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PR v Marketing; Who's Winning Online? (Part 1)

If looked at simply:

  • Public Relations = building relationships & loyalty (with a brand)
  • Marketing = moving toward action; sales (of a brand)

"With" implies two-way communication and "of" one-way, and that's how each discipline used to operate; PR as a two-way communication vehicle and marketing as one-way. The internet changed all that. Social media really changed that.

Online it's become more difficult to decipher marketing from PR as relationships are used to sell brand whether a product, a candidate or an issue.

Opinion leaders, especially if they have a lot of online friends or followers (relationships) who recommend actions are now called influencers. And, yes, there is such a thing called influencer marketing where marketers sell brands to people with large followings versus selling to markets.

As such, the big reveal from social media is that relationships influence actions - even if online and in fact online influence is easier to measure: number of followers, retweets, friends, blog popularity, etc.

However, the bigger brother to the big reveal is that authenticity matters.

For example, I've got a dozen or so politically smart and passionate activist friends who keep "selling" me to go to events, support an issue and the like, but even though we are Facebook friends, thus have relationships, they don't respond to any of my posts and invitations. The result? I wonder if we are friends or I am a just a name in a list that they check off to say they've done their "outreach" and believe they have influenced.

Relationships and promotion of action in social media does not mean that both one-way and two-way communication are being executed and in fact, the lack of two-way communication reveals a lack of authenticity. Instead of being "sold," over time people feel just "sold to" even if by friends.

Unless marketing is sincerely two-way and PR is authentic in caring about the contributions of brand stakeholders (consumers, constituents, employees, etc), people will start un-friending and stop following alleged "influencers". Importantly, people may not get off lists, but they'll stop reading and responding. Ultimately campaign dollars and time will be wasted.

So the answer to who is winning is both, as long as PR and marketing are used in an integrated fashion and that stakeholder input matters and influences the brand in return. How as a communication campaigner can you measure that? Don't depend on quantitative measurements like numbers of followers. Authenticity is qualitative. Spend the time online.

Let's look at candidate and President Obama to make the case for an integrated, authentic communication campaign. As candidate and President, have his "brand" communication strategies been successful? Stay tuned for Part 2.

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