The depth and breadth of PR – why social isn’t a silo

Who owns social media? I’ve been pondering the question lately. Should it be advertising? Should it be PR? Should it be customer services? Or should it just stand alone? There are numerous answers and there are merits to them all. However, the one I believe against is that social media stands alone. If this is the case you’re against, PR needs to make the case out for a right to the title in at least a consultative capacity. Why? Because the discipline understands ‘depth and breadth’.

Those in the industry will have heard the term ‘depth and breadth of coverage’ many times. In pitches, in client reviews, it’s as common as ‘should we make a Pinterest?’ Depth meaning a wide range of coverage across titles and depth meaning insightful pieces within one particular sector. How can this mantra be applied to social media and in particular, Facebook pages?

Spreading messages on Facebook isn’t easy. Dealing with Edgerank, regular brand page changes and the looming impact of the IPO means everyone is on guard to keep up page likes and fan engagement. When it comes to counselling on this, there are two arguments why PR works: the first surrounds ‘breadth’ in a broader sense. Having a large number of fans increases the credibility of your page. You think it doesn’t, but it does. Apply some offline world logic: if you see a crowded restaurant, you’re more likely to value its quality based on the perceived popularity. Therefore having more fans is positive for a brand, after all, everyone wants to be liked.
The second argument is that engagement is critical – the ‘depth’ argument. It’s all very well having high numbers and so often success is measured on numbers but I would argue that having fewer, but more engaged fans means that you can spread messages, gain feedback and create loyalty for your brand that will last. Think of a networking event – you might have lots of conversations, but the more meaningful ones will be the ones you remember and the people you want to follow up with.

How this ties in with PR is that the industry has the ability to garner both the ‘depth’ and ‘breadth’ of Facebook and social media in general. Broad messages can be spread – think of product placements and competitions. It might be slightly out of the comfort zone, but working in advertising and giveaways into a Facebook plan is an important way of spreading ‘broad’ messages. At the same time, deeper messages can also be interwoven – think of case studies and spokesperson commentary. Finding valuable and meaningful content is what PR professionals are skilled it – they’ve been providing it to journalists for years so going direct to consumers means applying similar thinking.

All too often Facebook and ‘social media’ is placed in a silo and floats around in meetings and brainstorms with no-one wanting to take ownership – perhaps because ROI is yet to be firmly established- but integrating it is more important than ever. I believe that the skills ‘traditional PR’ has fostered provide the platform needed to credibly counsel on social media campaigns in terms of spreading a brand’s message with stakeholders. It’s now the case that as we spend more time on Facebook than reading the newspaper, finding a way to communicate messages via a different channel will be the key to PR’s ongoing success.

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