It's one of the original social media debates, but the question of which department ‘owns’ social media is one which few organisations have yet to completely resolve.
Most commonly it sits under the marketing and/or PR banner. Social media is seen as a logical extension of traditional marketing and PR activities – whether it’s supporting specific campaigns, product launches or broadcasting corporate messages. These teams probably created the brand guidelines and defined the organisation’s tone of voice, so are comfortable to take that engagement on to social media. They are aware of what communications are ‘safe’ to broadcast and how to respond to tricky questions or deflect potential gaffes.
But as social media gains a stronger foothold in companies, and its audience and influence expands, more departments – and some CEOs – have questioned where social media sits strategically.
So where should social media sit in an organisation?
The dangers of keeping social media management in any single team, means that its impact and results will be measured on that team’s objectives alone. So a successful Facebook competition could mean a boost for product sales; a dedicated customer service Twitter account could increase the number of customer queries solved; an effective recruitment drive on LinkedIn could cut recruitment costs. But single initiatives miss out the bigger picture.
Clearly the social media strategy should be owned by one person or one team. That could be a social media director who reports to the CEO, or the marketing team – inevitably this will differ according to the organisation and buy-in for social media at board level.
Regardless of whether your company has one person responsible for social media, or 10, social media needs to touch all departments – marketing, PR, HR, legal, IT, sales, customer service – in an organisation and to be aligned to its overall objectives.
So how do companies do that?
It’s a simple step to create a virtual social media team or task force from across the company, who are happy to help create and inform your strategy, and then go out and deliver it.
Making your organisation more social
The quickest way to do this is to see who in your organisation is already active on social media and identify potential social media ambassadors across different departments. There are various approaches to take with this, but a good starting point is: one by channel, the other by content.
Choosing by channel expertise
This could be people who are already active on a specific social media channel, such as your HR team on LinkedIn, for instance. Even if they just currently use the channel for recruitment, they could develop their expertise further by joining and posting to relevant LinkedIn Groups.
If your company produces videos or podcasts of your CEO’s latest speech, it’s likely that your PR team knows its way around YouTube. They could train some of your IT or sales team on the channel so they can post helpful ‘how-to’ videos about your products and services.
Choosing by content and department expertise
Maybe you have a star salesman who knows your product catalogue inside out. Can he or she produce a hints and tips blog or host a Twitter Q&A? Is one of your board members a regular speaker at industry events? If he or she is a charismatic communicator, get them to share their best ideas on social.
Do you have a customer service team who run social media channels dedicated to solving queries and handling complaints? These front line staff know the importance of a rapid response on social. They can help define your wider team’s SLAs.
Don’t forget your legal team either. Your lawyers will be hot on any potential reputation issues and can advise your social media team on policy, and help monitor your company’s online presence. You’ll need them on board in case your brand ever faces a social media storm.
Co-ordinating a response in a crisis
If a crisis does break across your social media channels, you will need a fast and tightly co-ordinated response across your organisation. Some of the potential scenarios to consider are as follows:
- PR and corporate comms – are there any damaging short- or long-term repercussions to the brand – locally and globally?
- Legal and finance – could the company’s share price be affected?
- HR – are you able to take back ownership of the company’s Twitter account if a rogue employee has hijacked it?
- Sales and marketing - do your teams need to cancel a campaign or product launch that may be insensitive and badly timed
- Customer services – will there be a higher volume of complaints across all your social media – including dedicated customer services channels?
However you choose to build your team and define your strategy, it’s clear that social media needs to sit across all departments in your organisation if your brand wants to communicate clearly, especially if or when a crisis hits.