Cara Pring

Where should social media sit within your organisation?

Most businesses recognise the need to be involved in social media by now. The problem is they are not quite sure where it should sit within their organisation. So many areas have a stake in this space - marketing, corporate communications, digital/online, customer service, IT... the list goes on. Everybody wants to drive the social strategy, so how do you decide who ultimately gets the honour? It's not always an easy decision to make, but here are some guidelines that should help.

Most businesses recognise the need to be involved in social media by now. The loony tunes disputing its relevancy and crying out accusatory allegations like ‘fad’ and ‘no ROI’ are slowly (and quietly) being assassinated by Mark Zuckerberg. Or else maybe they’re just coming to their senses.

Either way the point is that the very first step towards implementing a social strategy within these organisations has been taken – the realisation that it is a great idea. The next step, which appropriately is figuring out the next step, is not so easy. Particularly for the bigger companies: generally the size of this roadblock is almost always directly correlated to the size of the business.

Smaller companies wake up one day to the epiphany of social and have a fully-functional (if maybe slightly under-utilised) Facebook page, Twitter profile and YouTube channel by the next. Big companies realise they need to have a social presence but that’s where things get complicated. Fast. You see in a big company there are these things called ‘departments’ (or teams, groups, sections etc) that on the outside appear to be working together for the overall good of the company to happily achieve goals and make lots of money for their CEO, shareholders and ultimately themselves.

However on the inside it’s actually a much different story. These ‘teams’ more often than not hate each other and are in a constant state of conflict, vying for the best results and secretly sabotaging each other so that they can appear to be the best performing and smartest of all.  You can think back to grade 1 in the sandpit if you need a better visual. What relevancy does this have? Because the next step companies need to make once they decide to proceed with a social media strategy is to determine who will be responsible for developing and managing said strategy. 

Now the naïve among you might think the teams would fight to NOT have to look after this because, of course, it translates into more work.  However unless you work for the Government, taking on a whole new strategic project more often than not translates to more budget, more resource and potentially more kudos. It also means that you get to control one more thing in the company, rather than your archrivals who are overseeing the other departments.  Lastly, it is social media, which everyone agrees to be the coolest and most awesome area of any company, so AS IF you wouldn’t want it.

Now most of the time the people who make these decisions are really old and living in the 1990s, so they don’t get social media at all. Which also means they don’t really know where it should sit in their company.  Which then leads to the heads-of of each department fighting with each other to secure more budget/resource/kudos for their team. This creates a whole lot more drama for the decision-maker and so the decision to implement social media is put on the back-burner because it’s all too hard.  (Note: this is an extremely generalist version of events but just go with it).

So anyway the purpose of this post is to prevent this from happening by providing the answer – or at least some guidelines that will help make the decision about where social media should sit within a business easier.

First let’s consider the different departments who most often lay claim to it:

  • Customer service
  • Marketing
  • Corporate Communications / Corporate Affairs
  • IT
  • Digital / Online team

These are the most likely contenders, though each company is obviously set up differently and some of these areas may intersect.

First up you should cross IT off the list. These guys might know all about technology and internet stuff, but trust me when I say you do NOT want a bunch of computer nerds conversing with your customers.  As far as I have ever seen within the companies I have worked for they seem to have enough trouble dealing with every day issues like installing software, unblocking emails and blocking sites that are even vaguely related to a word that has to do with porn to worry about anything else.  Don’t even go there.

Similarly if you have a digital/online team who look after your website I would advise against going with these guys. They might think that because they look after your online web presence, this should extend to your social online presence, but don’t be fooled. Updating content and ensuring refresh times on your site are operating at the most efficient level (or something) is much different to being able to build a community on Facebook. MUCH DIFFERENT.  The exception may be if your digital team also look after digital marketing in general – then obviously they would have some marketers on their team who might be well equipped to look after this area. But if not, FORGEDDABOUTIT!

Right so we’ve crossed two sections off the list, now to deal with the remaining three.  Before you can make a decision on these, you need to ask yourself two very important questions:

  1. What do you think will be using your social media presence predominantly for? This will come down to the type of business you are in. If you’re a retail business, you will probably be wanting to use these channels for marketing messages such as latest sales, new products, requests for feedback, collaborative product development etc.  If you’re a service provider you may want to use the channels more for service updates and customer service.  If you’re B2B it might be more about networking and building stronger communities.  Obviously you haven’t devised the social strategy just yet, but you should have a basic idea where it’s heading.
  2. Does anyone in your team have experience or knowledge of this space already? Because social media is still so new to the business world, quite often nobody within your staff will have any proven experience or expertise in the field. If by chance there is someone who has looked after the social strategy for a business in a past job, it would probably make sense to put them in the driving seat.

Even if you are keen to implement social media profiles as customer service channels, I would advise against giving customer service the responsibility of driving your complete social strategy.  If you think the volume of customer enquiries will be large enough to warrant a dedicated social team (as opposed to having a social person ask the customer team when the odd enquiry comes in) then typically it’s best to include the customer service strategy within a wider plan that is driven by another department. They can then train customer service representatives in social and incorporate this contact method in a wider strategy.

At the end of the day if you are in social for customer service you need to consider your wider social presence – in terms of branding, community building, marketing messaging and corporate messaging.  You can’t really have customer service without these implications and your customer service team might know how to fix a problem or change someone’s details, but they probably don’t know how to best incorporate the marketing and communication aspects.

