Social media – marketing or communications?

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A number of business publications have recently been devoting a lot of time and space to stories about social media.  Generally speaking, the message has been the same – all businesses need to think about using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, or else they will get left behind.

Even taking into account the horror stories of social media ‘fails’ by businesses, I do agree with this sentiment.  My starting point for public relations has always been that all businesses have it, whether or not it is actively being managed.  And social media is just another channel.  Businesses can’t ‘choose’ whether to be part of it or not; they can only choose whether to manage it or not.

However, I was dumbfounded by some statistics in one of the articles I read.  According to a recent survey, of those companies that do use social media, only 15 percent see it as the responsibility of the corporate communications team while 77 percent believe it is part of the marketing function.

I don’t believe that social media can be treated as another marketing tool, an opportunity to promote or sell.  To do so is to miss out on the main advantage of social media – the ability to build a dialogue with existing and potential customers, to inform them about your expertise, and help them understand your business better.  Treating social media as a one-way channel, in the same way as traditional marketing approaches such as advertising or direct mail, is a lost opportunity – and, in some instances, fraught with danger.

I would be very interested to know how many of those social media fails – such as the “Qantas Luxury” Twitter campaign or the Woolworths Facebook “finish this sentence” post – were driven by marketing rather than communications.

Those that are using social media most effectively are using it to inform, education and engage.  Not sell.