When I first started this social media agency, the question I was asked most often was, "What is social media?" In just a few months, that question morphed into, "What kinds of things can social media do for my organization specifically?"
Today, we're onto a new most popular question. This one is often asked by people who work in large organizations, and that's, "Where does social media live in the organization?" One company I talked to had a task force with dozens of people on it. Another had given the lead to CorpComm, but they were meeting regularly with the brand teams. There are lots of opinions on this topic and for a while I struggled with the answer-until now. Here's the simple truth that is making it so hard for you to come up with the answer for your organization:
Social media is not a tactic. If it were, you could assign it to a department. It's a phrase to describe a broad array of new tools that let you talk to, and hear from, your constituents in a variety of new ways. Asking who owns social media would be no more fruitful than asking who owns writing.
Each part of the organization needs to re-evaluate the way they communicate and see how social media opens up options for them.
- Brand managers can now use social media as an integral part of marketing campaigns. I lead with brand managers here because getting the right social media marketing plan developed and executed is an art-one that will certainly impact brand perception.
- Product developers can use social media for consumer intelligence. The idea that you have to spend tens of thousands to get limited information from focus groups is becoming outmoded.
- Public relations can look at the messages that they send and figure out how they can make them a) more interesting and b) more easily digested by the blogosphere and the networks. Typically (a) is harder than (b) for many companies.
- Customer service should be using social media to decrease call volume and increase customer satisfaction. Paying $35 per phone call to answer the same types of questions thousands of times isn't helping anyone.
- Human resources can be using social media to convey what working at the company is all about, and they should certainly be using it to go find candidates with particular backgrounds.
- Leadership and legal teams should figure out how they can empower people to communicate more about what they know without harming the company.
The list goes on. Does this mean there's risk of people in one company "stepping on" one another in cyberspace? Potentially yes. If you're going to develop, manage, or heavily participate in a community or communities, you need a Community Manager. And given the need to keep up with trends and get good advice to all these potential users, you probably also need a Social Media Strategist to help all these areas. Forrester has a good report on staffing for social media.
What most companies need to do is forget the issue of who owns social media. It's a red herring. The real questions are these:
- How has (or should have) my approach to achieving my business objectives changed now that I have new tools in my arsenal?
- What do these new platforms (i.e., YouTube, Twitter, Blog Talk Radio, etc.) allow me to do that I couldn't do before?
- Since individuals can now help or hurt our communications efforts, how can I make it easier for people outside this organization to help me, and how can I make it so they don't want to hurt us?
A large task force tackling "social media" is doomed to spin in circles. Too many questions. A small group sitting down to come up with discreet programs to accomplish discreet objectives is going to perform much better.
The basic tenet is that social media cannot be controlled externally. As scary as it sounds, the organizations that are going to get the biggest benefit from it are those that don't try to control it internally, but rather guide it, facilitate it and encourage it.
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