By adaptive - March 14th, 2012

[W]here should social media management be situated in a corporation? Traditionally marketing was a separate activity to customer service. Today, social media touches on each of these departments an...

Where should social media management be situated in a corporation? Traditionally marketing was a separate activity to customer service. Today, social media touches on each of these departments and is now bringing them closer together.

Before the dawning of the digital age, marketing and customer service were distinctly different disciplines. But those traditional boundaries are blurring in the 21st century, so where does social media management belong in a forward-thinking business?

Jonny Rosemont, Head of Social Media, DBD MediaAccording to Jonny Rosemont, head of social media at search and social media agency DBD Media, there is no uniform way for businesses to approach social media from a strategic point of view, because no two businesses are the same.

“The approach very much depends on the individual business and where its priorities lie,” Jonny explains. “At John Lewis we took the approach of establishing a central team which defined and executed the social media strategy, with other areas of the business feeding in. The business had a great culture of collaboration between departments so the chosen organisational approach was the most suitable.”

Laura Foster, head of communications at Newcastle University business school, agrees, and adds that it’s impossible to contain social media within a single department or management team. “Social media is a way of communicating which cuts across lots of organisational teams,” she says. “It tends to be employed by marketers more than others, but the 'mysteries' of social media are often dispelled once people start to experiment with its use in their particular field of work, be that sales, promotion, or CRM in the widest sense.”

Emily Keogh, MD, Palm PR However, Emily Keogh, MD of luxury lifestyle public relations agency Palm PR, believes there are three important steps to devising a social media strategy. Firstly, Emily says it’s critical to think about the brand's 'voice' - before you even send out a single post on a social media platform. “There needs to be a cohesive tone for communicating your brand values and messages that should be agreed across the company,” Emily says. “Create an internal document to describe this 'voice' and the dos and don'ts of communicating.”

The next step is to identify what you want to accomplish with social media. “Consider whether its purpose is a brand building exercise, or to drive sales, interact with your consumers faster, or to monitor your competitors. And ask how this links with your overall communications plan,” advises Emily.

Finally, Emily advocates creating a clear content strategy so you always have something of interest or value to share via social media. “The content will be dependent on your company's individual USPs, news and messaging, but can also be driven through relevant RSS feeds, interacting with peers, or reactive responses to, for example, a relevant news story, current affairs, or the release of new statistics that are of interest to your industry.”

In contrast, Laura Foster thinks devising a social media strategy can sometimes be misguided. “Social media is a means to an end, not the end in itself, so defining a strategy for social media is a bit like devising a strategy for driving a car or using cutlery.”

Management buy-in

Regardless of the approach you take, buy-in from C-suite executives is critical for any social media strategy to work. If senior personnel are unconvinced about the merits of social media, try demonstrating how the business is missing out. “This is not about scaremongering, more about communicating what the opportunity is,” says Jonny. “Communicate what the market and your competitors are doing in this space. It’s highly likely there will already be some examples of related businesses benefiting from their social media activities, so share those, as well as views of how things could be improved if the business was to embark on similar activities.”

In terms of getting board level buy-in, Jonny recommends securing the support of a champion in their ranks. “Having one or two people on your side who understand the power of social media can really help speed up the process,” he says.

That’s a sentiment shared by Andy Essom, technical sales manager at HT Brigham, whose company manufactures components destined for a range of overseas customers. “Visits to customers in USA or India had always been difficult, so the directors were quick to embrace any option available that raised our profile and brought us in direct contact with overseas clients without having to leave the office. The strategy recommends itself.”

James Davies, Director of Compass Media Relations adds that it’s also important for employees to be aware of the risks and potential damage that can be done to a business’ image if social media isn’t managed effectively.

Of course, those dangers are a key reason why some businesses avoid social media altogether. But is it worth the risk, and can social media deliver a tangible advantage to an organisation?

Emily is unequivocal. “Social media is a really important tool for having direct and instantaneous contact with your consumers,” she says. “It enables you to monitor what people are saying about your brand, and to respond quickly to both positive feedback and negative comments. If you manage your Twitter account in a transparent way that communicates your company's key values, it’s a brilliant way to engage and interact with your consumers and drive more business.”

Jonny Rosemont is equally enthusiastic. “Social media brings a whole host of benefits to a business - there is the obvious financial impact of greater visibility and conversation around your company which can lead to an increase in sales, bookings and other ways you get your revenue, as well as non-financial returns, such as an ability to create greater understanding of what your customers are after and which areas of your business need improvement.”

But Laura cautions that the targets set for social media success can sometime be misleading. “Numbers of 'fans', 'followers', or 'friends' are arbitrary, because what really matters is what value you get out of it,” she says. “After all, does it matter that 1,000 people once 'liked' your brand's Facebook page in order to be in with the chance of winning a free holiday, if they have no desire to engage with you on Facebook, longer term?”

Where your company’s social media is centred and managed from is now a multi-departmental exercise, as social media now impacts on every aspect of a corporation’s activities. Having a too narrow view of social media as being a customer services exercise, or as simply a marketing and promotional environment is not a productive view of how business today must manage these spaces. Those businesses that can take a business-wide view will lever their exposure across each social network to great commercial advantage.

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