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Blurred Lines: Who Owns Social Media in the Enterprise?

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With more businesses embracing social media technologies and social networking, it’s inevitable that the question of ownership – and accountability – has become a more frequent topic at the boardroom table.  Sales and marketing may have led most businesses into this digital space, but today, public relations, customer service, human resources, and even operations are embracing digital communications and tactics. Many of these departments are participating in “social media” but which owns social media in the enterprise?

Earlier this month, I produced and moderated a live #bizforum debate for the New Media Expo in Las Vegas titled “Blurred Lines: Marketing vs PR in Social Media.”  I was honored to have Chris Heuer, CEO and Founder of Alynd, and Brian Kramer, President of Pure Matter, join me as debaters exploring which department should be receiving more budget and focus in the new “social economy.”

During the debate, the question of ownership was raised often. Kramer argued that, for businesses, social media is based on brand-public conversations, and that public relations professionals are uniquely trained to instigate and manage the public dialogue around a brand, when launching a new product or in times of crisis.  Heuer offered many alternate points of view including the fact that marketing departments are more integrated with the rest of the organization, and so are more qualified to take the business lead in managing customer engagement across social channels.

Blurred Lines: Who Owns Social Media in the Enterprise?

One of the debating points was the question of whether ownership of social media was even required.  After all, every department and most personnel now have the need and responsibility to engage other staff, customers, vendors, and/or the media through various digital channels. Can any one department own social media engagement within an organization?

I argued that social media does require an owner; someone or some department must be tasked to design, manage, and track the social ecosystem in which all employees and stakeholders participate.  Managing social media is not like designing and building a website or a television commercial.  The number of people – both internal and external – who participate in the conversation is much larger and the potential brand and business damage is too great to have too many chefs in the kitchen. Conversely, the opportunity is too great to have each department work in independent silos.

Without a central body directing the communication and engagement strategy, the customer‘s experience with your brand will most likely be inconsistent and fail to drive the potential return on investment.  Social media is a multi-touch/multi-purpose medium for businesses and it does require multiple staff managing the different needs of the business and customers, both pre- and post-purchase. However, for best results a centrally directed and coordinated team works best.

And this brings us back to the question of ownership. Who should own that responsibility?

Will “Social Media” Change the Organisational Structure?

When debating marketing vs. PR in the social enterprise, we eventually arrived at the premise that social media is unlike any other channel that businesses have had to manage previously. No other channels demand as much inter-departmental cooperation as social media strategy and engagement.  As a result, there’s some consensus forming among social media strategists that we’re moving towards a future where traditional department titles, responsibilities, and structures will change.

The real-time and 24/7 nature of social media engagement might force, for example, marketing and public relations to become one department, one skill set.  “Social media marketing” has come to encompass many tactics including community building and management, advertising, customer acquisition, product research, branding, media relations, and crisis communications. Each is a tactic traditionally managed by either marketing or PR teams.  Maybe the debate shouldn’t be which owns social media but whether they should merge into a single department.

Similar arguments could be made for customer service and loyalty & retention teams. Customer service teams are embracing social technologies and taking a more active role in managing customers. Modern customer service-focused organizations and teams are being more proactive by using monitoring software to actively seek out brand and product conversations to find negative commentary before it escalates to them. Similarly, they’re identifying trends in consumer sentiment and attitudes in order to stay ahead of the conversation and better predict where issues will arise so they can better manage them. Sounds a lot like what many PR departments have been doing for brands, doesn’t it?

Will social media change the nature of traditional business departments and functions? Well, that’s the debate. One thing is for certain: Change, it’s a-happening. Understanding the implications of digital and social technologies on the touch-points your customers have with your brand, and how your teams engage customers – and each other – through those channels, will be a key factor in future success.

Sensei Debates

1. Will social media change the traditional titles/responsibilities of business departments in the future?

2. Who owns social media in the enterprise?

Join the debate by adding your thoughts – pro or con – in the comments below. And stay tuned for a repeat performance when I host Brian Kramer and Chris Heuer on an upcoming #bizforum video debate.

Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego

Image credit: Gaussian, Licensed via Creative Commons

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