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The great social media debate part 1: who owns social media anyway?

Posted by Louise Moran on 4th January 2012

The word ownership is bandied about quite a lot when it comes to social media. Whereas in the past, a business could easily segment communication efforts by departments and their individual remit, social media won’t fit neatly into an organisational hierarchy.

Businesses need to take a long hard look at their social media policy before handing over the reins to a brand’s Facebook page, LinkedIn profile, Google+ account and Twitter feed.

Which side are you on in the debate around which department owns social media?

Customer service on social media platforms

Social media has increasingly become a useful customer service tool, readily adopted by individuals and businesses alike. The reason that so many businesses decide to hand over social media control to the customer service team is that these workers are at the coal-face of the business and already support customers through a variety of mediums.

Customers also respond well to customer service representatives on social media – today’s consumers expect a quick response to their problems and soon become irritated by long call wait times to the call centre and the unresponsive process of firing off a complaint email or filling in an online feedback form.

Social media enables a business to respond to a customer complaint in real-time, assuring the customer the business is taking their complaint seriously and keeping them updated as their issue is dealt with. It is also bringing new transparency to businesses interactions with customers, enabling companies to augment existing customer service and support strategies.

Companies such as Virgin Media and BT have made good use of social media to manage customer service issues but there are a number of other great examples out there.

Social media marketing

Or should marketing take control of social media? The role of marketing is to push agreed brand messages to defined audiences through a variety of channels. While Econsultancy’s recent State of Social report 2011 put the ownership of social media firmly in the hands of the marketing department, many PR professionals would disagree, with good reason!

An argument for PR

Social media PR is all about two-way communication – as is PR. No other department has a better insight into the key messages that should be shared through social media.

In addition, more and more journalists are using social media, making it a valuable platform for social media PR professionals to build relationships between brands and journalists, which is why so many PR companies run social media PR campaigns on behalf of their clients.

However, as outlined by EML Wildfire Director Debby Penton in an earlier blog, a tech PR agency like EML Wildfire should guide its clients to run media campaigns themselves:

“Ultimately, we believe it is our responsibility to equip clients with the training, skills and confidence to help them find an authentic voice and engage in the conversation themselves over time…”

“We understand that this isn’t going to happen overnight, and there will always be a need for agencies to provide the manpower to run campaigns when internal resources aren’t available.  But on the whole, we think it’s better that we guide [our clients] through the social media maze and assist in building relationships directly with [their] audiences, rather than continue to act as another wall between [them] and [their] customers.”

But which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Was it a great example of customer service before it became a positive PR story, or was it a PR stunt from the start for a business to ‘leak’ their great new customer service initiatives on social media platforms?

The line between a feel-good PR story and a genuine effort from the customer services team is not always so clear – these recent examples from Sainsbury and Marks & Spencer showcased both proactive customer service best practice and strong PR messages. So shouldn’t social media be a shared effort?

Time to get social with social media

There is a strong argument that no one department should own social media and that it should be a company-wide initiative, governed by an agreed social media policy.

This could be an agreement that all tweets are marked with the tweeters’ initials so that followers know who is speaking to them, or it could be an agreed framework of acceptable language, frequency and approvals process for posting on blogs or Facebook.

This is important – just look at the storm caused when a rogue tweeter sent out an offensive tweet on Vodafone’s official feed. The company had to have guidelines in place to deal with this breach of code in a professional way out of duty to both its employees involved with social media management and any customers who were offended by the tweet.

Each to their own…

Every company has a different approach – so tell us, who owns social media in your organisation or is everyone involved?

photo credit

Louise Moran