Where Are the Boundaries Between Social Media, PR and SEO?

Prompted by an article in PRMoment that posed the question as to whether PRs with loads of Twitter followers are better at their jobs, I had an interesting conversation with Matt Anderson last week around the value of Twitter in a professional capacity. Matt asserted that he thought that PRs could learn a thing or two from SEO and digital professionals. This is something that, from the point of view of someone working inside PR, I totally agree with. But it also made me ask whether PR, SEO and social marketing will all come together in some shape of form within the next few years?

I’ve blogged before about the various skills that a progressive PR consultant now needs to get a handle of in order to get ahead, and of the complexities of combining offline and online approaches to PR. I’ve also revealed a few secrets about the different ways that PR and digital marketers pitch to prospective clients. But I’ve not before questioned the boundaries between PR, SEO and social marketing: what are the boundaries? ARE there any boundaries?

I’d argue vehemently that where once there was a clear distinction between SEO and PR, the two disciplines are coming closer together month by month. Matt Anderson feels that the skill sets of PR and SEO are different, and to an extent he’s right. You won’t find a PR undertaking an in-depth backlinking campaign or tweaking metatags and html code, and you won’t find an SEO pro pushing content to bloggers for messaging reasons or running a Facebook page. But this is where social media comes in.

Ask many (or maybe most?) marketers involved in social media what the prime benefits are and one answer you won’t get back is about optimising a brand for the web. They might talk communities, engagement, advocates, influence, word of mouth, brand value and maybe even web traffic, but very few will talk about search engine ranking. And yet social media is perfectly suited to optimising a brand for Google. Case in point: I recently did a short-term project for a high street consumer brand that involved Twitter, Facebook and blogger outreach. At the start of the campaign, a Google search for the brand returned the corporate website and very little else of any value. But after just four months, the same search returns 18 blog entries, reviews and social media profiles in the first 3 pages of Google that are a direct result of our social marketing campaign. This is social media optimisation in action.

So are the boundaries between SEO and PR all that great? Due to social media, no, they’re not. Though there are clear differences between the two disciplines in their core form, it may well be that social marketing means that PR agencies will need to get a greater handle on SEO in future, and that SEO agencies need to start thinking in terms of content value as much as key SEO principles. Is the day coming when PR agencies employ their own SEO professionals? Are we, in the near future, going to have simply ‘online communications agencies’ that bring all of the various disciplines together? I’d love to hear your point of view…

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