WOM on SocNets, is it the Future?

17 02 2009

Last night I got involved in a heated debate about PR and search engine optimisation (SEO) .  Partly because the debate was on twitter and it was late into the evening (I think most of us were on UK time) it was fast moving, free flowing and it also involved many of the people who know most about the emerging roles of digital PR.

The discussion became confusing at times…talk about distributed conversations.  I think however that the main points can be summarised as follows, (and there may be I admit a little bias towards my own views here):

  • Public relations on line can play a significant role in SEO or raising the rank and therefore importance of sites in Google and other search engines
  • It is an inexact science, there are probably lots of ways to make this work but they are not publicly available or widely discusssed in the PR community
  • Some SEO agencies know this and are hiring PR people
  • Some PR people know this and are hiring SEO people
  • The PR industry has lost out so far to the SEO industry in selling skills in this area to major companies and brands
  • Planning and use of analytics will be key to how the PR industry develops in the field
  • WOM in SocNets is the future (or even the present).

I want to take issue with the last point not because I disagree but because it points up a problem.  I’ve been in PR a long time and have been involved with the social web in various ways for a good few years but the phrase threw me and I had to look it up. When I found that it meant Word of Mouth in Social Networks I felt like a fool…of course.  Let’s demystify and let’s not be too enthusiastic about the next big thing before it happens.

It is true that social reputation and peer to peer recomendation will assert themselves in the digital space but let’s not downgrade search just yet.  I went to Twestival in Manchester and met lots of mates ….it was packed with PR people and digital marketing people, so I conclude that at the moment we are talking to each other a lot of the time.

For the time being search and content are critical for the PR industry but let’s keep and eye on the growing importance of SocNets.

Many thanks to Tim Hoang, Stephen Davies, Stephen WaddingtonJed Hallam, Jaz Cummins, Lewis Webb, Melanie Seasons, Pete Goold, Ian Delaney and many more!

Stop post (that’s stop press for the blogging era): read Stephen Waddington’s take on the debate here and Jed Hallam’s note from the geekfest here.



10 responses

17 02 2009

Thanks for the write up – was a fun debate [We are so dull].

17 02 2009
Chris Norton

Rob, I am sorry I missed this debate last night as I would have got involved. I think this is certainly an area which will make for an interesting debate as SEO is an area I have a real interest in.

Unfortunately, the PR industry may miss a trick here and the other disciplines could benefit by taking the big budgets because traditionally I believe we aren’t as good at packaging our services like the others. They have been used to making money from emerging technologies like online advertising, SEO, viral video and experiential techniques. I have met with a few digital marketers recently and they are all trying to add social media to their growing portfolio and have declared an interest in what we do and how we do it.

Analytics will be critical to the development of content so is bound to be important. I am going to watch this area with interest as there is certainly some cross over as someone must benefit.

17 02 2009
SEO and Public Relations | Rock Star PR

[…] Brown summarised the conversation nicely early this morning (although it carries more than a bit of spin ) and I would expect that […]

17 02 2009
Stephen Waddington

Thanks for the summary Rob. Have quoted your bulletpoints in a response here: http://www.rainierpr.co.uk/blog/2009/02/twitter-debate-pr-and-its-role-in-seo.html

17 02 2009
Chris Applegate

I can’t quite see how WoM in SocNets is the future as far as SEO is concerned – many social networks are ‘walled gardens’ and their deep content blocked to social networks (Facebook the most classic example) and some social networks implement nofollow on published links (e.g. Twitter) – so relying on them to help SEO may be the wrong target.

I watched the Twitter debate last night [and declined to join in as it just was just too late in the evening to think about work, so I just got a bit grumpy about all the extra noise ;) ]. To me there needs to be a better distinction between SEO in terms of technology – a well-formatted, standards-compliant platform which allows descriptive titles, URLs and metadata, accessible to search engines and not bundled up in Flash – and SEO in terms of content: creating the right keywords, headlines, intros and links.

It’s this latter role that PR agencies can both offer insight and learn new skills – although many themselves have to relearn how to write and circulate press releases and other publicity. Borrowing a few tricks from SEO here is essential, along with telling the SEO guys what the audience wants and needs in terms of content, and getting the technology underpinning the site to support it as easily and seamlessly as possible.

Of course with all these boundaries being redrawn we may end up having to get rid of concepts such as SEO and PR and come up with new ones, and all this discussion might be entirely moot :)

Final thoughts – as more content gets put into video and with no easy way to ‘search’ within video, that represents a real challenge for search. Switching from a keyword focus to a behavioural focus may come to dominate SEO in years to come, and then we will all have to learn new set of skills all over again. :)

17 02 2009
Pete Goold

Hey Rob,

Ian Delaney made a great point, in that i-Crossing ws farsighted in taking on ex-PR Antony Mayfield, ie bringing PR to the socnet party.

I strongly believe that SEO is more akin to PR than the web dev sector, as it should be about great content and effective distribution – two facets which belong in every great PR campaign.

17 02 2009
A PR Guy's Musings - Stuart Bruce

Public relations is about reputation, not SEO…

Jed Hallam has been involved in a fascinating Twitter debate, this time on the relative merits of public relations and SEO (or search engine optimisation). I started to write a comment in response, but then decided it was probably worth……

20 02 2009
SEO vs PR, what's it all mean, where do we come from? |

[…] Wom on Socnets from Rob Brown […]

18 03 2009
What is the point of posting comments on blogs? | Berkeley Blog

[…] over my lunch break today and dedicated some time to reviewing a lengthy string of comments on one of Rob Brown’s posts about PR and SEO (search engine optimisation). One comment I found particularly worthy of note was […]

23 11 2009
seo companies

PR will definitely assist your seo results

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