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  • Social Media Marketing – PR vs SEO – Where Does it Fit?

    There’s an interesting discussion in Communicate Magazine today asking where does social media marketing fit? Is this better suited for a PR agency or an SEO specialist?

    Social Media Marketing
    Image credit: Matt Hamm

    There are some excellent arguments provided by both Andrew Girdwood for SEO and Abigail Harrison for PR. In theory, Abigail is completely right and should win this argument hands down – PR is about creative thinking and building publicity around excellent ideas. When successful, this earns the right to grab a large amount of attention, creating great brand awareness and potentially leading to huge profits for their clients.

    But how does PR translate online?

    I’m sure there are some great PR agencies out there, who really “get it” and understand how to integrate an offline marketing/PR campaign with an online and social media marketing strategy. Here are 50 PR and marketing experts on Twitter (some from an SEO background) who undoubtedly could make the transition to social media with little difficulty.

    But in my (admittedly biased) opinion I would side towards Andrew’s point of view. Obviously this isn’t true for all PR agencies, but I’ve found that many have long been solely focused on offline promotion – aware of the potential of social media, online PR etc – but they seem to lack the understanding and knowledge of how to implement this as a strategy.

    Plus without using social media on a day-to-day basis, they’re unlikely to have the connections and online community which is available to many SEO’s who are actively online and can instantly get the ball rolling to drive social media bookmarking votes, Twitter retweets, new Facebook fans, RSS subscribers etc.

    Does this mean social media is an SEO campaign?

    No, not entirely – and if I’m going to be fair, there are probably a lot of search marketing agencies who don’t get social media either. But in order to understand the type of stories which attract attention, find the most suitable social media audiences for specific content to be pushed and spotting the reason why your blog has 7 subscribers with a Digg button containing 2 votes for each story – I think SEO’s are generally better equipped to achieve this.

    Why not use both?

    As a search marketing agency, we’ve managed to do an excellent job of copywriting and promoting blog content for our clients. This has obviously stemmed from our own blogging experiences and knowledge picked up along the way. Blog marketing is a service which I think SEO agencies should be able to provide reasonably easily and hit the ground running in terms of blog setups, ideas for different social media audiences, content creation and promotion. In my opinion there’s no real need for a PR agency here, but they would be very useful when looking to reach local or national media for a creative post, interesting research/survey or breaking news story.

    At the moment SEO’s may like to think they can be great at PR too, likewise PR agencies also want to do it all and smoothly move into online promotion. But let’s face it, the best SEO agency in the world would struggle to create a such an effective PR/marketing campaign as Compare the Meerkat (to be honest even most PR agencies would too). But at the same time, most PR agencies would struggle to do such a good job at integrating this online and promoting their clients using social media marketing. That’s without even considering how your search strategy plays a part!

    So where do you think social media fits?

    Judging by the responses I’ve seen so far, unsurprisingly it’s very mixed – with PR guys having the opinion that social media is a PR service and SEO’s thinking this is a digital marketing task. It would be interesting to see if anyone else thinks PR and SEO/digital could work well together, I could certainly see it heading that way in the future – if it’s not already.


    28 Responses to “Social Media Marketing – PR vs SEO – Where Does it Fit?”

    1. Brett says:

      I can definitely see some kind of PR/SEO hybrid out there in the future. Excellent article in that many of these ideas seem to be floating around; although quietly.

    2. Thanks Brett, that’s the thing about social media and blogging – no-one keeps ideas to themselves quietly! ;)

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    4. This seems to be the same debate that has raged for decades taken to a new battleground. PR vs. marketing.

      Both sides think that their methods are better in any given situation. The problem is that PR and marketing professionals both think they “know” what the other side does. Most of the time neither really understands the other because they see business through very different paradigms.

    5. Mat Morrison says:

      Thanks for a nicely balanced post. A point of information — I believe that the Abigail/Andrew debate stems from an article that Andrew wrote for PR Week in which he argued that “PR agencies don’t get social media”, and that it should be left up to those (like SEO agencies) who do.

      For the last year I’ve been chairing the digital working group of the PRCA, having come into the PR industry from the digital marketing world. I’d say that – contrary to my expectations – the industry has really geared up to deal w/ digital channels over the past three to five years and public relations is ready to stand shoulder to shoulder with other marketing and comms disciplines.

