It’s a hotly contested issue… but here are your facts about social ownership and your best practice guide to agency interlock

Scary thought… Christmas decorations are on their way up! And in the blink on an eye 2013 will be gone! Still, I feel this year has been productive. This is my 35th Blog Post since January, and 30,109 words on I’m <theoretically> a quarter-way towards a book! Not a lot of content in the scheme of things, but this is a tiny part of my week, with most of this Blog written in the evenings after work. It’s been a cathartic experiment. I’ve picked a niche – strategic communications and social insights, and I’m pretty pleased about the community’s response to my thoughts. It’s validating. Makes me think of when I was a journo and I’d look at the stack of magazines I’d produced and I could only imagine the impact I’d had on my readers. It’s a beautiful thing now that you can see in black and white what your influence is. I’ve gone from the first month with a handful of readers to now where there are around 600 a month. They come from all over the world. And the following is growing.

my heat map

So, in response to the Global community of Comms Pros who have read, subscribed and reTweeted me – a sincere thank you. With respect to the question about ‘who should own social’, well… I’m hoping this is becoming clearer. The preamble wasn’t self-aggrandising as much to help articulate what Social is really about!

The message not the medium: Too often do people forget, it’s not about Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin. Crafting a message is what makes the difference. That message will differ depending on the audience, and subsequently the social network, but THE MESSAGE MUST COME FIRST! That’s the first reason social must sit with PR – messaging has been, and always will be, at the heart of the profession.

Conversation not campaign: Digital agencies are commonly briefed in by Marketing Programs specialists. These are the guys that usually align to product. Products need to be sold at a certain run-rate within a timeframe at a specific margin to ensure cash flow stays on the right path. Problem is, the selling cycle limits the potential of a social program, because communities aren’t like light switches that you turn on and off at the end of a campaign. They don’t reboot in the new quarter, or at the point a new product is released. This is why PR must own the over-arching PR strategy. They are in the business of building relationships long term.

It’s about people not machines: Digital guys get the gadgets. This is important. The issue is gadgets are tools, not objectives. Social media is fundamentally about people talking to people. The sexiest tools in the world that produce the dashboards you know will impress your boss at your Executive Interlock Session will not determine your influence. They simply show you what your influence is. Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. Your PR precedes its measurement.

Listening and interpretation, not propaganda: Again, digital tools are great. Social can be unwieldy and the right listening tools help corral information that makes your activity far more effective, but the human brain is far more powerful than any computer. Big Data is a hot topic, but the processing power of your mind; its ability to interpret the sensitivities and nuances of culture and tone must not be under-stated. Only your PR team will have a real understanding of your product, your business, your customers, partners and press.

Managing crisis before it happens: Gerry McCusker, author of the book and blog PR Disasters, says social media has delivered a new army of critics and commentators, “all of which have the ability to create and disseminate their version of what’s at the heart of any issue or matter”. Your reputation is the single most important thing you have. It takes a long time to build. It takes only moments to destroy, particularly because of the viral real-time nature of social media. Therefore… can you really afford for anyone else to own your social program except for your PR team? You only have to look here to see the problems that can unfold if they don’t.

Engaging an audience, not a popularity competition judged by ‘Likes’: I could have certainly scaled my readership of this Blog quicker to make the numbers look more impressive, but it would’ve always been hollow when scratching beneath the surface. Social is about cultivating community, not tricking people into clicking. Of course there are useful techniques to attract and retain the right audience, but the most important part is getting the RIGHT audience, NOT the biggest audience. This Blog is targeted. I can see who is engaging and I’m encouraged I’m on the right track by where it’s reposted and who comments.

I don’t believe in putting people in boxes, but it’s fair to say experience and perspective largely lead one towards understanding these aforementioned qualities and realisations bode intrinsically with professional communicators ie. PR. It’s not to say Digital agencies don’t have a role to play – they absolutely do. There are some good ones out there that own it and run social well, but on the whole – Social simply must be owned and operated by PR! Getting social is a whole of business exercise incorporating HR, Sales, Internal Comms, Marketing and Customer Service to name a few. There is only one function that logically lines up in support of all these areas…  It’s the reason why PR MUST own Social.

As a reference in your own planning, here is my best practice guide to agency interlock. It should help you drive the most constructive social outcomes from your PR and Digital teams, while measuring them with purpose:



– My name is Aaron Crowther. Follow me on Twitter @ascommstweeter

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