Public relations seems to be winning not only the debate but the battle itself.
A study recently issued by USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism shows twice as many organizations are putting budgetary control of social media relations into the hands of their PR department than those that have given budget responsibility to their marketing department. The ratio is even higher -- 2-1/2 to one -- when you compare whether strategic control over social media is in the hands of PR or marketing.
Jerry Swerling of Annenberg says the reason is that social media "entail dialogue rather than monologue... which is just the opposite of the highly-controlled world of marketing."
I don't see it quite that way.
For a marketing-driven organization -- one that relies on selling a product or a service for its very existence -- social media relations, like the broader public relations, must tie-in closely with the marketing positioning and messages.
I think in most cases, PR people are better equipped to develop and manage a social media presence, but they cannot and should not be doing it in a vacuum. PR and social media activities should support or enhance or personalize the marketing messages.
Social media is a more free-form open forum than traditional advertising venues, so it must be handled a bit differently. Messages in SM may not be effective, in some cases, if they are too blatantly sales-oriented. But ultimately, they should support the "what" and "why" of an organization.
Yes, the dialogue can sometimes be a tricky field through which to maneuver. Since the medium can give equal voice to the Chief Marketing Officer and to a satisfied or a disgruntled customer, there are risks. But the rewards can be tremendous in terms of customer loyalty and support.
I recommend organizations establish a dotted-line relationship, where PR is responsible for strategy and implementation of social media activities, but marketing has open access to what is happening and can quickly become more deeply involved as the need arises, whether it is to help fend off a possible crisis or take advantage of an unanticipated opportunity. I see this approach working well with one of our clients, where we talk constantly to both the marketing and public relations people.
Social media seems to be unlike anything we've seen before. It's like an ocean, whose currents are not always visible until they're about to whip you around. Planning simply can't anticipate every change that the fluids may take, from a ripple to a tsunami. Constant monitoring and a genuine involved presence can help you steer in the best direction as changes take place.
In the end, however, it's largely about conversation... just with a big, unseen and often unknown group of participants.
PR people, with direct involvement and support from marketing, are, in my opinion, best-equipped to steer the ship that sails this conversational ocean.
A personal footnote: This is my 400th post at my 2 cents. Thanks for coming along for the ride.