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May 18, 2010
Who Owns Social Media?

We may seem to be harping on social media, but it may well be the biggest, most epochal factor shaping PR practice these days. Its strong reader response seems to confirm that.

So reflections on who owns social media (which department) may not be overkill after considering what qualifies PR staffers for eminence as social media counselors.

A new Mashable piece by Christina Warren on the "ownership" question is one of the most comprehensive we've seen. It indicates how companies are grappling to understand the strengths of social media and how best to use the new channels in relating to the public and their customers.

"Is social media," Warren asks, "primarily a product of marketing and/or public relations? Is it ultimately about customer service and support? Does its technical nature put it under the auspices of the IT department and its policies?"

Pick one, or two, maybe even three, and then there's the legal department. 

Harking back to last November's report on social media and online PR by Econsultancy, Warren notes that that survey found 35 percent of the respondents assigning social media to marketing, 21 percent to PR/communications, 19 percent to cross-functional teams, and only 2 percent to customer service, or an outside agency.

As a result of efforts like @ComcastCares and Best Buy's similar Twitter presence, customer service is gaining in social media standing.

Some folks believe that no one  should own social media and that it should be a company-wide function, yet that's bound to make executives uneasy. Who controls the message, if it's even possible to think in terms of "controlling" social media on a full-court corporate basis? Companies with clear goals and objectives and high employee buy-in might have the best prospects for "letting it rip."

Warren thinks it might not matter where the prime responsibility lies, but "there are still some very valid reasons for trying to figure out what department ultimately owns social media."  

Somebody has to create a corporate social media policy, and that needs to be based on some degree of familiarity with the tools at hand; however, and here's an ominous twist, Warren reports that some employees with "social media" titles told her that corporate policy kept them from speaking about it!

"The number of companies that hold this view actually surprised us," Warren advises, "and makes it clear that  ultimately, the answer to 'who owns social media' might be the legal team."

"Open communication" circumscribed by beady-eyed prior review. Oh, save us.  





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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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