Who owns social media (redux)

by Susan Getgood on March 6, 2011 · 5 comments

in Blogging,Marketing,PR,Social media

Photo from Flickr user toffehoff. Used under a Creative Commons license.

When I wrote about who owns social media last May, I couldn’t believe THEN that we were still asking this question. I’m both surprised (and yet not) a year later that we are *still* asking. As though there were a simple, and only one, right answer, and if we ask enough, eventually we’ll get whatever answer we want to hear.

Um no. Not going to happen. Social media involves people, and people are messy. Social media engagement also depends on our expression of both our individuality and the collective mind. Try to fit that neatly in a demographic box. The mass market still exists, it is just influenced by multiple micro-markets and their denizens.

No simple answer then.

In the column I wrote last year, I concluded that the company and the consumer were the “owners” of the relationship, and ad and PR agencies were facilitators. I’d like to take this a step further and advocate for an integrated marketing approach that I think will ultimately be more successful and productive.

Don’t tell anyone, but good social media marketing is simply good marketing. Just as in the “old days,” you wouldn’t limit yourself to a single tool in the marketing toolkit – advertising, PR, direct response, loyalty programs etc., no matter how successful it was, in the “new days,” you still need to deploy multiple tools. You can’t get seduced by the flavor (or Facebook) of the month and shift all your spend because “that’s what the cool kids are doing.”  You need an integrated approach to reach your consumer, because that’s how she consumes the information she gets. It’s not a different brand before and after we buy, in an ad versus a news article versus a blog post.

People use information from different sources in different ways.  A personal referral – our old friend word-of-mouth – is treated differently than the information conveyed in an advertisement or a magazine article. But we use all the information we collect to make a purchase decision, and we generally require more than one. No matter how much Aunt Sue loves her car, we look for independent reviews and probably consult the brand website.

Our marketing message needs to appropriately be in all the important places a consumer might look for it. Do we spend more of our budget in the most productive places? Absolutely. But smart marketers don’t make the mistake of limiting the plan to a single tactic. It’s marketing suicide. Even infomercial brands like OxiClean have distribution strategies in addition to the commercials, and do not get me started on all the failed high-tech start-ups that thought they could make it on PR buzz alone.

Smart marketers also don’t let functional silos, whether internal departments, outside agencies or a combination of both,  derail the story. Especially now, when customers have such a strong voice and will more easily see if the emperor has no clothes.  It’s not enough to hand out a messaging document and timeline to the various functions and allow them to go forth in their independent silos, with their independent strategies.

This of course brings ownership of strategy back to the brand, which is where it belongs. Agencies advise, and yes, strategize. But the brand owns it.

What does that mean in practice?

Agencies that take an integrated approach to strategy, either by vertical integration or actively seeking to work with in tandem with their counterpart agencies on the brand account, are going to be more attractive to brands than those that take a more silo’d approach. We already see this happening. Some will do it well. Some not so much. I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that score.

Social media expertise will continue to shift in-house. It has to. To navigate the organizational boundaries, foster cross-functional and inter-departmental cooperation at the level required, the person responsible for social media engagement has to have the internal knowledge and ties that only a full-time, bottom-line driven employee can. And once social media moves in-house it will have multiple flavors. The best description of what this may turn out to look like is from Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group in his piece on the two career paths of the corporate social strategist.

Warning: This integration will not be an easy road. It requires that everyone check their egos (and worries about budget) at the door. This is not easy if you run the PR agency and are worried about the ad agency getting your budget or vice versa. And within the organization, this social media “thing” is still considered a bit “squishy.” Internal champions have to navigate many hurdles, often including not having the budget for social media, just the mandate.

But I just don’t see any other way. The consumer views a product as a whole. We want a consistent experience across our interactions with the brand, whether it be functions (customer service, sales, finance) or marketing (ads, PR, coupons, sampling etc. ). And we expect to have those interactions across multiple channels – mass and micro media, new media and old.

Consumers see us as one “thing.” It’s about time we did as well.

What are you going to do to break down a silo or foster cross functional cooperation in your organization?


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Which Department Owns Social Media? | Stephanie Schwab: Socialologist
March 11, 2011 at 7:22 am


1 Julie Marsh March 6, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I especially like your point about social media moving in house and the reasons why it needs to be there. Being part of the IT department, I have my personal prejudices about outsourcing crucial business support functions, and I view social media in the same light as I do IT. In order for it to be used fully and to the greatest benefit of the business, it needs to be integrated with business strategy and objectives.

2 Danny Blair March 8, 2011 at 10:29 am

Unfortunately, there is a lot of dirt shoveling in building effective social media campaigns. You can strategise as much as you like, but at the end of the day someone has to produce the essential content on a vigorous ongoing basis. And the time and effort needed to do this is frequently underestimated by many experienced marketers. I can see the more of glamorous management end moving in-house but there will be plenty of work for the outsourced shovel carriers to do. Just like old-fashioned marketing really.

3 labels April 1, 2011 at 2:02 pm

In five years every company will have it’s own in house social media “department” – however big or small. It’s outsourced now because folks don’t know what to do with “it”. That will change.

4 Steve October 12, 2011 at 12:28 am

The consumer owns social media. They control what is being said about the brand, when it’s being talked about, where it’s being talked about and, most importantly, whom they decide to share your brand with.

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