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Who Is in Charge?

Social media is a part—or should be a part—of normal marketing communications operations. So what does that look like within a strategy? First, companies need to decide where social media resides. If PR is the normal channel for communicating with the outside world, then that is where social media sits. If the online marketing department handles communications, it should handle social media. The problem for most organizations is that communication can be and is often handled by differing parts of the company. PR handles the media and so seems a natural fit for social media. Marketing handles customer and prospect communication, so again that seems like a natural fit. When organizations divide marketing into offline and online activities, the online organization seems a natural fit. These types of turf wars are often resolved in a way that fits more with the internal politics of the organization than with a real understanding of the channels. One solution is to create a new organization made up of the differing disciplines. However, this can lead to even greater segmentation within an organization and also lead to the trap of social media being sidelined—or worse, being given an overly high profile within an organization. Although it is an important element in any organization's toolkit, social media is not a silver bullet. It should not be given a status that starves other marketing communication methods of attention or creativity. Rather, it should operate in unison with these channels.

Placing social media within the online marketing organization makes sense to a lot of companies because they see social media as another online channel through which to direct their customer acquisition activities. Certainly, online marketers will generally understand the behavior of people engaging in social media and are well placed to establish some of the metrics that can and should be used to measure social media activity. However, PR has an important role to play as well, especially in the more complex types of engagements that include elements such as blogger outreach. Leveraging the PR department's experience with mass media will certainly benefit any organization thinking through a social media plan.

It is important for organizations to realize, however, that social media is different from other forms of marketing communication in that it has a two-way flow to it. For example, sending an email blast might get the response you want, but most recipients won't reply via email to your original blast. In fact, most email blasts are set up so that the recipients can't reply directly. Social media isn't like that—users have the expectation that they are in fact invited to respond and to communicate with the organization that has a presence on a social media platform. This is where choosing where exactly social media will reside within an organization becomes critical.

For the most part, PR and online marketing departments are used to operating in a vacuum. They do not usually engage directly with customers or prospects, which leads some organizations to place social media in the customer support or even sales functions, because these have more direct customer contact experience. Although this meets the needs of the customer or prospect, it often fails to meet the operational and strategic needs of the organization, especially those who are trying to use social media to communicate brand messaging. In fact, by placing social media solely in the hands of your customer support department, social media is considered by some companies to be a "precious" resource—something that should never be abused or sullied with something as gauche as a marketing message. This "touchy feely" theme has gained ground among some proponents of social media as a method to "listen", "engage" and "get closer" to the customer. Although these certainly play a part of any good social media strategy, they have to be balanced with objectives that produce results. It is hard to convince the C-Suite that increases in "likes" on the company Facebook page is actually a measure of success if they see no corresponding bottom-line improvement. I know of no business that has achieved growth, increased market share, or improved revenue based on the number of "followers" or "likes" that they have received.

In addition, social media users do not care how your company is organized. This often comes as a shock to large organizations that have spent time, money, and resources on deciding exactly how to divide the operating expense, revenue, marketing budgets, and other costs into neat compartments that make tracking activity and results so much easier. For example, a customer might figure out that she can get a better deal from the Small Office/Home Office division of a company rather than buying as a consumer. If so, that customer isn't going to be concerned about what impact choosing one over the other has on the business metrics. The customer just wants the best deal.

Likewise in social media, if a company has an account that is specifically created to promote new offers, it is likely it can expect that account to receive customer support questions. If the company has a customer support account, it should expect that account to receive sales inquiries. Social media users are looking for information that is helpful to them; they don't want to do the extra work involved in accurately identifying what an account's internal purpose is. For evidence of this, take a look at the number of questions that are asked on Twitter that the user could easily have used a search engine to find the answer. Many users would rather type the question and wait for the answers to come to them. Understanding this type of approach to information gathering can ensure that organizations plan their use of social media accordingly. Look at it from the audience's perspective and the possibility exists that the company will achieve a lot more than looking at it from an internal perspective.

This means that whatever department is given the task of operating social media accounts must be aware of the other relevant divisions within the same organization. For a small business, this might be one or maybe two people who are also multitasking on other fronts. So the issue is never really a problem, or it shouldn't be. However, in larger organizations, this can be a real issue, especially where sales commission and other incentives attached to performance are affected.

This impact needs to be factored into a strategy that hopes to achieve widespread adoption across an organization. Does a marketer operating a Twitter account who answers a sales lead share in the commission for that sale? Does a salesperson who answers a customer service question get part of the customer service operator's bonus? Clearly, these things have to be thought through when defining a social media strategy. It is as much about internal alignment as it is about communicating with customers and potential customers. Often setting up a social media strategy will highlight internal communication friction points, and it is important to address these before launching a serious social media effort. A potential customer is unlikely to be very impressed by a response to a question on Facebook that says, "I don't know the answer to that, I only do marketing."

Although it would be impossible for any one person to know all the answers to questions for any particular large organization, what is important is the following:

  • The person running your social media efforts knows where to find answers.
  • The person running your social media efforts knows how to route customer inquiries to the right person or department.
  • The person running your social media efforts must be empowered to conduct the necessary interdepartmental follow-ups to ensure that the customer is responded to in a timely fashion.

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