Is PR harder than social media?

The author contends that the broader strategic aspects of public relations set the foundation for social media activity.

I recently spoke at the FutureComms14 conference, and one of my remarks during the “Anatomy of the Modern Communicator” sparked quite a bit of feedback both online and off.

While talking about recruiting, I said that I’d always prefer to recruit a PR person because it was easier to teach a PR person social media than it was to teach a social media person PR.

Some people nodded in vociferous agreement, while others shook their heads and tweeted in dismay.

I stand by my assertion, and I find it remarkable that anyone would dispute it.

Public relations is a very broad discipline with a wealth of specialties and academic knowledge to draw upon. You can’t quickly teach public relations strategy and theory on the job. It’s easier to train people in the individual skills and tactics that are part of the public relations toolkit. What’s in that toolkit is constantly changing and updating, but the fundamental principles of reputation management, engagement, dialogue, and relationship management remain.

The danger of recruiting a social media expert is that you’ll get someone who is brilliant at using Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, but doesn’t know how to strategically use Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for public relations.

Of course it is far more complex than that, and if I’m recruiting for a specialist role such as measurement, analytics, and evaluation then I might look at a social media specialist-but I’d also want someone who was able to evaluate other aspects of public relations. An amazing ability with social media analytics wouldn’t be enough when the alternative was someone with broader PR evaluation skills and the ability to learn social media measurement.

Likewise, if I was recruiting a media relations manager, I might consider a former journalist whom I probably wouldn’t consider for a broader PR role. Once the person has been recruited, though, I’d still want him or her to undertake formal, continuous professional development for PR qualifications such as the CIPR diploma. How else could the person understand how his or her role fits into the bigger picture?

I wonder whether the outrage would have been the same if we’d been talking about law. There are some brilliant lawyers who specialize in social media law, but they are lawyers first. It’s the same with public relations: If you want to specialize in social media, then you must be a public relations professional first. The same idea would apply if we were talking about marketing.

This observation is also based on training hundreds of PR, marketing, digital, social media, and communications people in more than 30 different countries.

It’s important to remember that I was speaking at a conference on the future of the communications profession. Attendees were mainly PR, communications, and marketing people, so I wasn’t talking about the wider ramifications of social business.

I’ve argued before that there are still very few social business experts, as what we currently have are people from a range of professions, including PR, marketing, advertising, law, customer service, human resources, finance, etc. who have expertise in social media. By working together they can begin to re-imagine businesses and organizations as more social entities without the rigid silos that exist.

Stuart Bruce is a UK-based international PR adviser and trainer. A version of this article first appeared on Stuart Bruce’s PR Guy’s Musings.

Topics: PR

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