The Social Media Services Gap

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Okay, so clearly a lot of debate remains about how and where social media should fit in a communications program, but there are two things the PR community seems to largely agree on: First, that the best programs, by today’s standards, are those that blend/bridge traditional media plans with social media strategies and tactics and secondly, that a degree of specialization and acuity is still required to effectively navigate and participate in online conversations.

I think PR agencies (and clients) get this, for the most part, the challenge is that social media service/expertise gaps still exists within a lot of firms, so they’re faced with one of three challenges:

1. Stick to what they know. In many cases, traditional media work continues to do the job and pay the bills, so for some firms it’s easy to simply dismiss new media and stay the course.

The challenge is that this way of thinking is gradually becoming problematic from a business and competitive standpoint.

2. Share the love. Increasingly, clients are seeing capability gaps within their PR teams and are seeking external consultants and specialist shops to augment their programs.

For the PR firm this is a lost revenue opp and to some extent, it means less ownership of the overall communications program. And in some cases, it could mean having to work side-by-side with another PR firm, maybe even a competitor, which isn’t that uncommon, but a challenge nonetheless and potentially problematic longer term.

3. Fake it. Sadly, the promise of new business and/or the threat of client attrition is putting some firms in a place where they’re promising and marketing social media services and expertise that they just don’t have. For obvious reasons this is, um, really bad, but it’s the scary side of business survival, and I have to think short-term gains will come with long-term costs to the fakers.

Now, technically speaking, there’s a fourth challenge here, right, and that’s to simply train and grow existing staff, which of course takes time and still by no means guarantees in-house “expertise,” but it’s the best first step for most. It’s either that or do what the big boys have done recently and just gobble up smart people (e.g., Edelman, Weber Shandwick and MWW), but that’s not really an option for most.

Bottom line, while there are some exceptions, IMHO *very* few PR firms today can effectively balance and execute an integrated comms program — meaning one that blends new and old media. It’s not a dig, I just think a lot of people, a lot of firms are grappling with a changing media environment, a dearth of in-house expertise and evolving client needs/expectations — basically, industry transition.

Without doubt, the industry will work through this stuff and come out stronger in the end, but until then I think firms need to be serious about investing the time, energy and money to fill the gaps in their services; and clients would do well to keep their BS detectors in check and be realistic about how best to build out their comms programs in this transition period.

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Mike Manuel is the founder of the award winning Media Guerrilla blog. Media Guerrilla is an insiders take on the practice of technology public relations with a focus on the issues, tactics and trends that are specific to the tech industry.

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The Social Media Services Gap
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