Who Owns Social: Everyone. Period.

Who Owns Social: Everyone. Period.

By: Shelly Kramer
January 7, 2013

who owns social mediaThe argument about who owns social media corporate-wide is ongoing. Usually the debate about “ownership” is between PR and marketing and it gets tiresome. I believe that practitioners are often so self-absorbed and so accustomed to operating in silos that they have trouble stepping back and taking the long view.

The reality is that no one department within an organization owns social. Or at least that’s the way I think it should be. Social should permeate the entire organization and be a part of the culture, no matter the size of the business. Social is reality. Your customers are there, your prospects are there, your competitors are there, your employees are there, your future employees are there, your kids are there, your parents are there, your grandmother’s there.

I read a post on this topic yesterday entitled 6 Reasons PR Pros Should Manage Social Media from a well-intentioned PR professional laying out all the reasons that PR should ‘own’ social. It was further evidence that she, like so many others, isn’t seeing the forest for the trees. (My dad likes to say that and I think it’s just dorky enough that it suits me).

What this PR professional is really demonstrating is her tunnel vision. She’s looking at the equation and how social impacts a business from her standpoint, instead of from the larger standpoint of the business as a whole. And this? It happens all the time. It’s kind of like businesses that focus their messaging on what they want and need instead of what their customers and prospects want and need. And that’s not the route to success. Pretty much ever.

But contrary to what many think, including the author of that piece, social isn’t just about being an experienced storyteller, excellent communicator, relationship builder focused on relevancy, etc. And in the FWIW category, the last time I checked, marketers were adept at these things, too–it’s about more. So very much more. It’s about comprehensive social intelligence, not just social media. It’s about the business as a whole understanding how social impacts every department within an organization and maximizing that for the benefit of the company. Think I’m crazy?

Social intelligence allows customer service teams to listen to what customers are saying, solve their problems and be attuned to their needs in a way that allows them to spot developing trends that can impact product development and future strategic focus.

Social intelligence allows marketers to develop campaigns based on consumer feedback, monitor performance after launch and tweak as needed to gain maximum benefit from each and every advertising campaign.

Social allows demand generation teams to focus their efforts more effectively on lead management and scoring.

Social allows content strategy teams to develop content that’s in line with information that customers and prospects want and need, and which might help them make a purchase decision, or 20, along the way.

Researchers and data analysts routinely use social to measure a myriad things, including brand awareness, sentiment, trend spotting, potential crisis identification and more.

Business strategists and operations teams use social intelligence and data to drive strategy, as well as to watch competitors and monitor their performance and adapt their own strategies accordingly.

Social intelligence allows human resource teams to identify and recruit the very best and brightest talent to their organizations and also allows them to keep their employees happy and satisfied as well.

So really, PR? You think you need to own this stuff? I love you. And your discipline, but anyone who is short-sighted enough to think that any one department within an organization, of any size, “owns” social, especially for the reasons articulated in the article that inspired this post, well, you’re just not thinking this through. And the same is true of marketers who think they need to own social.

Social is about so very much more than most people think and it truly impacts every department within an organization. And as mentioned above, that includes research & development, product teams, business and growth strategists, customer service and customer relations, sales teams and marketing departments, human resources teams and, of course, public relations.

While writing this piece I stumbled across an eConsultancy piece that quoted my friend, Brian Solis, that also sums things up pretty succinctly: “The customer doesn’t care who owns social.” And we marketers and PR pros and everyone else with their fingers in the social pie, we’d do well to keep that top of mind.

Moving forward let’s try and think about this differently. Instead of any one entity within an organization endeavoring to own social, let’s focus on the integration of social throughout the enterprise, using data gleaned from social in the most beneficial ways, using social to anticipate problems and solve issues that our customers have in as close to real time as possible and, of course, training people throughout the organization to see beyond the basics of social media and understand the full impact of a connected consumer and a connected world on the business in general. To my way of thinking, that’s the route to success. What about you? What do you think?

Image by woodleywonderworks via Creative Commons

  • Yay! Score! You’re preaching it, but not to the choir! Everyone is so concerned about their own backyard that playing on teams is almost nada. The only way for us to promote social businesses is to play together in the sandbox (does your dad say that, too?).

  • ShellyKramer

    LOL Jayme … as a matter of fact he does!!!

  • I like your term “social intelligence.” It seem to make the concepts of social media more all-inclusive. And I tend to agree that social media is everyone’s responsibility.

    I think too many large organizations become overwhelmed with keeping the corporate message consistent in favor of keeping the “social” in social media.

    Thought your readers might appreciate this from Dateline NBC.


  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Greg. The original post got me so annoyed that I couldn’t resist writing about it. And I know people are well intentioned when they come forth with their claims of ownership and rationale behind it, but businesses need to wake up and realize that social ownership is and should be corporate wide. And you’re right about the focus on consistent messaging. It’s tied to brands struggling with the fact that they don’t (and can’t) always so tightly control everything nowadays. One thing for sure, it will be interesting to see how this evolves as time goes on. Thanks for the link to the MSNBC piece – I’ll check it out!

