There is a lot of talk about the “fine line” in PR now that social media has been pushing the envelope on what is acceptable to traditional PR practitioners (read: media relations). You’ll hear that there is a “fine line” between PR and advertising now that PR is incentivizing non-journalists to broadcast various messages on behalf of their clients. There is a “fine line” between Pay Per Post and paying a PR agency to try to get placements for you. There is a “fine line” between sponsored posts and banner ads.
The lines get less fine when you revert back to definitions that few will disagree with. You generally won’t get into a big argument when you separate PR from advertising as the difference between paid media and earned media. Paid media has certain benefits, like being predictable, as does earned media, like generally being more trustworthy.
If you’re paying for placement through a company like Izea, Pay Per Post or BlogHer, you’re not doing PR…or you’re just doing it badly. Clients pay PR people to craft persuasive messaging and develop assets to support this messaging, which can then be used to reach influencers and shift sentiment around an issue or news item. These services aren’t necessarily immoral (thought I don’t personally like them) but they are paid media and should be purchased by media companies and advertisers and held to the same standards as other media buys.
Why is this an important distinction to make?
Put simply, it’s because organic impressions are worth so much more than manufactured impressions. Social media, blog-related media in particular, is going through something that search engines went through a little while ago in that they’re trying to figure out the right place for sponsored content among organic content. Today search is a more mature industry and the brands that are investing in SEM have a clear understanding of the difference in value between paid search and organic search results.
PR can play a very strong role in organic social media marketing if it’s willing to distance itself from paid media. I won’t argue that paid media doesn’t have a place in this mix (in fact, this looks about right to me) but public relations needs to take it’s discipline a lot more seriously before someone else steps in and becomes a better resource for working your brand into this media segment organically.