Who should own social media? Public relations professionals are certainly putting a stake into the ground, and not without reason. A huge component of the participatory Internet is seeding information: stories, content and news, and helping to foster dissemination.

Looking on with alarm are the SEOs. Search engine optimization is a form of public relations. Just as there are no guarantees that The New York Times will write a story based on your pitch, much less run it on page one, there’s no guarantee search engines will crawl or rank your Web content. But if you know what you’re doing, you can greatly increase the odds of a favorable outcome.

Left in the hands of public relations professionals, argue the searchies, social media marketing will turn into a tidal wave of spam. We’re the Web professionals — leave it to us!

They have a point. It depends on qualifications.

At one end of the spectrum is an acquaintance (let’s call her “Susan”) whose public relations business failed in the current climate. Susan just joined Facebook and uses it to send reminders that she’s desperately seeking freelance assignments. Beyond Facebook and e-mail, Susan’s knowledge of the Web is near zero. Much as I’d like to help an old friend in need, I can’t in good conscience recommend her to anyone in my network.

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