Social media window of opportunity closing?

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I had lunch with Rax Lakhani just after the new year and we discussed the window of opportunity in social media and online PR for public relations operators (particularly those agencyside) in the medium and long-term future.

There are a number of pressures on agencies with regards online PR planning and execution. Social media in particular has become in some respects too important to leave to public relations, let alone public relations agencies.


Business function vs online PR universe

For simplicities sake I’ve put online PR elements into five broad buckets: search, social media, content, infrastructure (sites, blogs, feeds etc) and strategy. I have then mapped across these fields some of the functions within a business and areas of interest in these buckets. The actual power relationships in these areas would depend on the individual organisation, but this gives an idea for potential conflicts of interest and power struggles. (Click on the image to view it at a larger size).

There is an added layer of complexity when one puts as an overlay the potential conflicting agency relationships that maybe in place: digital full service agencies, search marketing agencies, integrated marketing agencies, media planners, web development agencies, moderation providers, specialist social media / conversation agencies, copywriting services and public relations agencies to name but a few.

A second factor is empirical data that shows how in-house programmes often outperform agency-run social media programmes. Beware the social media siren by Adrian Ho (Advertising Age December 22, 2008) claims that US online shoe retailer Zappos handles some 20,000 customer interactions every day or over 7 million plus per annum. To put that into perspective; a quick look at Facebook showed that Zappos had 7,336 fans, 160 members (with no qualification on their level of engagement) belonging to groups generally positive to Zappos and 60 regular users of its two Facebook applications.

However organisations face a number of challenges implementing these programmes inhouse: Participation in social media requires a shift in thinking. Clients need to reorient themselves around creating an ongoing relationship with customers rather than hitting them with periodic campaigns. They also must work through the uncertainties of allowing “untrained” marketers within their companies participate in shaping their brands.

There is a real opportunity for agencies in the ‘change management’ part of this process and in providing marketers with the kind of social media skills they need to help them get involved in participation and shaping their brands. Once trust has been earned in this area then PROs may stand a much better chance of actively winning business in other segments of the online PR universe.