Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Battle for Social Media: SEO vs PR

I was invited by Communicate Magazine to take part in a debate with Abigail Harrison from PR agency thebluedoor. Since I’d been following Abigail for a while on Twitter I happily agreed. The subject of the debate was an excellent one – who is better at social media; SEO or PR agencies?

You can see the outcome of the debate over at Communicate’s website. I was asked to take the side of the SEO camp.

I’ve seen mixed responses to the debate but also a lot interest. Now I’m outside the “confines” of the debate I thought it would be useful to share some of my thoughts – thoughts that wouldn’t have been wisely shared during the debate unless I wanted to help the other side!

Today we have SEO agencies offering online PR. I can think of two recent big wins for SEO agencies (both, I think, in the auto industry) where the PR agencies have lost the pitch to someone who’s clearly a Search specialist.

There should be no content. The PR agencies shouldn’t even have to battle for these campaigns. In the debate I was trying to suggest that some/many PR agencies didn’t want to touch online in the early days – that that was symptom of them not really being online entities. I think that first half is true. It’s certainly the case that many PR agencies didn’t want to know about online issues to begin with.

That’s easily changed though, appointing the right people can re-shape an agency. Also, the role online has in our day to day life has constantly increased and the barriers to successful communication online have dropped. I don’t really think online is a scary place that PR agencies don’t like/get any more.

Please don’t ask me to draw lines of definition around “online PR” and “social media” but I do think there are some differences between the two. One such difference is that social media tends to make use of more technology than online PR – for example; widgets, apps, micro-sites, community-sites or perhaps even virals. I also think social media tends to make use of search more – for example, the content network.

So who’s really best at handling social media then?

I think the best way to answer this question is to take elements from both camps and combine them. Bigmouthmedia has an online PR and social media team. They work with our affiliate team. They work with our search teams, with our copywriters, our usability team and they work with our display team. That, I think, is the answer.

Social media shouldn’t be a land grab for two camps to squabble over. Social media is distinct enough and important enough to have experts all of its own.

Who’s best at social media? Social media specialists, that’s who.

By the way – if you’d like a free copy of the first ever/benchmark econsultancy Social Media and Online PR report then take part and join in.

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