Public Relations is not the same as Social Media. The two can (and should) reference and use each other, because a company should always stay on brand, but Public Relations and Social Media are two very different marketing strategies aimed at very different audiences.
Public Relations is about sending out one big message. It was designed for the traditional markets, when there were only so many media channels, and everyone watched, listened, or read the same things. Public Relations is about presenting a direct blanket statement to a large audience, so that everyone will see what you’re offering.
Social Media, on the other hand, is about getting consistent, smaller messages to a group of people interested enough in your company, brand, or product to make the choice to follow you. You know you’re talking to people who are open to what you are saying. Some may be passionate about it, some may be only slightly interested, but at some point every one of them made the choice to “like,” follow, or subscribe to your company’s social media.
We’re not pitting Social Media against Public Relations. One method isn’t better than the other; each is just a different tool. The media world of today is fragmented. The average Internet user can curate his or her own incoming stream of information. But he or she also watches TV, reads the bigger newspapers (if only the online version), and goes into the world where advertisements surround her. A smart company needs both the big picture traditional message, and the direct social media message to people who know you.
The style of each is also different: PR is how an entity speaks; social media is how a person speaks. PR is like a hunter looking for a bison to feed his or her tribe for a few weeks. Social media is a like a farmer tending to his or her garden over years. PR is the way you talk to a potential employer. Social media is the way you talk to a friend.
So if you only have a Public Relations Department, or you only have someone running your Social Media, consider hiring an individual or firm for each. You’ll reap the benefits of having experts in both fields doing what they do best.