  • I love that we have the same conclusions despite traveling different paths to get there. Everyone owns social. Perfect.

  • ShellyKramer

    Did you write a post on this today, Rich? If so, I’ll find and link to it. Can’t wait to read it!

  • Damn skippy.

  • The very fact an industry thinks one discipline should “own” social media is the exact reason they shouldn’t.

  • This came up in a discussion just last week, and I’m wishing I’d had this piece to help me order my thoughts. I love the term “social intelligence,” too, and plan to use it from here on out. It really does make it easier to broaden the scope and substance from that of “social media” – a phrase that is often used to mean a broad range of things depending on who is using it. Thanks, Shelly – great perspective, as usual!

  • jeffespo

    Further proof that the NRA and PR need each other… arguments and posts like this from PR folks are part of the reason that the industry is flailing and will never get out of its own way, kinda like the NRA. In-fighting leads to nothing happening and their article only helped those asshats be able to puff their chests and feel self-important.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Mickey :))

    Glad you enjoyed!

  • ShellyKramer

    Just once Jeff I wish you’d say what you really mean! On this point, I absolutely agree!

  • Great post Shelly! As we say, many hands make light work. As long as there’s a core team to lead and support everyone within the organisation towards their objectives, these organisations will do well.

    An America’s Cup yacht is never operated by one person. It’s a team effort directed by the Captain and Navigator.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Mahei. I think that actually we’ll see multiple leaders, including folks from HR, PR, Marketing, Sales, Customer Service, etc., and lots of interaction between and among them in the future. And the companies who get that will be definitely the ones ahead of the pack. Thanks for coming by! Always.

  • agree, especially within larger organisations.


  • jeffespo

    I kept this one PC lady… and I forgot name-dropper

  • ShellyKramer

    Which I’m sure was NOT easy! Hahahaha.

  • jeffespo

    You saw my response on your FB post. I also drafted up a post like this too but it was only 30 words and pretty offensive so I hit the delete button. Also you won the NFL contest and get $100 to a charity of your choice.

  • ShellyKramer

    That is AWESOME!!!! Give it to Jennifer Windrum’s charity, please :))

  • Stephanie Smirnov

    I partially agree, Shelly. In principle — yes, absolutely. It’s about social intelligence, as you say. It’s about creating a social-centric mindset in organizations and their agency partners and shifting focus from social as a tactic to social as culture. Here’s where we diverge. I’ve spent too many wasted hours (as has my team) on needless double-work and swirl because a client didn’t make it clear what the roles and responsibilities were in the social space among its various agency partners. Any PR practitioner with clients of a certain size (e.g. P&G, our agency’s largest client) has been in this difficult spot, negotiating roles among a roster of 5 or 6 agencies. You can’t imagine how frustrating it is to be assigned responsibility for one aspect of social (let’s take blogger relations, as an example, or content creation for Facebook) only to find that two other agencies who work for your client (let’s say, the promotions agency or the digital arm of the creative agency) are attempting to do the same work because of a lack of definition of who the hell is responsible for what. So I do argue for a better definition of “ownership” but not because only one kind of agency or one marketing communications arm deserves it, or is “better” at it (I gave up on that argument about 4 years ago.) The point of someone “owning” social is so brands can activate across social platforms with consistency and coherence. Not to mention, getting the best work out of their agency partners who are no longer wasting time on “who own what, what’s on second” and are staying focused on the actual WORK.

  • ShellyKramer

    I totally get your point, Stephanie, and it’s certainly happened to us as well. However, if anyone should “own” social, I suppose to my way of thinking it should be the strategic team–both leadership within the company as well as their agency partners. And bringing all those teams together, on a regular basis is and certainly should be an integral component of success. And certainly when you’re talking about the enterprise level.

    My broadest point is that the PR teams are (typically) great at what they do, but social is so much more than what they are proficient at and what they think about. And to leave social wholly in their hands, as the original article suggested is not, in my opinion anyway, the right answer. That doesn’t mean that PR isn’t involved, but social is not just the domain of PR — or at least I don’t believe it should be.

    Our experience with enterprise level clients is that we are constantly fighting the fight of the tendency to think and operate in silos. But I really think that it’s only by continually striving to see beyond the realm of our own areas of practice and taking our egos out of the equation insofar as that’s concerned and connecting sales, customer service, public relations, marketing and so on, that we’ll see the kind of success with the integration of social that’s really possible. Social is about so much more than the things the PR team touches–or the marketing team touches, and so on.

    Love hearing different points of view, and always love seeing and hearing yours, Stephanie. Thanks for coming by.

