Which department owns social media? Who gets to participate in firing off those tweets or uploading photos onto Pinterest?
A Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey reveals a multi-departmental approach to social media within most corporations, nonprofits, and government agencies.
[Download the complete survey’s findings here.]
More than 70 percent of respondents say marketing is involved, with 69 percent reporting that public relations played a role. Corporate communications trailed, with 49 percent.
Twenty-six percent of respondents said the advertising department plays a role, and 14 percent make room at the table for the lawyers.
“There must be collaboration,” one survey respondent wrote. “Whereas marketing only wants to sell product, corporate communications—my department—must be aware of impact of all social efforts on Wall Street, shareholders, and regulators.”
It's an ongoing debate. Some say PR should manage social media, while others say it belongs to every department.
The Ragan/NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions survey drew 2,714 participants, ranging from one-person shops to major global teams. Employees of corporations, government agencies, and nonprofits took part.
The survey found:
- Marketing emerged as the department that a plurality (29 percent) of survey participants reported to, followed by the chief executive, with 20 percent.
- Nearly three-quarters of respondents say the departments involved in social media work together well or very well.
- Fourth-fifths of respondents say their executive leadership supports social media.
The survey confirmed what Adam Brown, principal of adMAGINATION, has observed. “There’s a tug-of-war in most organizations between marketing and communications,” he says.
Brown, a former social media leader at Dell and Coca-Cola, says corporations will have to sort out who is involved, depending on their goals.
Multiple participants can be a recipe for confusion, however.
“Our biggest challenge is getting the different units to collaborate,” wrote one participant. “Some teams have an ‘ownership’ which they are reluctant to let go of.”
Another stated, “The corporate communications, PR, and customer service ‘departments’ all fall within the marketing department and consist of one- or two-person teams within each group.”
“As a city government, our organization relies upon each department to head its own social media efforts (Parks and Rec vs. Police vs. Transit vs. Utilities, etc.),” one government-based respondent wrote. “We coordinate during citywide emergency situations (weather, etc.).”
The City of Fort Collins, Colo., takes an interdepartmental approach to social media, says Claire Thomas, public relations coordinator. The city has accounts on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr under the auspices of the Communications and Public Involvement Office.
During heavy snowstorms, snowplow crews will tweet to announce when they have cleared a street, and she is working with police and fire to ensure social communications during emergencies.
“We’ve slowly deputized other people across the organization,” Thomas says. “We’re kind of decentralized. We have experts in different departments.”
Some departments in Fort Collins initially wanted to form their own social media sites, but communications insisted that a coordinated approach worked better. The city’s accounts have 3,000 followers, comms argued; why set up minor sites with 20 fans listening in? The approach has worked well, she says.
So who’s in charge?
With so many departments involved, which one is the boss of all bosses?
Marketing leads among those to whom social media reports, with 29 percent. The CEO ranks next, with 20 percent of respondents saying they report to that position. Corporate communications (nearly 18 percent) and public relations (17 percent) follow close behind.
One respondent stated: “The social media manager is the organizations communications coordinator. The communications coordinator makes up the entire PR and marketing department excluding interns.”
Governmental social media users listed several variations of whom they report to. One respondent stated that employees who serve programmatic functions contribute to the social media team on top of their regular responsibilities.
Another wrote, “The ministry does not have individual departments as listed but has an evolving 'communication unit,' which [is] expected to perform functions indicated above and use social media as part of its outreach to respective target audiences.”
“Each department ultimately reports to the city's Public Information office,” wrote yet another.
Many respondents named specific individuals in the reply, such as the vice president of development and external affairs, newsroom editors, and even “each other—it's a shared job.”
“I and one admin. report to the VP of IT,” one wrote. “The other admin. reports to administrative services manager. We're a nonprofit, eclectic bunch.”
David B. Thomas, senior director of content and community at Salesforce Marketing Cloud, says the survey confirms what he has observed: Interest in social media has grown beyond communications and public affairs. As this trend continues, the question of who owns it may become moot.
“I think it will spread across the departments,” he says. “Eventually, it will be like asking, ‘Who owns the telephone?’ There was a time in business when somebody did own the telephone, where we had to have guidelines for how to use the telephone, and we had to train people in how to use the telephone.”
Thomas foresees a day when social media will be more like email, available at many employees’ desks. Human resources can use it for recruiting and to monitor what employees are saying about the company, PR will cultivate relationships with reporters, and marketing can use it to sell. But organizations will still need someone to make sure regional offices don’t set up competing Facebook pages, or to rule on whether a branch office or hospital oncology can start its own blog.
Shel Holtz, of Holtz Communication + Technology, agrees that an internal governance issue needs to be addressed in many organizations. Competing (or even cooperating) departments will require a cross-functional entity that looks after the interests of the whole firm, he says.
The various interests should have autonomy where they need it at the brand level, at the business unit level, and the department level, he says. But everybody must be on the same page about the governance issues and strategies.
“I’m working with one organization in which probably 20 different entities … have bought their own social media monitoring service,” Holtz says. “That’s insane.”
But a shift is under way. In 10 years, organizations probably won’t need best practice case studies to help them figure out what to do. “Everybody will pretty much know what they’re doing,” Holtz says.
One organization is heading that way, judging from a commenter’s remarks: “We're creating a corporate digital coordination team as resource for all teams wanting to go into social media.”
Plays well with others?
Despite the potential for competition, the “many cooks” model seems to work fine. Almost 74 percent say the departments work together well or very well, with only 26 percent less than satisfied with the way things are going.
Some participants reported ups and downs in interdepartmental relations. “Variable,” one wrote. “Some departments work together very well, others not so well.”
Observed one educational communicator, “The main problem at our office is that those who know social media very well are either poor communicators/teachers or don't have the time to teach their fellow co-workers.”
Where it is possible to claim turf, leave it to human beings to set up fiefdoms. A commenter wrote, “Our biggest challenge is getting the different units to collaborate. Some teams have an ‘ownership’ which they are reluctant to let go of.”
Another commenter was more specific—and more blunt: “The most difficult to work with is the IT department. Great technicians sometimes don’t understand why, and great communicators sometimes don't understand how. Generally, we came together organically and informally rather than organizationally and formally. This has worked very well. Also, there’s nothing like a crisis to unite departments’ communicators, which happened to us this year.”
Yet another put a more optimistic spin on it: “Improving this is a current focus for us.”
Respondents from smaller organizations had no one to argue with but the voices in their heads. “I am a department of one,” the commenter noted. “I work very well with myself.”
“Since we are all one person, at least there are no silos!” added another.
Are the bigwigs on board?
The survey offers some cheer from most organizations: Large or small, most say their leaders understand social media. More than 81 percent say their executives are “very” or “somewhat” supportive, with only 19 percent saying they are unsupportive or indifferent.
But there is frustration when top leaders don’t see the return on building engagement with customers or tracking those 140-character reputation bombs.
“Our social media team is thinking on the cutting edge,” commented one survey participant, “but our executives and PR team has chosen not to take social media seriously.”
Before you envy those with Twitter-loving bosses, consider this: At one company, social media is “out of control, with CEO posting ad hoc, no message control, inappropriate messaging for brand, no central control [or] planning,” a respondent wrote. “CEO mixes personal social with company social, damaging brand.”
Luckily for Fort Collins, things work better than that. The city manager serves as the equivalent of the CEO, Thomas says. City leadership understands the need to reach out to citizens and use social media to publicize information and events.
“We feel like we have really great support," Thomas says.
[Download the complete survey’s findings here.]
Russell Working is a staff writer for Ragan.com.