Social media is easier than PR

FutureComms14 Last week I spoke at the FutureComms14 conference and one of my remarks during the panel discussion on the ‘Anatomy of the Modern Communicator’ sparked quite a bit of feedback, both online and in subsequent offline discussions. While talking about recruiting I said that I’d always prefer to recruit a PR person as it was easier to teach a PR person social media than it was to teach a social media person PR.

It had some people nodding in vociferous agreement and others shaking their heads and tweeting in dismay.

I stand by the remark and find it remarkable that anyone would dispute it. Public relations is a very broad discipline with a wealth of specialisms and a large body of academic knowledge to draw upon. You can’t quickly, fully teach public relations strategy and theory on the job. It easier however to train people in the individual skills and tactics that are part of the public relations toolkit. Indeed what’s in that toolkit is constantly changing and updating, but the fundamental principles of reputation management, engagement, dialogue and relationship management remain. The danger of recruiting a social media expert is that you get someone who is brilliant at using Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, but doesn’t know how to use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for real strategic public relations.

Of course it is far more complex than that and if I’m recruiting a specialist role such as measurement, analytics and evaluation then I might look at a social media specialist. But, I’d also want someone who was able to evaluate other aspects of public relations so an amazing ability with social media analytics wouldn’t be enough when the alternative was someone with broader PR evaluation skills and the ability to learn social media measurement. Likewise if I was recruiting a media relations manager as part of my PR team I might consider a former journalist, who I probably wouldn’t consider for a broader PR role. But once recruited I’d still want them to undertake formal continuous professional development and study for professional PR qualifications such as the CIPR diploma. How else could they understand how their role and specialism fitted into the bigger picture?

I wonder if the outrage would have been the same if we’d been talking about law? There are some brilliant lawyers who specialise in social media law, but first and foremost they are lawyers. It’s exactly the same with public relations. If you want to specialise in social media, then first and foremost you must be a public relations professional. Exactly the same would apply if we were talking about marketing.

This observation is also based on training hundreds of PR, marketing, digital, social media and communications people in more than 30 different countries.

It’s also important to remember I was speaking at a conference on the future of the communications profession that was attended mainly by PR, communications and marketing people. I therefore wasn’t talking about the wider ramifications of what is becoming known as social business. Indeed, I’ve argued before that there are still very few social business experts as what we currently have are people from a wide range of different professions including PR, marketing, advertising, law, customer service, human resources, finance etc who understand and have experience and expertise in social. Working together they can begin to re-imagine businesses and organisations as more social entities without the rigid silo structures that currently exist.

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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