  • Cheri

    I agree Stephanie. In full transparency, I work across 6 hair care brands at P&G and we have learned that is it so important when working across social that there is ONE lead agency and ONE lead client SPOC, with all of the other functions and agencies playing a key role (eg. creative, paid digital media etc) and working as one team. On teams (many I’m afraid) where there are 2-3 agencies thinking that they are “leading” social engagement (or perhaps have decided they are the self-proclaimed experts), we literally spend 5 hours an 15 emails debating the wording of a FB post or Twitter Hash. Or worse spend WAY too much on “perfect” creative and shoots, so the visuals are “ad-worthy” because P.S. now FB has convinced us that we need to boost every post FB, so essentially every post is now paid-advertising. Net, though everyone has skin in the game, contributes their POV and builds/ideas and perhaps leads THEIR specific piece of social, it has to be crystal clear on “who does what” (including the poor community manager, who should really play a key role). I’m personally ready to walk away from leading social on my brands, as I’m literally exhausted by the infighting and competitiveness between functions and agencies. Shelly’s theory looks good in principle, but a sharp focus on roles & responsiblities is the only way to tame the wild-wild-west that is social.

  • ShellyKramer

    I’m not suggesting anything less than a sharp focus on roles and responsibilities, Cheri, I’m simply suggesting that PR isn’t, in every instance, the team to lead that effort. The problem, even as evidenced by some of the responses here, is that we sometimes are so close to our own disciplines that we can’t step away and be objective. Of course we need people responsible for leading our integrated marketing efforts across the enterprise, which include social. This post didn’t say that’s not important at all. What I was pointing out is that businesses’ success when it comes to social is about WAY more than just what the PR team brings to the table.

  • Shelly – I’ve also gotten really tired of this conversation about who “owns” social media. These posts are incredibly myopic and think that these TOOLS can only be used in one way. I wrote a similar post two years ago (http://steveradick.com/2010/03/23/who-owns-social-media-everyone-and-no-one/) after reading yet another frustrating post about who should “own” it and I came to the same conclusion you did. Social media are just tools, tools everyone can and should be using to help them do THEIR jobs better. That means HR, marketing, PR, customer service, IT, legal, etc. These are just tools people – there doesn’t have to be a my sandbox, your sandbox battle over them.

  • Obviously shipping owns social!

    My only view is that IT should handle social platform integration with computers and devices to keep the networks secure. In some sensitive industries certain discussions can cause the fbi to show up if information isnt secure (defense/aerospace)

  • ShellyKramer

    No argument from me there, Howie. Nobody needs the FBI showing up!

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  • tomdebaere

    wooww, without reading this post, I also just posted a blog about the exact same topic. You must be psychic 😉

    Joking aside, couldn’t agree more. Marketing should however provide the processes and support for the organisation to do this in an orchestrated manner.

    Thanks for the post.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Tom – I’d love to read your post so come back and share a link with me! And yes, I agree – marketing or business strategy or someone needs to provide overall leadership but also make sure all the different factions of the company are talking with one another.

    Thanks for coming by!

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  • Shelly, I saw you respond to Geoff’s post today and then had to read yours. Spot. On.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks so much!

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  • This is motivating me to write – ok rant – about the myth of ‘ownership’ and then tackle this. Except not as territorial pissing contests bore me. What too many try to do when arguing for ‘ownership’ is merely stating their position so that they get to control the budget for such endeavors. Period. Sometimes it WILL be the smart PR team that’s part of a smarter org that gets that (IMHO) good business needs good communications. Or it’s marketing or some other ad hoc camel shaped group. Everyone will come together w/ a ‘plan’ – and someone will get the J-O-B of executing said plan, of tweeting the tweets, of pinning the pins and being social. And THAT mileage will always vary, who’s ‘best’ suited.

    Which is well and good but end of the day, no one will ‘own’ SM b/c everyone already does. What, you’re going to fire your rockstar junior director of research for the ‘unofficial’ tweeting? Tell your thousands of employees to stay off FB? Ignore all the pleas for service online? Or better yet, assert control of the talk – good and esp. the bad – about your brand? That’s already out there?! Give me a break. I’ll stick w/ integration and getting the job done, let others scrap over b.s. like ownership. FWIW.

  • Love this post and have been meaning to read it for a whole week! These debates about ownership do little to move results forward for the client or business. There’s such rich data and opportunities in social – why wouldn’t you want the whole organization to have access to that?

    Perhaps the reason why ownership of social is an ongoing discussion is because so many struggle without how to incorporate social across the organization or how all the other disciplines or departments can add to the discussion and use social to their benefit.

  • ShellyKramer

    Thanks Laura. Glad you enjoyed – and it’s always great to hear your thoughts. I think a lot of people got hung up on this because they were focused on community management and day to day work on Facebook pages and the like — and as you know, it’s about way more than that.

    Thanks for coming by!

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  • ShellyKramer

    I do so adore you Davinia. And yes … to everything you’ve said. Times 427. Plus 12.

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