Social Media vs. Public Relations

Feb 01, 2019

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Having a robust and strategic digital presence is no longer an option for businesses. In our increasingly connected world, developing a digital strategy is essential to increasing brand exposure and reaching new customers. Over the past decade, social media has become a constant presence in the lives of consumers.

As a public relations firm offering social media services, we often receive questions about the differences between public relations and social media. What are the key differences between public relations and social media?

Difference #1: Social Media Users Must Engage with A Brand

Engagement with a brand on social media is driven by the consumer and their choice to interact with the company. When a social media user ‘likes’ a post or ‘follows’ a page on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Instagram they are engaging with the brand and opting in to hear more from the business. While paid social media campaigns can be used to display your content to your target audience, social media consumers must make the decision to continually see your content.

Public relations strategies are focused on reaching the consumer where they are already actively consuming media, whether that is the newspaper, a magazine, broadcast television or radio. As a captive consumer of these mediums, your target audience doesn’t seek out information about you but is rather presented with it on a platform where they are already engaged.

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Difference #2: Message Control

One of the main differences between public relations and social media is that on social media platforms your organization is able to entirely control the content that is disseminated. Posts can (and should!) go through an internal review process to ensure they accurately convey your organization’s key messages. Many platforms also allow admins to hide or delete negative comments or responses on your brand’s profile as well, allowing you to control what is said about your organization to a degree.

Since public relations is earned media coverage at its core, there is less control over the end message. Press releases and media statements can be carefully crafted to convey your key messages but the content of the final story lies outside of your control. For example, if a healthcare organization is launching a new medical device, when posting on social media, they can entirely control the narrative surrounding the device, it’s intended uses, and efficacy. When the same organization distributes a press release, a reporter may share some of the positive applications of the device but might also share potential side effects. Social media allows you to control the entirety of your message while public relations lends third-party credibility.

dreamstime_xxl_94201955.jpgDifference #3: Real-Time Communication

With the exception of breaking news (and even in that case) there is always a delay between when your company shares newsworthy information with the media through a press release, news conference, or media alert, and when the first story is published. The instantaneous and 24/7 nature of social media allows information to be disseminated much faster.

Breaking news can quickly be shared by using a live streaming platform like Facebook Live and traditional posts can be used to push out real-time updates. Through comments and audience engagement features like Twitter Polls, companies can also engage with their followers and customers in real time, whereas companies are often unable to directly communicate with people who leave comments on online stories or call in to television stations following broadcast segments.

Additionally, while it takes time to craft a successful social media strategy, the day-to-day time investment can be less significant than traditional public relations tactics. Managing a social media platform involves creating frequent posts with short, to-the-point statements that often include links to other, more in-depth articles. When creating content for a PR strategy, the content of press releases and bylined articles tends to be longer and often goes through several drafts and rewrites.

Difference #4: Reach

Whether your organization is able to reach more potential clients through social media or public relations depends on several factors. For organizations with a small social media following, a public relations strategy is very important to raise brand awareness and gain new followers. Since followers are a captive audience of people who have expressed interest in your brand, as your social media following grows, so will your ability to reach your target audience.

Once a company has built a large social media community, the ability to directly reach target audiences increases. While reaching your target audience with a public relations strategy requires identifying the right outlet and story to capture your audience’s interest, with a large social media following you can almost instantaneously reach your consumer base.

Difference #5: Tone

You can’t have social media without the word ‘social.’ Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are focused on connecting and engaging with followers and the tone used in social media posts are generally more sociable, humorous, and engaging than the language used in a press release and other traditional public relations tactics.

The difference in tone for each strategy reflects the different goals that drive the use of social media vs. public relations. A primary goal for social media posts is to raise awareness and engage the audience, whether it’s through them sharing the post or joining a conversation in the comments. On the other hand, when an organization distributes a press release, engages with the community through presentations, or publishes a news article, this information isn’t intended to engage with the audience like a social media post is, instead these strategies are used to inform the public.

While social media and public relations often go hand in hand, there are significant differences in how each strategy is managed and the goals for each strategy.

At Pushkin PR, we work with our clients to develop comprehensive communications strategies that are tailored specifically to reach your target audience on the platforms where they are active. Using both public relations and social media strategies, we can help you reach new customers and build favorable brand awareness. We understand the value of social media and we are passionate about the impact that a strong PR strategy can have when creating and establishing a brand.

Get in touch with our PR firm today to learn more about our approach and how we can help you.



Jon Pushkin

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Jon Pushkin is the president and founder of Pushkin Public Relations, a full service Denver PR firm. He likes dogs, baseball and swing, in that order.


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