First, congratulations to my friend Gail Becker for getting the LA Times to write about her company's latest trust barometer survey regarding social media and how people view who is credible in the this environment.
The Edelman Trust Barometer is a great tool for all public relations professionals.
Now, comes the debate.
In public relations, there has been a battle on two fronts when it comes to social media.
One front is who controls, drives social media at a company - is it marketing or the public relations department? Public relations pros have successfully argued that social media is one tool among many to communicate with your audiences and, thus, one needs a comprehensive strategy. Therefore, public relations should be in charge because this is what we've been doing for decades. Period. End of story.
The other battle is over specialization. Social media created an explosion of smaller firms specializing in social media. While the "big firms" did what they are good at - either creating speciality divisions or gobbling up small shops - companies recognized certain advantages of using smaller, more nimble firms specializing in social media. In fact, some of the most successful social media campaigns in the past two years were conducted by small, independent firms. Check the names on the awards listings.
It's hard to tell why companies chose another service provider over their agency of record. But it's been done before and it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out.
In the tech boom of the 1990s, dozens, perhaps hundreds of specialty firms were created to handle the $million of work offered by start-ups. And, like now, existing public relations agencies created speciality divisions to handle that brand of business. I know, because I was put in charge of building the technology practice at the Los Angeles office of the once mighty Stoorza, Ziegaus and Metzger public relations agency. After a while, the best and strongest rose up to take most of the tech business and emerge from the tech bust. However, some of the best and most profitable specialty firms were bought by the bigger agencies. Now,while many tech specialty agencies exist, the conglomerates can easily handle tech accounts.
Today may be different. Unlike the past, companies are more comfortable in having multiple PR agencies vs. a single AOR. So says Fred Muir, formerly of Burson and Marsteller, at a recent PRSA-LA event. If true, then more firms specializing in social media should be around for a while (if they can resist tempting offers by the biggees).
And that means the other battle has begun - who will "drive" the conversation about social media. Edelman's survey is already the subject of debate by the specialists. For example, see the "Endless Plain" blog entry here.
For the good of the profession, let's not leave doubt in the minds of potential clients. Research-driven strategies and tactics should rule the day.
Check back here soon for a listing of some of the better (my opinion, only) social media commentators/experts.