Or is it a possibility they can they co-exist -- or, heaven forbid, morph into one?Last night Media Survey's Sam Whitmore moderated a panel called "Is Social Media Killing PR?" -- inspired by recent blog rants, like this one by TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, which, says Boomtownï¿¼s Kara Swisher, "have taken potshots at the PR industry as unnecessary or broken in the new social media order."
For a gathering to ensue as a reaction tells me the social media tool we call the blog must be making a dent. Swisher acknowledges that, too: "Of course, as was the intent, their pieces caused a teapot-tempest in the sector, although I said at the start of the panel that I was not so sure that PR folks should bite at this particular bait from a trio of bloggers well known for liking to start controversial debates."
But bite they did, and why the heck not. Talking's what PR is all about, anyway. The panel featured Swisher, the Horn Groupï¿¼s Susan Etlinger (yes, a PR firm), and Jeremiah Oywang, a Web strategist with Forrester Research. Interestingly, Swisher's overall conclusion seems less about how information is disclosed than the content of the message itself: "Social media [is] not going to turn a weak pitch into a strong one," she wrote after the panel -- even if those pitches will live on Twitter instead of the traditional press release.
In my opinion, Ustrategy founder Ravit Lichtenberg, who covered part of the panel in this live blog, hit it right on the head with this one-liner: "The issue isn't about social media vs. PR but rather about evolution." (Come to think of it, what she says it reminiscent of this blog I wrote over the summer, Social Networking: Evolution Before Your Very Eyes). Evolution, Lichtenberg goes on to say, can be frightening to those who don't see it for what it is. "The very people who are so good at PR, often find it just as hard to look inside the practice--which is to a large extent their identity--and critique. They're used to creating beautiful fronts--not to look at the cracks underneath," she writes.
So perhaps PR pros should be thanking Arrington and his blogging brethren for getting the dialogue started. Boundaries, indeed, are blurring, but Lichtenberg expects the day to come where "we'll see people becoming leaders in the industry not for doing one or the other, but for bringing together traditional PR and what's termed Social Media and for creating a full-spectrum system that doesn't speak to this or that tool, but to finding creative ways to address what a firm's client is looking for."
(For the record, Arrington's rant was inspired by Micro Persuasion blogger (and my former co-worker) Steve Rubel, who three months ago said "in a Google age where self-discovery rules," it's time for PR pros to ditch traditional pitching and adapt to the times. Makes for an interesting read.)
Here's a short video from last night's panel (4:21):