There have been several interesting posts lately along the lines of Jason Fall's post, "Social Media is the Responsibility of Public Relations" and Jim Tobin's excellent overview and this one from Jason Kintzler on MyVenturePad questioning where the responsibility for community projects and social media should lie: in the PR arena or in marketing? Our Social Media Today LLC experience is split: one of our major clients manages our relationship from within the company's communications department, and the other from the marketing side. Interestingly, our sponsors' objectives for their sponsorship of the communities we've built are the same: to start with a program of creating a channel to leading influencers and from there to connect directly with customers.
Last Friday, Jerry Bowles and I experienced first-hand the pros and cons of talking about community to the PR side of the fence. We spent a New York morning with our client at SAP, Don Bulmer, Vice President for Influence and Industry relations at SAP. Don understood from the get-go the value of using an independent platform to connect SAP with the people who influenced the thinking of entrepreneurs and business owners of growing companies, and from those connections to build a broader conversation with the individuals themselves. For Jerry and me, it was refreshing to get an update on how SAP's innovative programs with bloggers and influencers have helped to reposition a company usually thought of as, well, stodgy.
But taking this message to the market -- specifically, to executives in two of New York's most successful public relations firms -- was interesting. There were a lot of very good questions about how influence can be understood and measured, and Don was persuasive about the value of proving the ROI of influence. SAP has been one of the most innovative companies on the planet in its far-seeing view of influence in a digital age; Don has seen how influence can be achieved in such a way that it aligns with marketing objectives. In this post and others on his blog, everydayinfluence.typepad.com, Don talks about how you dissect your market in terms of influence in a way that parallels the Groundswell analysis of community behavior. But there were also questions and concerns about how much a community project costs, and that's where the argument for allowing the "influence professionals," i.e. communications, to manage the project falls down. Like it or not, marketing still gets the lion share of the corporate budget and, as we've learned and bloggers like Francois Gossieaux have pointed out, community projects are labor-intensive and need more funding than public relations typically can afford.
But does this need to be an either/or situation? I don't think enough attention has been paid to the very significant, recent development at IBM, where it was announced in May that John Iwata would be leading the charge for both marketing and communications, which we happen to know was because of his evangelism and experience of social media. Isn't it true that the principals of "new marketing" and community-building require a blending of skills? Influence determination and mapping is the traditional realm of communications. However, measuring and taking that influence to the bottom line, and certainly, bearing the cost of nurturing the community, are all more properly the responsibility of marketing, and not just online marketing, but direct marketing and branding as well.
In our engagement with SAP, Don understood early on that for a community to thrive, it would need the support not only of SAP Global Communications but marketing as well. If ever there was a corporate initiative that requires a coordinated response it is the near-anarchy being brought on by social media. Does it make sense to think of community projects as ones in which there is a flow, or a team, that begins with communications and public relations and then moves into the marketing department? Let us know your thoughts.