Beyond PR

Jan 12, 2011

The Enterprise and Social Media Ownership

I recently finished reading a preview copy of The Now Revolution by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund, which is slated for release later this month, in which the authors argue convincingly that social networking and technology have changed consumer behavior and expectations to such a degree that businesses are required to shift their communications, sales, support, product development and customer service practices accordingly – and quickly – if they hope to be successful in the coming years.

I think the authors are spot-on.  But as I read, one big hairy question took shape: Who owns your organization’s  social media presence?

Baer and Naslund addressed this, saying that soon, asking that question is going to be akin to asking, “Who owns the telephone?”  But as organizations start adopting social media and adapting to life in social networks, this question is worth picking apart, because in the answers are guidelines and opportunities.  And it’s important to start asking this question within our organizations:  I frequently post this question to PR and marketing pros, and generally don’t get much of an answer.  As Baer and Naslund illustrate, this is a looming problem for brands.

So, who owns social media in the organization?

Is it marketing?  Certainly marketers know what sort of messaging generates attention.  But for a brand to successfully navigate social networks – and benefit from having a presence therein – the audience’s attention must be gained, and maintained.

Maybe it’s PR?  The PR pros are the company’s master storytellers, have long experience in developing and maintaining relationships with journalists, and are no strangers to dealing with delicate situations and defending brands. Without a doubt, PR must have a hand in the daily tactics and the strategic planning. And the cultivation of some influentials probably does belong in PR.  But influential bloggers and big-deals on Twitter are not the only members of the audience worthy of cultivation.  All it takes is one ticked off customer with a smart phone and WiFi to cause havoc for a brand.

Of course one can argue that the sales organization has a stake in this game. Representatives with territories defined by industry sector or geography can certainly use social networking to develop relationships with – and visibility among – their clients and prospects.  Sales has a vested interest in anything a brand can do to generate interest in the marketplace.

How about customer service?  People are increasingly turning to Twitter and Facebook to get satisfaction – or make a plea for urgent help when running into roadblocks and the 800 number has a double-digit wait-time. Social networks enable swift communication between brands and their markets – and connected consumers expect swift attention and service.

Product development also has a vested interest – social networks are teeming with all manner of intelligence, influence and feedback.

In my mind, the enterprise owns social media – even if the enterprise doesn’t know it yet.

Fact is, pretty much every customer-facing group has a stake in defending and supporting their brand in social networks.   And increasingly, brands are fundamentally changing their structures and recalibrating everything from team objectives to tactics to accommodate and take advantage of social channels – exactly the sort of cultural shift advocated by Baer and Naslund.

Authored by Sarah Skerik, vice president – social media, PR Newswire

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ramkarthikblogger

8 Comments on Blog Post Title

Michael Brenner 10:54 EST on Jan 12, 2011

Hi Sarah, Great post! I think you laid out the right questions. While I agree with Jay and Amber that the future will look back and laugh at this question, I agree with you that there is a whole lot of pain to go through first. I like to think that social is breaking down some of the silos that exist in our companies and will force us all to own an appropriate stake in our customer’s success. So for me it will come down to the customer and enterprise-wide ownership of their satisfaction, loyalty and retention.

Jay Baer 12:05 EST on Jan 12, 2011

Sarah thanks so much for the great post and the kind words about the book.

You nailed it with “The enterprise owns social media, even if they don’t know it yet.”

Exactly. That said, most companies take an initially reactive approach, answering questions/comments from customers and prospects. Thus, a customer service component makes a lot of sense at first.

Monique Elwell 12:31 EST on Jan 12, 2011


Really excellent post. While I think that Jay and and Amber are prescient, I would disagree that social media changed consumer behavior. I’ve been in New Media on and off since before the creation of the first social network (Six Degrees founded by Andrew Weinreich) and have been on the business, agency and research side. The world that was done while I was at Iconoculture, shows the consumer shift already took place before social media became mass market. Social Media simply provided the tools to prove to brands that they didn’t own their brands anymore.

I foresee a massive shift in the organizational landscape of corporations. I’ve already seen this happen with several corporations, including Carlson Hotels who had the foresight to hire a ‘Chief of Consumer” role. (Although I don’t recall exactly what the title was.) We see this starting to happen with our clients and prospects, although it’s the small to mid-size clients who can move their organizations faster to address this massive sea change. At some point the larger companies will catch up.

Elena Verlee 12:45 EST on Jan 12, 2011

Bang on Sarah. This is one of the key questions we ask clients when developing their social media strategy and implementation plan. Besides the customer facing segments of marketing, sales, PR and customer service, another group that increasingly has a stake is HR. Some clients are using social networks like LinkedIn and even Twitter and FB for attracting top talent.

Sarah Skerik 15:57 EST on Jan 12, 2011

Michael, I agree with the fact that input from (and interaction with) the social layer is breaking through silos. I wonder if this will truly force organizations to be absolutely customer-centric.

Sarah Skerik 15:57 EST on Jan 12, 2011

Good point (and good insight, as usual) Jay, about customer service being a logical starting point.

Michael Brenner 16:23 EST on Jan 12, 2011

True. Fingers crossed…

Sarah Skerik 16:44 EST on Jan 12, 2011

Great point, Elena! I knew I forgot something!

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