Is Social Media Advertising or PR? – Duh!

A recent article in Inc. asked the question: “Is Social Media Advertising or PR?”

Seriously? Now, Inc. is a well-known magazine and Scott Elser, the author of this piece, is co-founder of an advertising agency and presumably a bright guy, but the question seems enormously naive. Perhaps, of course, it is intended to be so simply to stir some discussion. But, who knows?

The first line of the piece says: “PR excels at messaging, but advertising focuses on results?” Huh?

IMO both PR and advertising must focus on results. So must internal communication and crisis management and social media and any other form of communication. We don’t communicate simply to communicate. We communicate to achieve some desired outcome. Or, at least, we should. But, back to this author’s original question: “Is social media advertising or PR?”

I suppose what we call various forms of communication doesn’t really matter except, perhaps, from an academic standpoint, but I am admittedly somewhat of a purist. The simple distinction I make between the two is:

  • Advertising is paid communication
  • PR is non-paid communication

Notice I didn’t focus on cost. Both advertising and PR involve costs that don’t include the payment for actually conveying the information. But it is the act of paying for a message to run that defines it as advertising, I believe. And, by that definition, social media is quite obviously PR.

Does the distinction matter? Ultimately, probably not. What matters the most is that–whatever communication channels you’re using to generate response–you achieve the results you intended to achieve.  We have a wide variety of communication tools at our disposal these days, reflecting both advertising and PR-related opportunities. Effective marketers will clearly understand the pros/cons of each of these methods, relative to their target markets, and implement them to achieve desired results.

Social media is certainly an important part of the mix. But, whatever you choose to call it, the bottom line is that your use of it needs to generate results. Or, by definition, what you might really be conveying could best be called noise.

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