      I suspect that “social media” belongs to no one discipline, and anyone telling you different has something to sell. Certainly, SEO shouldn’t rest on its laurels, and PR shouldn’t believe that we’ve done all we can or should do to address the new challenges and opportunities.

    6. Randy Kemp says:

      Thanks for helping me sort out issues surrounding PR and SEO.

    7. One of my clients hired another to do social media marketing for them. This is something which I believe an SEO specialist could do and should be done by an SEO.

    8. Mat Morrison says:

      Yeah. That’s the problem w/ keeping an SEO blog. Other SEOs come in and use the comment stream to link-build.

    9. Gordon Rae says:

      This argument leaves me cold; both sides are looking at themselves in the mirror, and neither is actually thinking about serving the clients. SEO is about search engines, the most anti-social webites, built by robots, where people go when they don’t know which site to visit. Anything social, or word of mouth is the antithesis of SEO.

      PR isn’t about people, either. It’s about the tiny minority of people who work in the media, write for a living, and appreciate the writing equivalent of frozen ready meals they can heat up in the microwave. Compare the Meerkat wasn’t done by a PR company or an SEO company; it was done by VCCP.

    10. Steve Mullen says:

      Great thoughts here. Thanks for posting. I tend to believe that PR practitioners are a better fit for social media marketing than SEO practitioners. However, it’s a massive benefit if the PR practitioner has a grasp of SEO techniques, or can consult with someone who does. PR, SEO, and social media marketing should be tightly interwoven. The PR materials, which used to be sent solely to the media, are now excellent link building content for SEO. They’re also great materials to be used on social media and social networking sites, which can help take the news directly to the public rather than relying on the filtered media.

      Steve Mullen
      EndGame Public Relations

    11. Steve, completely agree – there are strengths and weaknesses of both an SEO and PR perspective of social media marketing – which is why I think an integrated approach is required.

      Many SEO agencies will run a social media marketing campaign from an SEO perspective, PR agencies are unlikely to have link builing/bait as a main goal. So this is one area where looking at this from both angles would help to improve the overall outcome for the client.

      Gordon, I realise VCCP were behind the Compare the Meerkat campaign, although I assumed VCCP Search may have helped with the social media promotion. Either way, it was an excellent all-round campaign which was incredibly successful, both on and offline.

      Every social media project is different so it really depends on the type of promotion, main goals & required approach – but the best campaigns usually look at both sides.

    12. This debate, whilst interesting, seems to miss a few higher-level questions:
      - Do you even need a so-called ‘social media strategy’ and what exactly do you mean by that? i.e. what are the objectives, the business case, goals etc?
      - Should you have an agency at all? Or is the real challenge here more about cultural change within the client as to how they treat online and how the manage their brand and marcoms?
      - Why should it be either PR ‘or’ SEO? Why not a marcoms agency? A specialist ‘social media’ agency?

      In the absence of clarity on the above – particularly the first point – it is a little difficult to have any meaningful debate.

      For example, if you were trying to sell your company and needed financial PR to influence the press/buyers in your market space, and you had 2 weeks to sell, then I probably wouldn’t go to an SEO bod. I’m not interested in traffic, or Google rankings, I’m interested in influencing a few select individuals. And I can use Online PR (and perhaps PPC) to help with this.

      Likewise if I were wanting help with crisis management, from a PR point of view, I probably wouldn’t go to an SEO person (again, PPC could play a role).

      However, if I wanted traffic, links, long term influence etc. then, of course, you need SEO.

      PRs currently lack many of the skills of that SEOs have, and vice-versa. So it depends what you want to achieve as to the mix you’ll need.

      Ashley Friedlein
      CEO, Econsultancy

    13. Great article Kevin with some very valid points for both SEO and PR. The client needs the talents and expertise from both. Perhaps this is a call for the PR and SEO community to begin dialog and partnering opportunities to deliver the best results derived from both worlds.

    14. Ed says:

      Good article + discussion. PR and SEO, obviously, important, but i would, also, add in content writers (not necessarily copywriting experts but experts and creative-thinkers in a particular industry as well as brand-builders and brand-story tellers).

