Who Owns Social Media for Business?
By Caroline Dangson
Consultant at Dachis Group
Social media entered the business world bottom-up with workers allowing the public sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn to seep into their workspaces as their personal and professional lives continued to blend online. In my previous position as a research analyst at IDC, I observed that more than half of U.S. workers regularly use consumer social media sites for business purposes. Given its historical role as the gatekeeper of technology workers use, this has put IT in a reactive position. Does IT own social media just as it owns other communication platforms like e-mail, team workspaces, etc.?
I proposed this question of who owns social media for business for a Webinar hosted by Awareness Networks last fall. Almost half of the 39 respondents who answered the quick survey said that marketing should own social media initiatives. Corporate communications emerged as a strong contender for the top spot, while the CEO, IT, and sales fell far below.
Given the core competencies of marketing and communications departments in external relations and communications, these are naturally the professionals first to experiment with social media in businesses. A recent IDC Social Business Survey of more than 700 working professionals in the U.S. confirmed that marketing communications is the number one department implementing social strategy, followed by public affairs.
Here, I asked a trick question by forcing the audience to choose between different corporate roles. In my opinion, no one department owns social media initiatives for business, for no one fully owns this medium. Social media is about participating in the conversation, not controlling or owning it. Social media is another communications channel any department can leverage internally or externally for business purposes. When I gave this opinion, the Twitter feed linked to these events showed that the audience agreed.
To accomplish quantifiable success in social media initiatives, a company needs involvement from every aspect of the business. When all business groups use social media, the burden of time and resources is decreased and the activity is centered around larger business objectives, not department agendas. Conducting a case study on Dell's use of social media, I learned that in order for a business to sustain social media initiatives, social media must be a discipline of the entire company. Dell did not hire new people to carry out social strategy but made participation in social media a key aspect of every job, starting with key members of marketing and public affairs to drive initiatives.
Companies should not create a new department to specialize in this social media function because this strategy has the potential to create another siloed activity and department agenda. On the other hand, businesses need a team of champions from all departments, including HR, IT, (and when appropriate, legal) that focus on coordinating and streamlining social media activities across the business. Intel, for example, created a Social Media Center of Excellence to better foster and manage social media. It is a cross-functional body of experts in legal, marketing, PR, and Web communications who come together to create guidelines, processes, strategies, and skill-building courses for how Intel employees around the world can responsibly and respectfully use such social media tools for business purposes.
For some large U.S. companies, social media efforts remain ad hoc, with employees engaging in social media for business because they choose to without centralized support and guidance. Uncoordinated social media initiatives will lead to inconsistency and redundancy, which will ultimately undermine these efforts and put them at risk. While I have argued no one department owns social media for the business as a whole, I do believe that individual groups within an organization are accountable for the success of their own social media initiatives. These initiatives must be supported by a centralized group that drives, guides, and coordinates best practices across the organization. Under this paradigm, social media eventually becomes an organizational competency and discipline, just as phones and e-mail once did.