Increasingly, I’ve been speaking to public relations professionals about Internet marketing–most especially search marketing and social media marketing. And one of the problems, when I do so, is the name Internet marketing. It’s that “marketing” word in there–public relations folks don’t consider what they do marketing. They’ll cop to corporate communications, or even publicity, but they don’t think of themselves as marketers. And it doesn’t get any better of you call it viral marketing or word-of-mouth marketing, because that “marketing” word is still in the name. But both search marketing and social media marketing aren’t the kinds of marketing that most marketers understand. Both are closer to old-fashioned PR.
If you think about it, marketers are trained to dump messages into their target markets. Paid messages. They buy the advertising time or space, and the message runs. It’s creative work, to be sure, but marketers have free reign. Whatever they can think up, they can run. As long as they pay the bill, their message is on the air.
Social media marketing and search marketing don’t really work that way. They’re not advertising. There’s no one to pay to get your message out there. Instead, it’s the Blanche Dubois approach: You’re depending on the kindness of strangers. If you have a story that a blogger wants to talk about, then your message gets out there. If you post a YouTube video that people want to recommend to others, then your message gets attention. But you can’t force it, even if you are willing to pay cash.
That’s where public relations comes in. PR pros are comfortable working in the world of influence. They’ve always had gatekeepers who decided whether their message got in front of the target audience. The TV producer decides what stories run on the news. The newspaper editor and reporter control whether your message hits the streets. Good PR people always knew how to get past the gatekeepers with an interesting story that peddled the message their client wanted out there.
Social media marketing and search marketing are no different. The Internet sets up new gatekeepers, but the thought process is the same. If you can come up with a story that the audience is interested in, then the gatekeepers will let you through. So, bloggers are new gatekeepers, because they decide what they’ll write about. Your customers are also gatekeepers, because they decide which messages they’ll pass on to others and what ones they pay no attention to. Google and other search engines are gatekeepers, because your story must appeal to search engines (using the right keywords, for example) to be found and passed along to searchers. PR people have spent their lifetimes crafting stories that get past the gatekeepers–messages that people want to hear and to pass along themselves. They have a unique perspective on search and social media that companies ignore at their own peril.
But public relations people have an even bigger edge over marketers for social media: they know how to listen and respond. Marketers, for all their skills, are trained to deliver a message, stay on message, and control the message. PR pros know that in their game, the message can’t be controlled, just influenced. PR is a constant give-and-take, an ongoing conversation. Social media is also.
(Warning: shameless self-promotion ahead) Some public relations people have awakened to the power of Internet marketing, but many I run into have not yet taken the plunge. If you’re finding yourself on the outside looking in, Bulldog Reporter is offering you the ability to get my one-day, in-person class on search marketing for PR pros, held in four different U.S. cities this January. If you’ve been wondering how to get started in public relations using the latest Internet techniques, this is the place to be. And this is the perfect time to register, because you save $100 off the regular registration fee if you register before December 31.