Who Owns Social Media?

There's been a lot of talk lately about exactly who should own social media inside the agency or within the brand or client organization. Who leads, who executes and who's accountable for performance of social media programs? It's clearly debatable.

If we look around, we will find social media living inside the media department, the creative studio, within account planning, at the desk of PR, and even in the intern's bullpen. Further, it's often partially or wholly outsourced to third parties mirroring that same swinging range of categories. It's all over the place.

This groping for location seems to have intensified as agencies and companies work to mature their approaches to social media, recognizing that it's more than tweeting links to news stories, running social ads on Facebook, rounding up a few fans, or troubleshooting customer service issues via Twitter and calling it a day.

I'm convinced that the amorphous organizational existence of social media has also spawned the return of an urge in certain industry circles to rename it -- indicative of the lingering tension around pinning it down as a discipline. On one hand, we acknowledge that precise nomenclature and definitions are essential to advance a discipline, especially one that's actually been around and evolving since the '90s. On the other hand, the quest to locate an organizational niche and name or rename social media does not accomplish much.



Rather than obsess on finding a singular home for this discipline, I believe we'd do well to back up, look at our workflow and think about how we can collaborate. Here are a few considerations that come to mind:

  • The life force of social media is the consumer, propelled by interest, demand, influence, engagement and congregation. So, with or without the marketer's guiding hand, once initiated to any degree, social media will take on a life of its own. Thus, making sure that consumer research and insights have a place in media program development is key.

  • Social media has a place in the integrated digital mix, across search, display, etc. It's also worth noting, as with these other media, that visual creative may also play a part. As ever, it's critical that media and creative conspire within any given program. All the more reason not to isolate social media from creative functions within the org.

  • If we think of social media as a channel with various platforms and conduits -- blogs, social networks, sharing tools, micro-blogging -- it's important to understand the intricate mechanics and limits of each.

  • Full-fledged social media, leveraging a real mix, is collaborative by nature. Fueled by consumer behaviors and affinities, there is interplay across platforms. So, too, must we play nice with each other and collaborate, as we develop and run these programs.

    Our ability to properly organize and have our teams thrive around research, planning, execution, measurement, etc., correlates to our ability to do the same with social media. If our org is already a mess, rife with cross-department dysfunction, social media as a practice will get lost in the shuffle.

  • It's important that those responsible for research, PR strategy, planning and creative all get that they have a part in the equation. Consumer insights; messaging strategies and platforms; playbooks; buzz tracking; reputation monitoring -- all are in our collective hands.

    I think of the practices of online audience development of yesteryear, when message-board seeding, interactive PR and online guerrilla marketing were commonplace. There certainly wasn't much rumbling back then about where this stuff lived. It just wasn't an important conversation to have. We were simply getting our feet wet.

    But now that our cross-platform digital infrastructure has reached such scale, and each platform bears so many options, the pronounced attention to where social media should live has forced the issue of productive agency collaboration. Unfortunately, as we reach what might become the heyday of social media in 2010, collaboration is still more awkward than we might like to admit.

  • 12 comments about "Who Owns Social Media?".
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    1. Susan Roane from The RoAne Group, December 21, 2009 at 1:55 p.m.

      Once again, another thoughtful and thought-provoking piece, Kendall. I will read it again (probably more than once) and share it with others.
      Thank you for expanding my awareness, my thinking and my knowledge base.

    2. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., December 21, 2009 at 1:56 p.m.

      Social media should be delegated to someone who really understands it's uses, power and attraction. Here at BroadbandVideo, Inc. we have a 13 year old boy with a skin condition who goes by the handle "BabeMagnet69" who really seems to get it.

    3. Monica Bower from TERiX Computer Service, December 21, 2009 at 1:58 p.m.

      Who owns word of mouth? For all practical purposes they're the same thing.

    4. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, December 21, 2009 at 2:11 p.m.

      Social media should be woven into fabric of all marketing channels, including customer service, strategically managed from 360 perspective by the CMO.

    5. Walter Sabo from HitViews, December 21, 2009 at 2:27 p.m.

      Social media started in town squares. It evolved to letters to the editor. On to the radio station request lines in the 1950's. Talk radio and music request lines are social media. Online it started with the AOL / Compuserve chat rooms and bulletin boards in 1983.

      What is absolutely true is that because big agencies have a big need to assign "ownership" and they mostly have not done that, social media is underutilized and underbudgetted. Instead there are endless meetings of strategy of whose in charge and nothing gets bought or sold. Billions are wasted in traditional media getting less results than any online video campaign would get---but gee, who is going to "own" that without fear? Just the smart ones.

      We are here to sell stuff. Social media sells stuff.

    6. Greg Alvarez from iMeil, December 21, 2009 at 2:33 p.m.

      When, social media, got out from the marketing umbrella? Marketing --or the CMO in specific-- is in command. The CMO certainly will delegate such tasks.

      @Jonathan Mirow, is legal to hire a 13 years old boy? Like if all your taks to reach Baby Boomers need to be done by 50+ years old.

    7. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 21, 2009 at 3:40 p.m.

      Who owns the post office? Whoops. When someone takes the time to buy you a card and send it, then you have it in your hand, what can be more social than that or even a personal handshake? Who owns the gesture? No one source should own it. FedEx/Big Brown it.

    8. Michelle Cubas from Positive Potentials LLC, December 21, 2009 at 4:21 p.m.

      On the mark, Kendall. I could hear the knives sharpening for a turf war any minute ;-).

      Each department has an element to manage, but it's all about communication.

      Merry Christmas-mc

    9. Casey Quinlan from Mighty Casey Media LLC, December 21, 2009 at 6:22 p.m.

      No one can own a conversation. You can control some conversations within and about an enterprise, but if your customers are talking about how your call center can't do anything right, while the marketing folks are playing "Shiny Happy People," you've got a big problem. Any customer-touching part of a business needs to be SM empowered, and SM savvy. If each and every one of your peeps can't walk and talk your brand's story, you're juggling lit matches in a gasoline sea...

    10. David Schultz from Media Logic, December 21, 2009 at 10:22 p.m.

      You make some great points, and you hit the nail on the head with the last sentence: "Unfortunately, as we reach what might become the heyday of social media in 2010, collaboration is still more awkward than we might like to admit." At Media Logic, we've come up with a product, Zeotgeist & Coffee, that's intended to get past the awkwardness to help organizations efficiently tap into their collective brainpower and social energy. If you're interested in learning more, check it out at:

    11. Valerie Christensen from Access Development, December 22, 2009 at 10:35 a.m.

      This article is spot on. A relevant follow up could focus on the flipside--the false idea held by many small to midsize companies on tight budgets that that social media CAN simply be assigned to one person. While management in general now sees the importance of SM, they don't fully grasp the workload of monitoring, targeting, directing creative, creating content and conversing with the world. A common solution for many organizations is to simply add "manage social media" to an existing job description.

    12. Dave Hale from DHI-Communications, December 22, 2009 at 10:59 a.m.

      I totally agree. Collaboration is still in its infancy. I work with small and large business daily helping them develop their social media strategic plans. Despite their desire to jump in head first, they are still treading water with who will do what, when and where.

      To conquer this, I teamed up with Midlands Tech College in Columbia, SC to design and teach three certificate programs in Social Media for Business, Social Media for HR Professionals and Internet Marketing. These programs will go into depth to answer the question of who will do what, when and where.

      Dr Dave Hale
      The Internet Marketing Professor

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