SEO and PRs – Who Owns Social Media Now?

SEO and PRs – Who Owns Social Media Now?The debate over who ‘owns’ social media is one that will no doubt rage on for some time. In many ways the argument is arbitrary – does it really matter?  Nonetheless it is a battle that I occasionally get drawn into so let’s grasp the nettle.

PRs think that social media should fall under their remit, because they’ve been managing their clients’ conversations and reputations for decades. That’s all well and good, but what is the point of talking for conversation’s sake? Can PRs really measure the impact of social media? I’d argue, ‘no.’ 

From time to time, SEOs have sat back and sniggered at PRs and their claim to the guardian of social media. Why? Because over the past four years, SEO agencies have been increasingly invited to the top table to discuss marketing strategy.

And why is that?

Because SEOs can show the true impact of social media. They can demonstrate conversion and put pounds and pence on meaningful social media engagement, as opposed to the PR approach of lauding meaningless re-tweets or likes.

SEOs have a very specific set of skills to do their job which is grounded in absolute transparency and measurability.   SEO as a discipline enforces rigour in terms of code content and execution.

Does a PR do this? And more importantly does a PR know how to do this? It is these metrics that can provide the ROI, and show a marketing director exactly where their spend is going and what the return is for their brand.

The insult to the injury is that SEOs are picking up PR skills faster than PR is adapting and learning technical capabilities.  Week in week out we see more and more SEOs, writing articles, undertaking blogger engagement and media relations and doing so very capably.

So back to our initial question, ‘Who Owns Social Media now?’

Well, the truth is, it doesn’t exist in isolation so no one owns it. Social media can have an impact on reputation, search, sales and customer service. It is multi-faceted and so the debate is arguably, quite churlish.

Maybe the question should be which industry is earning the most fee income from social media?

PRs have been struggling to generate revenue from social media for some time. As evidence just take a look at the millions of empty Facebook pages run by PR firms nationwide.

So, given how SEOs are now turning their hand to social media, content marketing and even PR, the question really is not about who owns social media now, but what is SEO in this day and age?

In reality, we can use our skills across a broad range of online marketing techniques.

Simon Wharton is managing director of online marketing firm PushON.

  • Ben Acheson

    The future of profitable marketing is a hybrid of SEO, PR and social media. But it will be led by SEO because it must have a commercial focus and the ability to integrate with technical factors.

  • Lance Concannon

    This question of who owns social media is a bit of a straw man – many of the functions in a modern business can get value from social in different ways, and to say that only one of those functions should ‘own’ it is to deny the rest of the business the value it offers.

    You shouldn’t be thinking about who owns social within your organisation, but who’s driving and coordinating it to the greater good of the entire business.

  • Psychobel

    Ben, Really on board with what you are saying. SEO, done properly, is rigorous and demands excellence in complementary disciplines

  • Jon Clements

    I agree with you that no-one “owns” social media. The concept is a nonsense.

    Where I struggle with your argument is in its divisiveness. If there was ever a competition between PR and SEO people to own the online territory, I think that PR people are over it; I also think PR people who have had any dealings with digital recognise both their strengths and limitations and give SEO practitioners the requisite respect for what they do.

    Equally, the SEO people I’ve dealt with seem also to recognise their limitations and don’t pretend to be PR people. The skills are different and where it works is in collaboration, not competition. The battle lines used to be drawn between PR and advertising. However, both disciplines realised that the client didn’t care who got what from the pot; they only cared about the results and that required the two camps to work together. I feel the same way about PR and SEO now.

    A recent blog post I read from an SEO expert about using LinkedIn to drive business showed, in my view, where SEO people don’t always get the possible fall-out from a cold, hard metrics-driven approach to social media. It was all about driving numbers and not at all about the potential reputation damage of spamming people on LinkedIn.

    PR and SEO professionals have some complementary skills and others that are mutually exclusive. That’s why we need each other.

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  • Danny Brown

    The success of social media, like any channel, will be measured by companies that truly understand analytics, goals and success metrics, and how they’re tied to specific campaign needs at any given time.

