PR vs SEO: Similar Goals, Overlapping Tactics

Steve Rubel stirred up the search engine optimization industry last week by taking issue with some of the tactics used to build links to sites, including creating content aimed primarily social sites like Digg where highly Dugg content secondarily generates additional inbound links to the mentioned site.

Rubel explained in a post titled, “SEO Shenanigans Pose a Clear and Present Danger to Social Media,” how the world will come to an end if SEOs work with clients to create content that people love enough to Digg, share with friends on YouTube, or Stumble. Okay, that’s not exactly how Rubel put it. But he does think that creating content with the sole purpose of increasing search engine rankings is bad for online communities.

Search engine optimizer – including me now – took the bait and called Rubel an idiot for suggesting that what SEOs do is any different from what PR people do for a living. Rubel called the SEO’s counterargument “poppycock“:

That’s complete poppycock. There is no comparison. The reason is that over the last several years the PR industry has largely learned its lessons – often the hard way.

Call me an optimist, but in 2008 most in the PR business take a clean approach to social media. A key reason is that when our clients engage, their participation needs to be transparent for it to be credible.

I guess Rubel is saying that PR used to be an industry full of slime balls using slime ball tactics, but that all changed when we bought new calendars on January 1st.

Of course, this ignores the fact that you can hire PR firms today who will pay Facebook users to say nice things about your company. You can hire other firms who have teams of YouTube users ready and willing to rate your “viral video” high so it will end up on the front page.

Steve, why not just admit that your industry has its share of social misfits too?

Consider for a second that content that effectively generates traffic in links from social networking sites tends to have one important ingredient: value. People won’t link to content they don’t find valuable.

PR firms face a challenge if they guarantee value in an online world. They tell a client that they’re going to run a “viral marketing campaign” where a video will be created specifically for YouTube where a zillion people will share it with all of their friends. Only, the firms have no control over whether something goes viral . . . unless they hire people to be their “friends” to get things started. Sure, the first 100 “friends” weren’t truly organic, but once things got noticed it took off, which is the point of PR right? You’re just trying to help bring attention to a very important message from (__INSERT_CLIENT_NAME_HERE__).

Expect to see many more online PR disasters in 2008 as firms continue to overstep as they attempt to leverage the audiences found on social networking sites.

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