The econsultancy Social Media and Online PR report 2009 is based on a survey of more than 1,100 respondents (47% working in consultancy or agency, 41% in-house marketing, PR and communications people). While its an interesting report that gives some insight into the state of social media and online PR in the UK I believe it has a number of limitations that decrease its usefulness.
The first problem is that it is a self-selecting sample of people who responded to an email from econsultancy’s user base, a link on Twitter and “other channels”. This is hardly a representative sample as the very fact that someone is receiving emails form econsultancy or sufficiently active on Twitter to see a link means that they aren’t necessarily typical of all marketing and PR people.
The second potential issue for me is the definition as “the area of planning, monitoring and engaging in real-time, conversational and online editorially led media as Online PR and Social Media.” I’m not sure I fully understand what that means and I’m uncomfortable with the phrase “online editorially led media”, which appears to imply a limited definition of public relations. It feels like the old mistake that people used to make, and unfortunately too many still do, of equating public relations with the rather limited field of media relations rather than the much broader discipline of public relations that incorporates stakeholder relations, public affairs, investor relations, CSR, internal communications, community relations etc.
A third issue is that it is very skewed towards smaller companies. Just 18% of client side respondents have a turnover of more than £150 million and 53% have a turnover of less than £50 million. That puts most big brands and companies outside the scope of the survey.
And finally, as with all quantitative surveys, it depends on how the respondents interpret a question. For example a lot of the questions were based around the concept of “do you use?” Respondents who doing things extremely badly, or who have just dabbled with Twitter or blogs could answer yes to this and skew the results.
If you remember to apply the health warnings above then the report does provide some interesting food for thought.
Probably the most interesting question for me was “Do you have resources dedicated to your social media activity?” It gave a disparate response with 35% of companies saying it was managed by the digital marketing team and 21% the PR/communication team. Contrast that with the agencies response of 26% PR/communication team and 22% digital marketing team. Bizarrely 22% of agencies think they manage it, I presume that means they don’t report to anyone at their clients and aren’t managed by them – as if! Just 19% of companies and 13% of agencies gave what I’d consider to be the best answer of its “managed by a cross-functional team”.
At Wolfstar we find that our counsel and advice is most beneficial when we’re helping to facilitate and develop strategies for cross-functional teams that involve every department including marketing, legal, human resources, customer service, research and development etc. Usually this is led by the head of corporate communications or public relations as they have a far broader remit than many of the other narrower functional departments.
Some of my other observations are:
One of the problems that we find is that too many organisations think of social media and online PR in terms of marketing communications and campaigns, rather than reputation and behaviour.
The report is filled with quotes providing an ‘expert’ perspective. Some of the most interesting come from Steph Gray, head of digital communications at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills including: “The report presents a real challenge to traditional PR and digital agencies to raise their skills and capacity in relation to social media marketing – it’s worrying to see over a quarter of clients dissatisfied – I’ve certainly felt that frustration at first hand. As a client it’s a real risk to our brand and reputation to have these new channels used clumsily on our behalf.”
I’d thoroughly endorse Steph’s comments. It appears that now everybody claims to offer social media and to have social media experts. In fact they don’t. There is so much information out there about social media and online PR that it’s not hard to jump on the bandwagon by reading a few blogs and books (see Neville Hobson’s tweet earlier today saying “Amazon UK lists over 60 books about social media or social media marketing. What a bandwagon!”) and attending conferences and training courses (I’ve spoken at them and run them) and then claiming to clients that you can do it. That’s totally different to actually have done it. It’s also not enough to just ‘do’ the social media part of it, first you need to be experienced in corporate communications and public relations, then you’ve got to add the social media experience on. And note I do say experience and not just knowledge (which can be easily gleaned).
Despite my many reservations I’d still recommend that you buy the report.