I would suggest that most businesses would be best to put the marketing team in charge of the social strategy – even better if you have a digital marketing team.  That is if you are looking to build a community on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the hope that these people will then be more likely to buy from you or recommend you to their friends in the future. If you are looking to use them more as channel to share information and communicate with customers (rather than promote competitions, sales etc) in a forum-style way, the Comms department may be better equipped.

More often than not you are going to require a number of departments to work together to make your social strategy work – first and foremost Marketing and Corporate Communications, but also with the help of customer service, the digital team and whoever else may claim to have a stake. However the one major piece of advice I will give to you is this: decide one person/department who ‘owns’ the channel and the strategy and get them to continually liaise with your other departments. The worst thing you can do is give two or more departments equal share in this space because you will end up with confusing messaging, too-frequent posting and constant battles for control, which will not lead to success.

Who looks after the social strategy in your business? Why did you come to that decision, and is it working well?


Posted by Joel, 20 June 2011

We have a cross functional social media team. So - there's 1 person in Marketing, 1 in Customer Service and 1 in Product Management.

Strategy & decision making lies with the marketing person - but customer service and product team input are so important as a majority of wall posts are product or complaint related.

This is a successful recipe for us - as it takes a champion from each department with the main coordinator in marketing to make sure everything is on-track.

Posted by Aygul Umurzakova , 23 June 2011

I think Marketing Department is ultimately responsible for the company's social media strategy. Because, social media is just another marketing channel.

Posted by Elias Shams, 24 June 2011

Depending on which social media channel. Social media is here to stay for good. Given vast variety of the existing channels to choose and stick with, it’s time for such a hot space to enter into a new category.

Here is my 2sents on this whole internet -> search Engine -> Social media things and my rational on why there is a need for a portal to provide a quick and intelligent decision for both the consumer and the companies about their online connections. A Platform to Help us to Distinguish Our Quality vs. Quantity Friends, Fans, Followers, and Companies:

- Early 90s: WWW was born…
- Mid - late 90s: Yahoo & Google were born to help us to find the right pages on the WWW…
- Early 2000: Social media was born…
- Late 2000: There are now millions of pages created by people, companies, and organizations on all these social media channels.
- 2011: We are back to early 90’s

That is why I built to accomplish such a mission - the portal to all your existing social media channels.

CEO & Founder

Posted by Jody Frost, 24 June 2011

This is a tricky one really.

It certainly needs to be owned by someone, however real success (in social media terms) exists creating conversations that flow continually and in empowering everyone inside and outside the organization. Make sure you give your internal contributes a set of golden rules or guidelines to stay within, but then let it flow.

Sure someone needs to monitor it otherwise its just a lot of information and chat with no actionable insight or meaning. That should really be the department responsible for understanding the impact of customer trends and consumer feeback on your service or offer.

In terms of starting the conversations I think that is a question of what your objectives are, and charging the team involved in delivering those objectives with setting out the pillars of the conversation.

The most important part of social media is to be clear about the objectives

Plenty of waffle there I hope some of it helps

Long story short a Highbred of coms and marketing should fix it but don't do it half baked.

Nice piece BTW

Posted by Cara Pring, 25 June 2011

HI All, thanks for your comments. I just wanted to say a few things in response:
@Joel - I think that sounds like the perfect set-up for a lot of companies - have marketing drive the strategy but representatives from other important departments such as product/comms/customer service involved.

@Aygul - in most cases it would be the marketing department, however some companies would use it predominantly for comms messaging - eg. I work for Qantas at the moment and we have a big emphasis on customer communication / community engagement with our channels, so it sits within the Corp Comm function - with input from the marketing team when appropriate

@Jody - your point about monitoring being done by insights team is a great one - ideally this would be the best formula. However I will say in practice it can be difficult, because resource/time-wise it makes sense for the person who is monitoring your social media mentions to also be the person who is responding. It's not really the right place for insights team to respond to these posts, so I would suggest in many cases it makes more sense for the social media person (who would look after strategy/monitoring/response) to compile detailed reports each week/fortnight/month (depending on volume) and distribute to a wider internal stakeholder list - this would involve people from customer service, marketing, product, insights, corp comms etc.

In my past job I sent out detailed reports every fortnight with trending topics, areas of concern, example posts and recommendations to a huge list of people including the insights team. I would then hold a monthly meeting with representatives from each section and we would run through the reports and formulate actions to implement (eg. better hold music, better sales pathway, marketing campaign ideas etc). This model worked very well!

Posted by Mark Stonham, 29 June 2011

In a B2B organisation it may be easier to align Social Media operationally with different departments, such as whoever does Lead Generation and those who do Customer Support. The directors ultimately own the strategy, and decide or sanction investment and policy (ie. HR guidelines). Selection of Tools, and the particularly integration of them, will need IT involvement, and HR involved with training, once things become more structured. Meanwhile there's a huge amount of pioneering going on, so responsibilities will change.

Posted by Mark Stonham, 29 June 2011

I'd say it should sit with the pioneers at the moment, those people who can think creatively about adding value to products/services and the customer experience while also trying to reduce costs.

Posted by Paul Seymour, 29 June 2011

As Social Media in Business is all about conversations, I'd say it has a part to play in all the areas you mention.
Used properly SM in Business is the most powerful tool any company can have to project its brand, get across its message and engage with their customers, past, present and future.
The best thing - its virtually free to use! Just a little time and effort can return explosive results.


Cara Pring The Social Skinny Cara Pring
Company: The Social Skinny
Position: Founder
Social specialist, founder of and trained ninja. I've been fortunate enough to gain experience in marketing, media, events and social media strategy across a diverse range of industries - government, corporate events, club industry, private health insurance and the airline industry Read Cara's full bio

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