The Big PR Survey – the use of Social Media by SA Public Relations agencies
  • responses collected from 76 mid- to senior people at SA Public Relations agencies
  • 30% never, or hardly ever, use Social Media tools to develop their clients’ business profiles online. 44% regularly, or always, do
  • Personal profiling of key execs: 50% never or hardly ever use Social Networking sites
  • Almost 80% of agencies already use Social Media for business, and half rate themselves 7/10 or 8/10, a third more 9/10 or 10/10
  • But only 41% see Social Media brining financial success
  • 80% think it will become an increasingly valuable tool for PR strategists
Why did we do this survey? Because while everyone’s talking about Social Media, many PR agencies are in a bit of a no-man’s land, caught between the use of this incredibly powerful tool that lets you talk directly to audiences and the conflicting, tried-and-tested positioning of PR as the champions of indirect communication via trusted third parties.There is also a tug-of-war between three poles – technology developers, Web marketers/SEO people and the PR and communications agencies. Add to this, of course, the big ad agencies trying (as usual) to do it all. As a PR agency, we were interested in what our peers were doing – and no-one else had asked the questions.How did we do it? A masters student in communications, Daniel Atwater, was doing an internship with us at Sentient Communications looking at new models for communications agencies. He developed the questionnaire with help from us and his thesis professor at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles. BizCommunity kindly helped publicise the survey.What was the outcome?The results of the survey have been distributed to all those that participated for them to review and draw their conclusions. The iPod Nano we sponsored as an incentive has been handed over to its delighted recipient. Now read on, for a summary of the highlights and some discussion.Questionnaire and validation:The survey included some “reality check” questions to provide an intuitive sense of whether responses made sense. We excluded responses that were clearly not from PR agencies as well as incomplete responses. Sample size and quality: 108 raw responses were reduced to 76 legitimate ones. 42% of respondents are from very small agencies (1-5 people), 25% from small agencies (6-10) people and 16% from large agencies (31+), which is probably a fair cross-section of our industry. 37% have been in business for 5-10 years, 25% for 11 years or more – and of the individuals who filled in the questionnaire, more than half are MD or AD level, a quarter are account managers. We’re satisfied that our sample is of relatively heavy-weight, experienced professionals. We’re also satisfied that they’re real PR agencies – core areas of expertise for most of them was “media relations”, “ publicity” and “marketing communications”, the bread and butter of PR. Interestingly almost half rate “Social Media” as an area of expertise. It must be noted that the sample has an inherent skew as it’s self-selecting for respondents that are already “online”. The findings:In a nutshell? This is a bunch of people that think online and Social Media are the future. Everyone already uses email extensively, everyone’s on the Web, almost 80% already use Social Media for business. Around half the respondents rate their agencies as being a 7 or 8 on a scale of 1-10 in usage of Social Media, and a third as 9 or 10.
This is interesting, because agencies’ self-perception is one of an enthusiastic “Social Media w00t!”. However, looking at specific tactical questions tells another story – that the personal enthusiasm does not play out into client campaigns to nearly the same extent.Almost a third never, or hardly ever, use Social Media tools to develop their clients’ business profiles online, while 44% regularly, or always, do. When it comes to building the personal profiles of clients’ key execs, half never or hardly ever use Social Networking sites.
There is a massive missed opportunity here – especially on the personal profiling side. The question is, are SA PR agencies not taking the idea to their clients, or are the clients pushing back? We don’t have the “rock-star CEO” business culture in SA, which could be a factor, but certainly there is enormous scope for using senior execs’ personal reputations to build brand credibility. About 30% of agencies see this, regularly or always using executive profile-building via Social Media. The response to the question on how agencies rate the success of corporate blogging, a third basically said “waste of time”. A third said “meh”. And a third said “Awesome! Bring it on!”
This seems to confirm that most agencies think they “get it”, but only some really do – especially when you consider that almost half said their clients and 70% of their business associates read or post to blogs.We were interested in seeing the response to the questions on video, as South African Internet users don’t have much of a Web video habit yet (because it takes so darn long for vids to load in our bandwidth-benighted country). 34% have posted videos to video sites such as YouTube, 28% have used Web video to promote clients’ services or products. It seems that agencies perhaps see themselves in a client education role – while 30% think their clients’ knowledge and use of Web video is increasing, 42% believe the same of themselves. This is confirmed with the question “our knowledge of video websites is very limited” – 26%. For clients? 38%.Getting down to brass tacks:And then we come to the money questions. Do you think Social Media as a PR strategy is successful based on your experience. One third: “Yeah, it’s alright”. One third: “Definitely worth it”. An even split between “Bollocks to that, waste of time” and “We are radically changing to make it central to our business” at 16%.The most revealing question of all: No-one … not one… thinks Social Media has reached its limitations. Just two people think it will not grow any more. 80% think it will definitely grow and become an increasingly valuable tool for PR strategists.Compare this to the next question: “Have you seen a direct correlation between increase in Social Media use and business success?” 66% say yes. When asked if this correlation resulted in financial success, it drops to 41%. This, in every sense of the word, means we are in a hype cycle. Almost everyone thinks it’s wonderful, a lot less have had direct, real-life success with it.
Like so many elements of the Web 2.0 and Social Media worlds, what currently defines “success” is mostly good vibes, rather than cold, hard measurables.Conclusions that can be drawn? Almost everyone sees Social Media as a Big Big Thing for PR. Less are clear about how exactly it translates into actual tactical work. There is, however, already plenty of online campaign activity going on – whether just for appearances, or because the client seemed to want it, or because the agency actually has confidence in it. Agencies in general seem to see themselves as leading the adoption with clients, rather than being pressed to do it, but everyone wants a piece of this new pie. As the use of Social Media increases, the discrepancy between the more than 80% who think it’s awesome, versus the 66% that have seen actual business success, will have to close.CLICK HERE to download the complete PR Survey PDF (71 KB)See also: