about communication, the transfer of information from person to person or people to people.

Social media is having a huge impact on every area of businesses and organisations. Everyone has to get to grips with how it affects theirs. And the very nature of social media means that their bit is becoming permeable and the traditional silo structures are becoming increasingly untenable.

So IT needs to own its bit of social media. So does marketing communications. So does research and development. So does public relations. So does customer relations. So does human resources. So does legal and risk. In fact so does everyone. What truly matters is how each of these different people use it to achieve their own objectives, without negatively impacting on what others are trying to do.

The two bits of italics emphasis are very important, because they are why I strongly believe that public relations should have an overall strategic and coordinating role. Public relations is about reputation. It’s the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. That means we are probably the only professionals with a truly global view on every aspect of communications right across the whole organisation or business.

That definitely doesn’t mean that we should be involved in every element of delivery and implementation, but we absolutely must have a role in defining the strategy and overseeing its implementation. We shouldn’t be the people ‘doing’ customer service on Twitter or Facebook, but we should be the people helping to decide who does. Public relations professionals with a responsibility for reputation wouldn’t be as foolish as to let the the marketing people ‘own’ Facebook or Twitter so that they can use it for ‘campaigns’ or ‘conversations’ about what matters to them, rather than what matters to consumers and stakeholders. There are some things that marketing folk can do with social media far better than PR people can. Likewise there are lots of things that PR people can do with social media far better than marketing or digital people can. It’s time for everyone to start recognising this and stop trying to get a slice of the other guy’s pie. Social media isn’t going to kill public relations, marketing or advertising because they’ve all got a big role to play.

That doesn’t mean that the role for public relations is just strategy as there are a host of areas where PR professionals have the most experience and expertise to actually do the implementation. The very core of public relations is about two way conversation so blogger relations, community engagement and issues management are all well within the fold of public relations.

Most of the time when you hear people arguing against public relations taking the lead on social media it’s because they don’t truly understand what public relations actually is. If you’ve always known it simply as media relations or event management then you’d be absolutely right to question its role in leading social media. But if you use a more intelligent and accurate definition then it becomes far clearer what its central role should be.

And finally even the media relations component of public relations has changed fundamentally. No longer is it all about getting your story into print and broadcast media. Today online is just as, and in some cases more, important. One of the rapidly growing areas of business for Wolfstar Consultancy is modernised media relations, helping in-house corporate communications and PR teams to change the way they work to become far more relevant to the needs of modern media.

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.

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  • Anonymous

    Stuart, I think it is time to put ‘the internet’ and ‘social media’ out to grass.
    When you send a birthday card or wrap a present you don’t think much about the nature of paper only what is on it. Now its time to treat ‘the internet’ and ‘social media’ in the same way.

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  • http://www.stuartbruce.biz Stuart Bruce

    David (dphillips4363). You, me and some others might agree, but too many clients still do want to simply ‘add’ ‘social media’ or even ‘digital’ or ‘the internet’ to the mix of ‘traditional’ stuff they are doing.

  • Crystal Barce

    It seems more and more businesses are using social media, but why wouldn’t they? It’s a great tool to connect with large amount of people. I would agree, there’s not a single person or company who owns social media. It’s a communication tool that everyone uses and finds some sort of success from utilizing it.