The Cookie Theory

How social differs from PR and marketing

My friend accused me of being in public relations recently. “No!” I said back at him, pointing with my beer, “that’s not what I do.”

“You relate to the public, how is that not PR?”

“I share with the public,” I insisted. The conversation topic soon changed but I kept thinking about it. A couple days later I met with a peer and skated over some of the same ground.

“They’re part of the same thing,” is roughly what she told me. I was having a latte at the time and can’t quote her exactly. But in that conversation we came up with the Cookie Theory that helps me think my way around the differences between social media, public relations and marketing.

Imagine there’s this cookie…

For a person in public relations the cookie is a thing to show off as an example of the great work being done at the cookie factory. It will taste good, have just the right amount of crunch, it was made by professionals. Cookie experts worked for years to come up with this design. When you think about cookies, this is the cookie you should be thinking about.

For a person in marketing the cookie is a valuable commodity. Consumers may have had other cookies before and even enjoyed them, but nothing can prepare them for the experience of eating this cookie. No cookie in the world will satisfy like this cookie. In fact this cookie is so good we’re charging $X for it. That’s fine though, because when your friends see you eating this cookie they will know how cool you are and in fact will want to start eating the same cookie. Buy a couple!

For a person in social media having a yummy cookie means you want to break it up and give it to as many people as possible so they can all experience the cookie. They’re also encouraged to share pieces of the cookie with their friends. Since they liked the cookie they’ll come back and try more cookies. They’ll start to look forward to offered cookies. Some they won’t like, but as long as they like the cookie more often than they don’t they will keep trying my snacks.

Social admins know their work overlaps with both PR and marketing. That’s why many social shops are nested inside those departments.

Marketers trust that I will share just enough of the right kind of cookie to encourage consumers to buy large amounts of cookies.

Those in public relations trust that I’m sharing good enough cookies that when a batch is found to contain rat dung consumers will be willing to forgive the mistake and offer our other cookies a fair chance.

People who like cookies know when they are being exposed to ads designed to take their money. They understand spin is an effort to control their mind. The difference with social is that sharing the cookie comes from the simple desire to include others in the wonderful experience of having a tasty snack. That genuine feeling of wanting to include others, along with people’s enjoyment of being included, is the powerful heart of social media.