Social Media PR or Marketing: Is There a Difference?


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As one of my favorite writers once said, “the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Too many devotees are treating the terms “social media PR” and “social media marketing” as interchangeable–when they are anything but. And if you can’t tell which you’re engaged in, the odds are you’re not succeeding in either.

Not that some confusion isn’t understandable. In the great era of one-way messaging, the distinction between marketing and PR was clear: if you were talking to consumers, it was marketing; if you were talking to the press, it was PR. That split made sense, but the audience divide was really a mask for a divide of purpose. Marketing sells products. PR builds reputation. And while media matters, social media has opened up a new way to communicate directly, not just that someone should buy what you’re selling, but why. Because it’s a consumer audience, the knee-jerk response is to consider it marketing. But just try building your company’s reputation with a sales pitch and see how that goes.

Actually, don’t. I’d hate to be responsible for what happens. The problem/opportunity is this: with nearly unlimited information available, it is now possible for decisionmakers–from individual to corporate–to check out their options to unprecedented degrees, and they want to know not just whether you make a good widget, but whether you think deeply enough about widgets/technology/markets/business to see brilliant applications and have earth-shaking insights. Given those expectations, a constant sales pitch in an area designed for conversation is somewhere beyond annoying; it’s completely tone deaf. A 1.0 approach in a 2.0 world.

But enough with the negatives–if your intent is to improve your company’s reputation, here are four tips to make sure you’re actually trying to relate to your public:

  1. Your online content should comment on industry news, hot stories, trends related to your product/service. This requires that you and your team actually read the news and understand your relevance to it.
  2. If someone replies to you, make sure they are answered and thanked. Quickly. And not just with a link to your product.
  3. Speaking of links… Your PR force should be out there reading and commenting on other people’s content, and not just putting links to your site on theirs. Get into the discussion, and if there really is something great on your site that would illuminate it, link away. But don’t just plug yourself.
  4. Community; find your geeks. Sometimes you’re not talking to the end-user per se; you might be talking to developers, reviewers, and maybe even the competition. Look out–really interesting discussions might ensue.

Social media marketing is a whole other–potentially valuable–ballgame, but with different strategies, tools, and sometimes even platforms. If you’re looking to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry, but your social media content makes you sound like a door-to-door salesman, the first step might be admitting that you have a problem.

Kate Schackai is the Social Media Director at Crawford PR and the author of White Hat PR, where she crusades to bring best practices to the online wild west.

Kate Schackai
Kate combines a technical understanding of web 2.0 with classic PR savvy, resulting in online communications that both humans and Google love. She joins Crawford from WordPress development firm TCWebsite, where she worked in online marketing and search engine optimization.


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