Social media tug of war

The PR industry as a whole must do a better job of embracing social media, or else they run the risk of losing the battle against the advertising industry.

The PR industry as a whole must do a better job of embracing social media, or else they run the risk of losing the battle against the advertising industry.

Social media is still considered a relatively new phenomenon, one in which communicators must find new ways to engage customers. The medium values two-way conversations over one-way communication, psychographics over demographics, and influence often over reach.

Given the current economic downturn, a recent Forrester Research study suggests that marketers “spend more on online social media as a cheap, efficient way during tougher economic times.” So, not surprisingly, both the PR and advertising industries have their sight on social media.

PR professionals fashion themselves as conversationalists naturally suited to a medium based on one-to-one communication. At the same time advertising agencies have more revenue to create assets and buy distribution. The top 10 advertising firms have combined revenues five times greater than the top 10 PR firms, according to a 2007 Advertising Age profile.

So, Collective Intellect set out to tap into the world's largest and purest focus group, social media itself, to determine if PR agencies are better or worse positioned than advertising agencies to actually succeed in social media. We analyzed more than 8,494,636 total stories across, 1,640,558 blog posts, 5,482,180 message board posts, and 1,371,898 news stories from April 8 – April 23.

The overall conclusion we gleaned from the data was that there are simply more online conversations taking place about advertising than PR.
• 2.3 times more conversations about advertising than PR
• 3 times more conversations about advertising and social media than PR and social media

Similarly, tonal sentiment for advertising is slightly more positive than tonal sentiment for PR
• PR: 53% positive, 24% neutral, 22% negative
• Advertising: 65% positive, 10 % neutral, 25% negative

In fairness, the tonal sentiment statistics can be partially explained in that advertising is both a product and an industry, although PR is also becoming both a noun and a verb.

This discrepancy becomes more significant when we look at the tonal sentiment for advertising and PR within conversations specifically about social media.
• PR/social media conversations: 55% positive, 31% neutral, 14% negative
• Advertising/social media conversations: 73% positive, 19% neutral, 8% negative

However, the distribution of these conversations is notable with 78% of online conversations about PR taking place in blogs, which tend to be higher authority than forums or social networks, compared to only 45% of conversations taking place in blogs relative to advertising.

So, while there are fewer conversations taking place about PR than advertising online, and the tonal sentiment is actually lower, they are taking place in higher authority outlets. Since social media, is often about influence over reach, this is the silver lining.

Truth be told, PR has some work to do to win over hearts, minds, and budgets with social media.

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