On Friday I chaired the Econsultancy roundtable on Online PR and Social Media, which was well-attended by 20 social media and online marketing practitioners from client and agency side, including a number of well-known and respected brands.

The topic of “best practice” was high up on the agenda, and attendees had a lot to say about the issue of where online PR/social media strategy sits within their organisation. While a couple of brands attending had been successful at setting up social media teams, the majority admitted that organising internal departments around online PR and social media was still a challenge. In many cases, individual teams (internal or agency) are continuing to work in isolation, and little collaboration is happening in the social media space. Surprisingly, a couple of brands revealed that their PR teams have no interest in social media.

Brand-side, several attendees shared that their customer service teams are taking responsibility for a large proportion of their social media engagement. Facebook stood out as the number one platform for where the majority of fire-fighting is taking place, and a number of brands shared that they are increasingly trying to move customer service-related discussion off their wall, and direct towards an FAQ style tab.

While on this point, one agency-side attendee commented: “Social media is an asset if there are no CRM problems…but increasingly consumers will kick off online, and this is only going to get worse.”

This sparked off an interesting course of debate, with some attendees questioning whether we are giving too much importance to customer relationship management (CRM) in the social media space. “Are we doing social media because we want to, or because we have to?” one agency-side attendee asked.

As a facilitator of the event I needed to keep my opinions to a minimum, but personally I believe that while many brands are focusing their social media efforts so greatly on customer-service led enquiries, they run the risk of falling behind in innovation and creativity. CRM is so time and money intensive that it can quickly drain a social media/online PR budget, and leave little scope for a brand to initiate positive dialogue and project its personality.

It’s never really been a level playing field between brand and consumer, but while CRM and customer service in particular continue to be the focus for online PR and social media, the consumer is gaining more and more control.

N.B. The roundtable was hosted under the Chatham House Rule, meaning that attendees and their companies cannot be personally named.

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