Social Media And Public Relations: Compare and Contrast
Social Media Does Not Equal PR
Social Media Does Not Equal PR

Lately I’ve gotten involved in a number of discussions with public relations people who are trying to leverage social for their clients’ needs.  Some of these people are socially active, but not entirely socially savvy; I feel like I sound like a broken record when I use the words “engagement” and “sustained” and “slow build” over and over again to try and describe how social media works.  So I’ve put together a comparison to show some of the ways in which PR and social media are different … because they are.  Really different.

PR: A single “hit” can make a difference
Social: Typically need a sustained effort to generate enough results to satisfy a client
Explanation: It’s rare that a single hit in social, even if it’s coverage by an influential blogger, will move the needle for a company or campaign.  Social media is a slow build that requites ongoing, daily effort to make an impact.  This is a hard concept for a lot of clients (and PR people) to understand.  Because one link from the main New York Times site or an appearance on Oprah (holy grails in the PR world, mind you) will almost certainly drive attention and traffic and likely sales for a company, and will undoubtedly make you a hero to the client.


PR: Can be based on relationships with few
Social: Depends on relationships with many
Explanation: Some PR people, particularly those in a particular industry vertical or niche, can do the bulk of their work with a relatively small network of journalists.  They may send the occasional broad email, but if they have really strong relationships with the key editors and writers in their industry, they can work those same contacts again and again to get their stories out.  Social is, in reality, far less dependent on relationships with a small group of “influencers”; rather, in order to have real impact in social you need to generate engagement from a broad base of individuals.  For some brands there may be fewer fans or followers necessary to generate engagement, and for others they’re looking for mass, but it’s certainly more than a handful, or even a rolodex full, of journalists.

PR: Needs an angle
Social: Needs a voice
Explanation: Most PR pitches have an angle, a hook, a very specific ask or message that they want carried through.  Sure, sometimes you just want to get an executive out there on a broad topic, or generate awareness, but most of the time you’re looking for coverage of something new or important to the company. So you have, or need, an angle.  In social, angles rarely work.  Sure, sometimes you use social to run a campaign, or promote a new product, but most of the time what social needs is a strong voice.  The brand, or personality (if it’s, say, the CEO tweeting), needs to establish and be consistent with a singular voice within each of the social networks it engages in.  Sometimes the voice might be a bit different in Twitter than in Facebook, or the CEO will blog but not tweet.  But overall, the brand impression across social needs to maintain a cohesive image of the company in all communications and keep that voice going day after day.

PR: Mainly passive
Social: Can be active
Explanation: Only by using social media (or street teams, I guess) can you reach out and tap a consumer on the shoulder and say “Hey, I see you’re interested in widgets. I’ve got a great widget selector tool. Feel free to give it a whirl.”  Through Twitter and blogger outreach you can search for people who are predisposed to your product or service and offer to help them with a problem or question.  But you can’t do this in a pushy, spammy way – it’s not sales, it’s social.  So you should be providing resources, articles, tools and tips which might draw them into your world, which means you have to create that material first. PR can’t accomplish that kind of outreach – you have to sit back and wait for someone to consume the article or watch the program to become interested in your stuff and then maybe, if they remember later, they’ll visit your site or store and engage with you.

PR: Can be turned on and off
Social: Must be sustained over time
Explanation: As mentioned above, social is a slow build.  A brand just getting a blog started, or engaging in Twitter for the first time, may not see results, in terms of engagement, for weeks or months.  For a company who is serious about developing and maintaining a social presence, it’s a daily grind – you can’t turn it off, go on vacation, ignore it even during  a crisis.  PR is certainly best when it’s also a sustained effort, so that editors and writers get to know a brand and use them as a go-to resource year-round. But it’s also pretty easy to jump in and out of in order to promote a company at key time periods or for product launches.  If you turn social platforms on and off like that you’re going to look like you’re uncommitted to those channels – and you’ll lose followers/fans and have a hard time attracting new ones.

What comparisons can you draw between PR and social media?  Are they leading you down a path towards using more of one or the other for your company or clients?  The comments are yours.

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About the Author

Stephanie Schwab
Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.

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