An old boss of mine used to describe finding the right niche for his employees by co mparing running a business to driving a bus. In order for the bus to run smoothly, all the riders need to find the appropriate seat. I could groove on this notion, because after a certain amount of time at one seat on his “bus,” I switched to another and found it a far more comfortable ride. The idea is that the more comfortable an employee is in their role, the happier they’ll be—and happy employees are good for business.
But what about the tools of business? Do they need their own seat on the bus or should they be a part of the whole?
Todd Defren recently questioned whether it was necessary to segregate social media into its own division within PR firms. He rightly argues that social media skills should be a part of every PR pro’s arsenal; why bother having social media “specialists” or “divisions” when everyone at an agency should be learning how to use new media to more effectively communicate their clients’ messages?
The idea of a social media “expert” is something I’ve seen batted about plenty, on Twitter in particular. I recall Jeremy Pepper and Kami Huyse’s recent engaging back and forth regarding whether anyone should really call themselves an “expert” in social media. According to Jeremy, no one is a social media expert, and shouldn’t bother trying to be one—what they ought to be doing instead is using social media knowledge as just one more tactic in a wide-ranging set of skills. We don’t need social media gurus operating behind closed doors, separate from the rest of the profession. What we need is education, from the student level on up. Segmenting social media into a specific department will only encourage those who willfully don’t get it to continue to not get it, and to feel entirely justified in their ignorance. This is dangerous; that ignorance is no cure for the industry’s current reputation crisis.
Kevin Dugan and Richard Laermer of the Bad Pitch Blog appeared on Luke Armour’s podcast today, and dedicated an entire portion of the show to the recent poor publicity for the PR profession. Someone pointed out that journalists complaining about annoying publicists are actually nothing new. What is new is the level of publicity this whining is getting. No reporter back in the day would publish the names of every publicist who drove him batty with spammy press releases, and no newspaper editor would allow it. Bloggers are their own editors, and some of them have quite a bit of juice, pushing the issue of poorly managed PR campaigns into a very hot spotlight.
This brings us to a new issue raised by Geoff Livingston: which facet of business “owns” social media? Is it truly PR, or do marketing and advertising win out? Jeremy has already argued that advertising, with its slick, sexy campaigns, will win the day unless PR shapes up. My reaction to these debates tends towards the idea that there is room in social media for many different aspects of business. Why the talk about winning relative “ownership” of such a complex medium?
Perhaps, because social media is all about building relationships and engaging communities, people assume that public relations should be the only industry that can truly understand how to best utilize those relationships. Not to mention that traditionally speaking, advertising and marketing are more about manipulation and trickery, and talking at an audience rather than with a community. But much has been made recently of the ways that public relations as a profession has been forced to change with the times—who is to say that other aspects of business aren’t also being forced to make those same changes?
Just look at mainstream media. Is there a major newspaper operating online right now that doesn’t have its own blogs? Even the curmudgeonly New York Times has gone 2.0, allowing reader comments on its online content.
The social media revolution has far reaching implications. Attempting to allocate it as a single resource of a single element of corporate America is a misguided and futile effort.