    15. Simon Stark | Amnesia says:

      This is great. We as a SEO company are just joining the forces with a professional PR company. The jack of all trades is a master of none :)

    16. An organisation that puts search engine rankings ahead of reputation is opening itself up to trouble. Considering an online presence purely in terms of hits and traffic is to let the tactical dominate the strategic. Reputation is both as important and as vulnerable online as it is in traditional media – in some cases more so. An online presence needs to be aligned with the broader corporate reputation & strategy and to be actively managed. This means understanding the organisation’s stakeholders and their interaction with both the company and the forum. This is PR’s area of expertise. There is a reason so many companies appoint a communications specialist to their board.

      It isn’t possible to categorise all agencies as either SEO or PR agencies. PR is embracing the digital world and the better SEO agencies are realising the importance of considering reputation in their work. Only a handful of PR agencies are yet to understand the importance of online repuation and the majority have reshaped there businesses to ensure they can supply clients with an excellent online capability assuming it’s approapriate. Some agencies have the expertise in-house others have formed alliances – both can work well. The boundaries between what the two disciplines will continue to blur as we continue to learn from each other, but an online strategy needs to be reputation led.

    17. John McTigue says:

      We call ourselves an Inbound Marketing Agency, since we are neither a PR nor an SEO company. We do both and we blend it with web design, graphic design, copywriting, social media marketing and marketing strategy. It seems to me the most successful companies using social media and blogs are taking this high level approach first, mapping out strategy, then applying the right tools and people to the tasks at hand. As an agency, we try to work with our clients as a team, so that their personality and experience get translated to blogs and social media. The SEO part is integral to that strategy but doesn’t drive the content nor does it focus strictly on PR.

    18. Thanks for all the comments. Some great points in there, especially agree that it’s a strategy which needs a large amount of input from the client to ensure any social media activity fits in with their own branding and only strengthens a clients reputation.

      There’s also an interesting post related to this on Top Rank Blog today.

    19. Dave Greenberg says:

      Thanks for the post Brett, very though-provoking. One thing that I would point out that underlies all of the above comments is that it all really depends on a the ‘person’ doing the SEO or PR or Social Media work. Some agencies feel the need to rush into the online space and assign junior account managers that really have no business in that world. The same goes for the converse situation where SEO’s rush into the PR space. If you have someone who is well versed in whatever they are doing, they will surely do a good job at it. The bottom line is that you need to know who you are dealing with and what their skills and experience are before getting involved with them at all. Thanks.

    20. Social media marketing services in London. « Digital Enlightenment says:

      [...] Interesting article written by Kevin Gibbons on the debate about using a PR agency V a SEO specialist for social media campaigns. [...]

    21. Oscar Del Santo says:

      I have dealt with this issue in my blog as well and I fully agree with Kevin. We need both.

      In order to have both, however, SEO and PR consultants are going to have to upgrade their respective skills in each other’s areas and become well-rounded professionals.

    22. SEO Company says:

      Both the article and discussion are worth reading .i completely agree with Kevin and being a SEO Company we do need PR because i’ll second simmon that jack of all trades is master of none.

    23. Let’s take the simple approach to answer that. If you consider that the way SEO works is to get a brand as close to the top of a search and attract customers that have never heard of you. Social Media works in a way that allows potential customers to know a little or allot about your brand before they check you out. So as a consumer which destination technique is more likely to convert to a new customer.

    24. PR agencies that don’t get it? What about SEO companies? My SEO provider doesn’t understand strategy. He thinks the world begins and ends with a list of words. I sent him a list of competitors and he didn’t even bother to check. Yesterday he admitted he needs to spend more time on my site understanding my business. I think I’m firing him today…

    25. [...] Social Media Marketing – PR vs SEO – Where Does it Fit? [...]

    26. Alex says:

      Kevin, really a great article! SEO & PR both aimed for the similar cause. SEO companies must widen their approach to cover all aspects of PR firms. In social media, SEO companies holds better expertise and tact.

    27. [...] The Online PR vs. SEO Online PR debate – Karyn Fleeting of Tinderbox Media and Stuart Bruce of Wolfstar Consultancy eloquently kicked off a very interesting debate about the changes in the Online PR industry and Online PR vs SEO. Personally, I think both have a value and role to play with businesses. My opinion is Online PR, can be extremely useful for link generation, traffic building and brand awareness. The Econsultancy blog posted a brilliant article called ‘Why online PR and SEO go hand in hand‘ this sums up my thoughts very nicely. I’d love to have more discussions around this top. SEO optimise also have a great blog post about Social Media Marketing – PR vs SEO? Where Does it Fit? [...]

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