By Mark Firmani

Is Social Media Killing PR?

At a recent gathering of communications professionals, the topic of social media arose. We wondered if social media was a positive or negative force when it came to our ability to communicate complex ideas, create consensus, change minds or spur commerce.

One of our colleagues posed the question: “Is social media killing the practice of public relations?”

In our circle of friends, conversations like this are hot-button issues, along with whether to use the Oxford comma (answer: sometimes), or if David Brooks is a better opinion writer than Tim Egan (no way).

We had a spirited conversation around this and what I put forward is that inherent in the question is the problem – the belief that social media is something more than a tactic. Instead, PR practitioners and our clients should view social platforms as tools that, when used appropriately, can help support a broader range of PR-driven initiatives.

While social is just one among many channels that are critical in executing effective marketing and communications programs, the data show it is perhaps one of the most necessary and powerful tools when it comes to reaching specific audiences.

To wit: a recent study by the Pew Research Center shows that a third of adults age 19-29 receive their news from social media, while only 2 percent get their news from newspapers.

Rather than ask whether social media has killed traditional PR, I think a better question to ask is how has social media amplified the practice of public relations?”

Some of the ways we effectively use social media as part of an integrated PR and marketing strategy include:

Merchandizing Wins More (Cost) Efficiently

  • We routinely use social media to amplify our successes in gaining media coverage by sharing those wins via a client’s social media channels. In the old days, we would buy physical reprints and mail them to our key audiences. Sharing via social media makes that process faster and vastly more powerful.

Cutting Out the Middle Man

  • Social media channels and digital content marketing give us the ability to communicate directly with our key audiences, when and where they want to receive information without reliance on traditional media. Using social media to reinforce individual or brand thought leadership allows us to be in front of our key audiences much more frequently than if we were relying on media outreach or direct marketing.

Controlling the Message

  • We use social media when we need to gain a higher level of control in the way we make announcements and break news on behalf of our clients. By using social media, we can circumvent the media as a gatekeeper. Politics aside, President Trump has made a study of this approach.

Producing and Publishing Multimedia Content

Social media has dramatically opened avenues to use video and multimedia to tell stories in a highly cost-effective way. Years ago, we might have hired a production team to create a video and screened it exclusively at a user conference or a fundraising gala. Now, with the proliferation of powerful-and-inexpensive technology, not only can we produce high-quality video content for these large-scale venues, we can also produce all kinds of other professional-looking multimedia content and share it more frequently, adding to our storytelling ability.

Those are just a few of the ways we’ve employed the tactical use of social media to complement PR strategies that draw from a range of tactics and tools available to us. As important, though, is our use of social media to listen.


  • For example, we use social media – especially Twitter – to keep up with key journalists’ interests and activities, which in turn helps us build relationships. Certainly, while we still have coffee and email them interesting notes directly from time to time, social media enables us as individuals to passively keep up with each other.

Stakeholder Listening

  • We also use a suite of tools that help us listen to our clients’ key audience’s social media conversations. Listening can help us better understand their interests, views and concerns, and often listening can help us identify issues or problems before they bloom into larger, more public problems.

We do see, though, inherent problems with social media, largely around the common mistake of becoming overly reliant on using it as a singular tactic, or viewing social activity as an end-goal itself, without identifying communications objectives and the right mix of strategies to reach them.

A common blunder that we see often is the belief that all things (or most things) can be communicated in 280 characters.

More critically, the siren call of social media can be an ill-fated shortcut for doing the hard work that is the foundation of any thoughtful communication strategy, which requires time, research and testing.

This work allows us to think through all the nuances of a communication challenge or strategy, spend time targeting audiences, ensure decision-makers and stakeholders are on board, and guarantee that our messages across platforms are consistent.

Once that is done, social media can be a very powerful tactic. Used properly and judiciously, social serves as a highly effective, purpose-built tool to help amplify messages and add speed and brevity to a suite of communication tactics, while enhancing our ability to be powerful storytellers.


By F+A Staff

Getting To Know F+A Senior Account Executive, Julia Irwin

Julia Irwin joined Firmani + Associates in 2016, after making a cross-country move from the Land of 10,000 Lakes, bringing creative and critical thinking and a wealth of PR agency experience to her role as a senior account executive at F+A.

Unlike some PR pros, Julia set her sights on public relations early on, selecting PR as her academic track while studying communication at the University of Minnesota. Fast-forward to today, as one of F+A’s senior practitioners, she leads strategy and execution for a number of the firm’s clients – and she also boasts the agency’s most meticulous copyediting skills.

We sat down with Julia to hear more about her outlook and insights into the PR industry and beyond.

Q: From hospitality to mobile HVAC, you work across some of the firm’s most disparate industries. What stands out to you about advising clients in such different fields?

A: I’ve always enjoyed working on client accounts that are very different from one another, not only because I get to learn the ins and outs of so many different industries, but also because having such a varied portfolio of clients keeps me on my toes. While the nature of a client’s industry certainly impacts the strategies we recommend, the common thread in all of our work is to understand the organization’s business objectives and then figure out how PR and marketing can help realize those goals.

I love that in any given day, I might help a b2b client generate sales leads by developing a digital advertising and email lead generation campaign – and then switch gears to working with a brand that wants to reach consumers directly within a key market, perhaps by securing local broadcast coverage to drive thought leadership and overall visibility. The possibilities are endless, and I never get bored!  

Q: Why Firmani?

A: As a mid-sized agency, F+A offers me the opportunity to really take ownership of my work and gain valuable experience in different areas. While there are areas we specialize in, I appreciate that we don’t limit ourselves to only working within particular industries or with certain clients.

Working here has also enabled me to continually challenge myself and regularly take on new skills outside of my comfort zone. Additionally, working one-on-one with my clients has enabled me to form fantastic, truly collaborative relationships with them. There’s no better feeling than delivering a client win and sharing in our success together.

Beyond the work itself, the team at F+A has become more than just colleagues; I consider them an extended family. My fiancé and I moved to Seattle from the Midwest almost three years ago and barely knew another soul in our new city. Since then, we (and our two pups) have been fully welcomed into the F+A crew. We’ll never say no to a work-sponsored happy hour, Mariners game or putt-putt tournament! Luna and Jolene appreciate all the toys and treats in the office, too.

Q: What advice do you share with recent graduates and young professionals coming up the ranks of marketing and communications?

A: Hone your writing skills. Making it in the agency world (and elsewhere!) requires rock solid writing chops, so look for any opportunity to continue developing your craft. You won’t regret it.

Network, network, network! Join PRSA or any other young professionals group in your area and attend their events to meet fellow people in the industry, on both the agency and corporate side. And if you meet someone that works in a field or position you’re interested in learning more about, don’t be afraid to ask them to coffee. You never know what can result from the connections you make now.

Q: What trends do you see on the horizon that all organizations should heed?

A: Right now, it’s all about data storytelling. We are big believers in using an integrated approach to realize any organization’s PR and marketing goals – and in today’s terms, that means weaving traditional and digital tactics. Organizations should embrace the data mining and digital analytics tools we have at our fingertips to uncover what’s compelling about their own proprietary data. Figure out what makes your data interesting and then present it in a visually compelling way. Better yet, partner with an integrated marketing and PR agency, and we’ll help you tap what’s interesting and promote it in the most effective ways.

Learn more about Julia at

Is Social Media Killing PR?
Getting To Know F+A Senior Account Executive, Julia Irwin