    This isn’t just SEO companies; it’s not just PR or marketing agencies; instead, it’s data people who understand what raw data translates into.

    One of the biggest markets in 2013 is going to be influence marketing, now that it’s going beyond social scoring and into true customer-centric information. Show me an SEO company (or PR agency) that’s measuring the situational factors that can disrupt an influence marketing campaign message, and we can talk more about “SEO being better placed to succeed”.

  • Danny Whatmough

    I’m afraid your argument feels confused to me Simon. You ask the question about ownership a few times, then suggest that the question itself is moot and/or that social media doesn’t exist in isolation.

    And yet, despite this, you spend a fair amount of the rest of the piece arguing why ‘SEO’ is better at managing social media than PR!

    I agree that the question is moot and that social media can’t exist in isolation. But I disagree with much of the rest of what you say – exactly *because* of the areas where we have agreement. Hence my confusion. [I should add that I’m by no means neutral on this working for a PR agency and chairing the PRCA’s digital group.]

    Let’s be clear – there are good and bad practitioners across the PR and SEO industries. On both sides there are some that ‘get’ it and some that don’t. I know PR agencies that have highly skilled SEO experts and SEOs that understand the importance of brand reputation when managing social media channels.

    But to say SEOs are adapting and changing quicker than PRs simply isn’t true. SEO as a discipline is focused on one particular goal – it’s there in the name – optimising the position of a brand in search. PR has a more broader, strategic remit – to promote and protect the reputation of a brand, across all channels whether print, online, social, search, mobile etc. I work with some great SEO professionals (many now working for PR agencies) that we turn to when we need expert input on search strategy. But this is always contained within a higher comms strategy.

    Surely closer collaboration here is what is needed, as Jon states, rather than the competitiveness you are hinting at. A brand that fails to search as part of a wider marketing communications strategy is seriously missing the point and *will* become unstuck. The same is true of social media. We need to stop thinking so tactically when it comes to SEO and social media and elevate the discussion.

    Sure, a brand’s PR objective won’t always be directly linked to bottom line revenue (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t) but that doesn’t make it any less of a strategic imperative for the brand.

    So let’s stop squabbling about who owns what. PRs and SEOs that understand the need of the businesses they work for and are skilled to deliver results on this (not just revenue conversion) will continue to succeed. And good luck to them, whatever they call themselves.

    If you’re still unsure whether there are PRs out there that ‘get’ social media, SEO and digital in general then please drop me a line and I’ll be happy to put you in touch with PRCA agencies that are leading the way.

  • Garethd

    Ultimately no one owns social because it is not a channel that works just in a silo. Yes PRs can shape the conversation within a branded space and monitor how well these conversations drive engagement, but other specialims can drive better awareness of those posts through iMedia target. In fact they too can measure the impact of what they do really well. Then look at the content piece, advertising agencies have been producing content for decades so surely they are experts at content. Ultimately, no discipline truly owns social in its entirety

  • Craig McGill

    Funny, I thought it was the customer/consumer who owned this stuff… actually, snitty one-liners aside, it’s a very good point you make Simon. The whole ‘Godsend’ for lack of a better phrase of social media/business for me is that it goes across silos so we really need to try and think beyond that.

  • Dave Fowler

    So long as search retains its capacity to deliver traffic, and consumers continue to engage with brands and each other via social, then the organisations that are going to win online are those whose SEO and PR teams learn to work together, collaborating with and complimenting each other’s skills, rather than wasting energy on such a negative debate. Defensive behaviour kills creativity.

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  • Jamescgfoster

    The most on point article on social / seo I have read to date.

  • Spook SEO

    Therefore, I can say that nobody owns social media. The truth behind this is that social media is very useful in marketing our online business.

  • Spook SEO

    There few things to be considered in order to have a better SEO blogging. First, make sure that you are using relevant keywords for your content. Second, you have to create high quality and useful content because it will help boost your online credibility. And last, keep your content original.

  • Arnold Barclay

    I think every SEO specialists should owns social media for their SEO strategies. It makes better improvement in search engine optimization of E-commerce websites.