How do we know social media is for real? Because the various marketing disciplines are locked in a critically important tug-of-war that will decide who owns it. This fight will be a central component of boardroom discussions, conference keynotes, and merger activity in 2009.
While it’s true that optimal social media requires the cooperation of multiple disciplines, that’s not the way the business of marketing works. When new tactics emerge, the purveyors of the historic methods circle, dodge, and proclaim that their experience best positions them to manufacture this new elixir. It happened with radio. It happened with Web sites. It happened (and is still ongoing) with regard to SEO and email. Social media is the new battleground.
The four combatants each have reasonable claims to social media ownership.
Because social media often requires making stuff, and can impact overall brand perception, advertising should be in charge of social media. The rising importance of video within social media also favors advertising types.
Because social media is (at least for now) an online construct, the Internet marketing agencies should be in the driver’s seat. Plus, social media has major SEO implications in some cases, and most SEO is still handled by digital specialists.
Because social media is ultimately about conversations, and is non-linear, public relations is best equipped to manage social media efforts. Especially so given the demise of traditional journalism, the importance of blogger relations, and the blurring of the lines between customer and reporter.
Because social media is ideally an extension and manifestation of the brand’s operations and culture, and requires near-constant vigilance and engagement, the client is best able to oversee social media. Comcast is a good example of this philosophy.
There is also a surge of social media firms like Brains on Fire and Crayon. While there is a place for these specialists, they won’t be the norm. There is too much at stake this time, and advertising is just now recovering from the industry-wide hubris that caused them to largely miss the digital wave, giving rise to hundreds of digital agencies. They won’t repeat that blunder.
The outcome of this struggle hinges on a single factor. Will social media become viewed as a tactical or strategic component? Of course, it will be both in practice, but in 2009 our shared understanding of what social media is and how it works will swell considerably. And within that accepted norm will be placement of social media in the strategic (advertising), or tactical (digital) bucket.
As I’ve written here before, I’m a proponent of social media strategy and elevating the conversation beyond whether Wikipedia or Knol is a better platform. I very much hope the social media “industry” tilts in that direction. If it does, public relations is best able to lead the social media charge. They straddle the line between strategic and tactical currently, they are hungry to take on the social media assignment, and their background in content creation and conversation is well-suited.
No question that public relations has a long way to go before they have social media conquered. At present, way too many clumsy blogger pitches and not enough digital savvy. But I think they can and will get there. In the social media tug-of-war, I’m pulling on the rope of PR.
How about you?
(photo by futureshape)