Social Media is not a Public Relations Tactic

I teach Marketing and Public Relations courses. My students often misunderstand the concept that “social media” is not a tactic; it is the umbrella term for all the types of platforms that exist on the internet as potential marketing communication tools and vehicles available to communicate with customers and clients.

On an exam, if they are asked to write about tactics, they will often write “social media”, and I cringe every time I see that because of the number of times I have stressed that social media is not a public relations or marketing tactic. It is the umbrella term. Sigh. There go those marks.

I tell them to think of one of those big red toolbox chests that might be in the garage or basement of your mom or dad’s workroom. If you walked up to the toolbox, and pulled out a drawer, you may find a bunch of screwdrivers. At first glance, they all look the same. But, when you look closer, they all have different tips to them. One is flat, one is star-shaped, one is cross-shaped, and so on. In the same way, that toolbox chest is the Marketing Communications Toolbox. Social media is just one of the drawers in the chest. If you open that drawer, in it you will find all the tools that are similar, but different enough, because they can be used for slightly different needs and jobs: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube. While they all may be on the internet and digital, they may have different audiences and approaches, and as marketing communication experts, you need to know which one works best for your target market and project.

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