Social Media – PR or Marketing?

Social Media has traditionally been the forte of a digital marketer, but lately there is a growing trend of this channel being handled by the PR department instead of marketing. Social Media in essence is a digital communication tool and is one of the most important channels in the arsenal of a digital marketer. It is used for most marketing objectives, from brand awareness to advertising and sales and forms a big part of a consumer’s attribution journey while driving traffic to the website, but it is also a communication tool which is usually handled by PR. So while both have very good reasons how would a company decide what their direction should be?

First let’s have a look on how PR has changed of recent:
Public Relations has always been viewed in two extremes, a lot of ‘media relations’ and socializing with the other extreme of lots of writing of press releases and their distribution. But in the last few years PR has changed quite drastically and has earned its place at the digital table. About a few years ago, as more people turned to online sources and social media as a source for their news (if it’s not on Twitter it didn’t happen), PR professionals realized that a press release just wont cut it any more. Even if there’s huge brand power behind it, in today’s overly cluttered world of content creation traditional media sources were just not effective in distributing news and building relations. So PR has had to adapt and change and like marketing has shifted to digital to stay relevant. So let’s look at these changes and why as digital marketers we should pay attention to them.

The death of the press release.
No one reads press releases any more. Yes it’s still done because its a corporate statement and needs to be sent to media and published online, but the bottom line is no one reads them. PR has had to change their strategy by changing the way they create and distribute content. Instead of releases they started focusing on stories (sound familiar?) which was then distributed on social media channels by marketing. Content for these stories was usually sourced from consumer & employee experiences and their reviews (UGC). PR started relying more on social media for their content as well as for distribution which meant working closely with marketing. To do this they also had to adapt their overall tone of voice from corporate to social. Tone of voice and language is usually set by Brand marketing which is a big change for PR and to measure the success of PR activities, most have subscribed to a media monitoring service which picks up brand mentions online & offline on media channels. But as more stories are being published on social, traditional media monitoring is only half the story. Any good social media marketer would also have a social media monitoring service set up which can be shared with PR. So you would have two teams trying to come up with original story content to share, relying on similar sources and doubling the expense on monitoring services.

Bloggers & Influencers – the new media
Besides relying on traditional media sources such as magazines and newspapers, PR have turned to sourcing bloggers and social media influencers to also promote the brand. At various media events nearly 25% to even 50% of attendees are prominent bloggers and influencers who are encouraged to actively tweet, instagram and create live content while hastagging and tagging the brand channels.  This comes at a cost where PR can no longer control the actual content, the style in which it is written and the exact terminology but this is how social media works where content is not scripted but natural. Through this PR usually contribute and support overall digital marketing growth and engagement. This has also resulted in a shift in PR audience from media to actual consumers. Usually PR undergo training on how to talk to media. They also train other employees and colleagues on do’s and don’ts and how to speak to media and answer questions. But as marketers we deal directly with end consumers and we never receive such training, which is unusual as consumers are the final decision makers and therefore anyone dealing with them should be taught how, just as anyone in customer service undergoes a certain level of training as well. Instead many social media channels are handled by junior staff or outsourced to agencies who are not familiar with the brand and overall style which is not ideal to overall brand management.

So in the end between PR & Marketing who should actually manage social media?
The answer is both. PR have the experience, the knowhow and the ability to write and create content. They are trained on how to talk to consumers and media and spend considerable time sourcing and dealing with bloggers and influencers. They should be responsible for content creation and community management, but of course with support from marketing. Based on events, offers and overall end goals, marketing can suggest and recommend content and broad topics which PR can then use and work towards. But it will still be the responsibility of marketing to manage KPI’s, drive traffic and fulfill digital marketing strategy. It would be marketing who would advertise on social media and plan campaigns, suggest which posts would be promoted and the targeting of these.

So in conclusion PR & Marketing would handle different aspects of social media and would have to work together to fulfill overall business objectives.

How does it work in your company?

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Battle of the Influencers

For people living in Dubai, they are no strangers to ‘social influencers’. In fact Dubai for being quite small probably has one of the highest number of influencers in the region which includes everything from fashion, fitness, lifestyle, health, style, make-up etc. In fact the number of influencers in the market is growing so rapidly that as a marketer it is quite hard to keep up. Nearly every other day on Instagram I discover a few more influencers while also being recommended other ‘similar’ profiles to follow. This does not make it an easy decision process when trying to source and identify the best influencers to work with especially since ‘influencer marketing’ is on the rise. So how do we identify the best or rather most suitable influencers to work with?

Firstly, who is really an influencer?
This can be quite tricky to establish. Previously, to be someone you had to have a certain level of credibility. This involved either a degree of education, work experience, references and social stature. However today an influencer is anyone who is popular or has achieved celebrity status, the Kardashians being such an example. But to come closer to home, while most influencers are indeed quite popular or active on the social scene, there are other people who showcase their interests which they are genuinely passionate about. They are influencers in their own right as they produce good quality content and attract people who are quite passionate about the topic as well. So find influencers who are passionate about the industry your brand is in. Influencers such as these care about their brand and reputation within their industry, their followers grow slowly but consistently. These kind of followers are more likely to stay for the long term than un-follow within a few days, the difference is quite noticeable when compared to some instagram accounts where their followers shoot up over night and does not grow consistently but in surges. So it would be a good idea to monitor a few accounts for a short time before approaching them.

This brings me to another point of the number of followers the account has. Today the number of people that follow you can be counted as your social currency. The more followers you have, ergo the more popular you are, and therefore the more you’re worth. But it is important to keep in mind that followers can be bought, and these followers are of value, so while it is important to look at the number of followers it is important to look at the engagement on each post, i.e. the number of  likes or comments. There is no point if the account has hundreds of thousands of followers but only gets a few hundred likes. Therefore good followers + good engagement = good influencer.

Highly popular and sought after influencers usually come with a hefty price tag. They are brand ambassadors and as such have managers and their own agents who negotiate on their behalf. While I understand a need for this (most influencers make a living through their endorsements) it is important to consider firstly your budget and how much you’re willing to pay for an endorsement but also how many brands that influencer endorses and how often. If an influencer promotes multiple brands quite often and for short periods of time, it is quite likely that after you considerably invest for an endorsement they will easily switch over to a competitor or any other brand that is willing to pay more, this does not put out a consistent message to followers. In fact it would be better to find a less popular influencer but with a stronger and more genuine following and have them endorse the brand at a reduced cost or at a similar budget except for a longer duration. on a side note, generally as a rule if an influencer is being paid they need to disclose this as it would be unfair to the consumers. Most regulators such as in the U.S. are citing this as a legal requirement. Google also mandates that bloggers should not be paid for creating backlinks to your site or promoting your product without any disclosure, and clearly influencers asking to be paid is in violation of this considering that social signals are factored and indexed by Google. While this rule is not clearly implemented in the Middle East, it would be interesting to see how long it would take to get here.

Once the negotiations are done and the influencer is to start, it is a good idea to lay out a general agreement of the number of posts to be done, frequency, and a general list of to do’s and don’ts . Along with it, a handy ‘influencer’ guide can be provided which has a background on the brand, hashtags to use, types of posts which can be done and examples of previous influencers (if any) or types of influencer posts you would like to see. This gives the new influencer a background where to start with and an overall style to follow.

So in short the important points to look out when selecting an influencer include:

  • Influencers whose interests match the brand
  • Good content along with genuine follower growth
  • Number of followers vs. Engagement rate
  • Cost vs Quality of influencer
  • Number of endorsements

I also came across this great article on ‘Seven influencer marketing strategies that work‘ by  which is a good read.

Do you have any feedback to share on your experiences with sourcing and managing influencers?