Who Owns Social Media and Why It Should Not Be You

Determining who is in charge of social media can be a daunting task. Even when social leadership is channeled through the executive suite, it does not stop at the executive level. Often the question becomes “who owns social media?” within the organization.

For many new initiatives, he who first touches the new “thing” becomes its ultimate owner. The department which leads the first or most visible social media project establishes the initial beachhead of control over its eventual programmatic development. But does this accident of innovation deliver the best results for the organization?

The battle for control of social media most frequently involves three warring tribes: Marketing vs. IT vs. Legal. In addition, if the executive suite is paying attention, roving bands from HR and Customer Care will also join the melee.

Marketing argues that social media is an extension of their strategic marketing and brand management activities, so social marketing should be part of their other digital efforts such as email campaigns and the website.

Over in IT, the keeper of the tool sets and standardization efforts, the CIO claims ownership over all things social. After all, they will be required to support it.

The Legal department offers this opinion: as the group charged with managing compliance and even investor relations, they will have a sizable stake in compliance, social media policy and monitoring efforts, especially if they need to understand the social buzz to manage any potential liability.

There are some organizations where many departments seek to own the social efforts and secure the budget and staff needed to succeed. In others, no one wants to hold the social “hot potato” due to the uncertainties and risks it introduces. Which department head at BP wants to take ownership of Tony Hayward’s infamous Twitter gaffe?

The Social Media Cooperative

Let’s consider a new social media “ownership” model. One that creates a new, collaborative approach where no one department or group should be responsible for social media for the organization or company. Call it co-ownership or the social media cooperative.

Hold off on those knee-jerk reactions for a moment. Sure, many of you will argue this is impossible — every successful innovation needs an owner — so collaborative ownership is ridiculous and a recipe for disaster. Instead, let’s run through the reasons for why co-ownership is a crucial and constructive step.

Speed to market. While developing a social strategy is not an emergency, social is here to stay. Social’s unprecedented adoption rates make it a necessary operational element and a critical success factor for today’s organizations. They must have an ability to act and react quickly — there’s no time to waste. Battles over ownership consume valuable time, where a co-ownership model, at the very least, puts all the resources and goals in the same room at the same time.

Shared budgets. Single owners mean single budgets, so when one group takes ownership, their budget control can exclude funding for social media initiatives outside the ownership group. We all know about “skunk works” projects that succeeded without access to established budgets. But how many more equally vital and valuable initiatives have disappeared without a trace without budget support? Co-ownership places responsibility for funding on all the interested groups, and not incidentally, broadens the base of support for adequate funding.

A single story with many narrators. Line of business ownership inevitably skews the tone and tenor of the social media conversation. If marketing owns social media, it’s about marketing. If IT owns it, the emphasis is tools. If legal sets the agenda, rules and compliance … rule. Instead, co-ownership enables the creation of a single “story” for the organization, told by many voices. The goal is to have the whole organization enable social media and give groups inside and outside an opportunity to influence the conversation.

Why Co-ownership Works

I worked for a consulting company called Cambridge Technology Partners. Like all new employees, I needed to undergo New Employee Orientation, or NEO. We learned about the company’s mission, messaging, key customers, go-to people and filled out lots of forms.

In the middle of the second day of training, the head of Sales, Chris Greendale, gave a talk about the sales process. At the end, he asked all staff to stand up and put our hands in the air. With some reluctance — consultants don’t like games but do know how to follow instructions — we did. Then he asked us all to repeat the following mantra: ”I’m in sales. We are all in sales.”

The point? Each one of us would touch a customer or client, and we would directly or indirectly represent Cambridge to that customer or client. This mantra became part of the corporate culture. We each had a personal responsibility to make valuable contributions to company best practice whether we were part of the sales organization, a consultant or in finance. We had co-ownership of the company’s goals.

The same need and opportunity exists for social media. While some may have direct responsibility for carrying out social media projects or have an MBO based on social media success, each employee has an opportunity and a responsibility to represent the company well when engaging online. Perhaps there is a need for an “I’m social for my company” battle cry – followed by training and support to understand what that means, in every organization.

Vanessa DiMauro

Vanessa DiMauro is the CEO of Leader Networks. A pioneer in business-to-business community building, Vanessa has been creating successful online communities and networks for more than fifteen years. Vanessa is a popular speaker, researcher and author on the topics of online communities, social and professional networking, and Web 2.0 for business. With a research background, Vanessa takes the approach of a cultural anthropologist to help businesses effectively use social media to get closer to their customers, generate revenue, innovation and tangible ROI. She has founded and run leading online professional communities such as Cambridge Information Network (CIN) for Cambridge Technology Partners, Computerworld Executive Suite and CXO Systems' Peer Visibility Network. She consults with many organizations on Web 2.0 for business and has a blue chip client list which includes Cisco, Cognizant, EMC, LexisNexis, The Palladium Group and SAP. Vanessa DiMauro was recently named a 2009 Research Fellow for the Society of New Communications Research and also serves as an Executive- In-Residence at Babson College, for the Olin School of Management. Women in Technology International (WITI) named Vanessa DiMauro one of "Boston's Most Influential Women in Technology". She holds both a B.A. and an M.A. from Boston College. 

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  1 comment for “Who Owns Social Media and Why It Should Not Be You

  1. July 1, 2010 at 8:30 pm

    Co-ownership of social media is a noble idea. It’s gratifying to know that it worked at Cambridge Technology Partners. My experience is that even if the funding is shared (and I have not seen this work too often) someone has to be the owner. You can’t have 3 or 4 masters; eventually power will gravitate or be assumed by one of the departments. Then others that have contributed to the effort will likely lose interest because they have no say or less of a say in the social media initiative. So, I applaud your idea, but I think this starts at the top with the CEO. The CEO needs to invest in social media and tap the department, which may be different depending on the company, to make it work. Other departments will fall into line if the CEO says it’s so.

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