Interactive or Engaged?

(This is a guest post by Valerie Merahn Simon. For more about Valerie, check out her bio at the end of this post.)

I recently came across a press release about a new social media initiative taken by a large restaurant chain. A highly regarded advertising agency was responsible for the successful initiative, which resulted in a growing Twitter following, significant Facebook fan base, and impressive number of YouTube views. The website now offers a wealth of information on everything from nutritional information to in-store specials and promotions, as well as various sweepstakes. There are interactive quizzes and games. It really did appear that the agency was executing a fully integrated communications effort.

Then I read a blog post by John Bernier, a marketing manager for Best Buy, responsible for leading a team of employees in launching Best Buy’s “Twelpforce,” and realized what was missing. Bernier notes that customer’s must take advantage of social media as an “opportunity to listen to the customer to provide them more of what they need, when they need it, where they want it.

Social Media is not simply an opportunity to pass information along and talk AT the customer, it’s an opportunity to engage and learn from your customers, and the marketplace. While the Best Buy website may not offer much in the way of sweepstakes or promotions, it offers many opportunities to engage and learn from customers; forums, the Geek Blog, IdeaX, ratings and reviews, and, of course the Twelpforce, offer customers the opportunity to make the most of Best Buy. And it allows Best Buy to make the most of its customers.

Advertising is an opportunity to create and communicate a message, to craft exciting and interesting ways to get the public to take note of the brand, in a manner in which the company would like it to be perceived. Public Relations is about developing the conversation between and about companies and the public; building relationships with the employees, customers and other targeted groups.

Social media provides a means for the consumer to voice opinions, and I believe the companies that will find the greatest success will understand the difference between interactive and conversational. While I very much agree that there are many lessons PR can learn about social media from advertising (see Dave’s earlier post ) and acknowledge that the ad agency designed campaign noted above certainly offered the client many benefits, the focus was on the restaurant, not the consumer. For a company to be most effective in its use of social media, it must offer customers the chance to take center stage.

Do you see the difference between customer interaction and engagement? If you were a marketing director, would you hire a PR Agency or an Advertising Agency to help develop and implement your social media strategy?

Valerie Merahn Simon serves as a Senior Vice President at BurrellesLuce media monitoring and measurement, and writes a national public relations column for examiner.com. She is also co-founder and host of #PRStudChat, a monthly twitter chat between PR professionals and students moderated by Deirdre Breakenridge. She can be found on Twitter or LinkedIn.