By adaptive - May 22nd, 2012

[W]ho should own social media? As social matures further, what is social expertise going to look like within business? Should we be looking at a specific social media department? Or will social sim...

Who should own social media? As social matures further, what is social expertise going to look like within business? Should we be looking at a specific social media department? Or will social simply be a tool for marketers, for customer service, for product development?

A while ago I was giving a seminar on social media to a software company, which will remain nameless. It had a problem. The social media was handled exclusively by the communications manager. This would have been fine but she related occasions on which she had received bad input about the business. A tweet or LinkedIn message would come in about an issue, she’d refer it to the support people and – wait for it – they’d write it off as one of those PR department things, no need to prioritise. So it would be ignored.

Emma Cobbledick, now Managing Director of Genius Trading and ConsultingThis is a classic example of how not to engage in social media. The PR woman was extremely efficient and good at her job – and simply didn’t have buy-in from the people who would make the decisions. This is what leads Emma Cobbledick, now Managing Director of Genius Trading and Consulting to believe that the idea that one person or department within an organization should own social media activity is flawed. “Social media is just a technology, a means of communication,” she says.



Team players

This is why, in her previous job as marketing director for events and information company IQPC, she didn’t allocate a specific person to manage social media as such. When it became apparent that it was going to be important as a means of communicating with customers she was an early adopter so became the initial driver behind it but quickly farmed it out to the different departments. “You need an attitude of ‘educate and let go’”, she says. “For example, when it came to customer service I wasn’t arrogant enough to tell them how to do their job, we were better off with customer services itself handling that and owning all of the channels.”

The exception, she suggests, is when you have a large corporate. She is aware of companies which have up to 178 social media accounts, which she concedes is “just insane” – but she maintains the best social media teams are spread throughout an organization.

“If you have a social media department then it’s ‘other’ to everything else and you need to get buy-in for every innovation every time.”

It’s the larger companies that will have been concerning Jeremiah Owyang when he put together the anatomy of a typical social media team.

He cites Altimeter research, which suggests that in companies with over 1,000 people there is typically a social media strategist, with a business-facing and market-facing team behind them and a team working on the analytics to verify the results – very much the hub, and spoke model of management. It’s worth looking at how businesses are changing this as analytics become more involved; MTV, using Adobe’s Social Analytics (formerly Omniture) product suite, is able to drill down to different tweeters and bloggers and cut out a great deal of manual analysis.

Something about which Cobbledick feels strongly is that whoever handles social media, whether it's a big team or an intern or indeed an outsourced third party, it needs to be someone very well briefed indeed. “In the smaller organisation there’s often a thought that if young people can handle the technology they can do all of the job,” she explains – with no thought given to experience, common sense or corporate tone.

Decentralising social

Tim Gibbon Director ElementalTim Gibbon is Director of Elemental, an agency that does a lot of work for businesses in the social media area as part of an overall marketing strategy. “There has long been a debate of whether the agency or brand should manage day-to-day social media, but almost always the right place is in-house. The debate should in fact be how to encompass all facets of the business e.g. advertising, customer services, marketing, PR, sales etc., so that communications and management of the brand is seamless so that the online audience are having their needs met,” he says. “Perhaps driven from marketing and PR, there should always be massive influence and input from all departments, in particular customer facing and customer services.”

Getting these people to talk coherently can be a trial, he agrees, but it’s usually for the best. “Having social media expertise in-house in paramount, but shouldn't be managed in silo, it needs to flow throughout an organization,” he says.

“Reaching out for expertise is an evolving area is good common sense, an approach that many businesses take in other areas, so why not social media?”

A major element discovered by both Gibbon as an agency and Cobbledick during her time at the “coal face” is that whoever is handling the social media needs to be certain their input is understood throughout the company. No matter whether it’s an intern, a PR executive or the chief executive, those inputs and touch points through social media personnel have to count just as much as those from “real” people – and this is about recruiting the right people from the first instance on the grounds they may one day be engaged through social channels.

Social in corporates

One example of a company that takes this seriously is Innocent Drinks. Joe McEwan heads up the social element and says looking for people with social media experience is a mistake – they just need to be able to communicate. “We'd rather have a team of people with experience of talking to people, and an in depth of knowledge of what makes our brand unique, than a team of people with 10 years combined social media experience,” he says.

Placing the social media team is more straightforward to him. “In terms of where a social media team should sit, for us it's an integral part of our marketing team - the beating heart that pumps information and insights out to our in-house brand and creative teams.”

This isn’t hot air; it’s backed by a comprehensive report, which results in action. After reviews, for example, “We noticed that our Thai Curry veg pot recipe was our lowest performing recipe, people thought it lacked flavour and we'd gone a bit overboard on the lemongrass, and that was backed up by comments we were getting on Facebook, Twitter and by email,” he says. “So through the monthly report we fed all of this back to the business, and our veg pot team went away and improved the recipe. The new recipe is receiving much better scores in its reviews, and the entire business, in witnessing that journey, sees the worth of listening and engaging with people on social media.”

It’s almost impossible to come to any major conclusion about what shape a social media department should have. Certainly if there’s going to be a department it needs to be strategic and understood throughout the business. But ideally it doesn’t need to be an entirely separate part of the company; as Cobbledick says; silo it away and make it “other” to the rest of the business and you risk devaluing it immediately.

To find out more about how large companies use social media for better crisis response and reputation management, check out our flagship conference, The Corporate Social Media Summit. Featuring over 30 senior marketing and social media executives from companies like Dell, Citi, Mercedes, KLM, McDonald’s and many more, this is the learning and networking opportunity of 2012 for those working in social media for big brands. Find out more

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