Who owns social media?

I spoke on yesterday’s Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) panel at Leeds Business Week where we inevitably touched on the hoary old question of who owns social media. It’s hard to believe that a question we were asking 10 years ago is still being debated today.

My view is that no one discipline or department should OWN social media. That’s because social media impacts on every single area of a business or organisation. Every management discipline and department needs to re-think what it does and how social media changes that.

Customers complain about customer service on social media. People find jobs and decide who’s a good employer via social media. Investors form an opinion on a company’s future performance based on what they see and hear on social media. Government’s formulate and refine policy based on the opinions of people on social media.

So it should be a given that customer services need to monitor social media and respond to complaints (and praise). Human resources and internal communications experts will need to start using social media for staff recruitment, development and retention. Investor relations professionals will need to pay as much attention to what is being said on social media as they do to what is in the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. Public affairs professionals will need to understand the same opinions that governments do and look to influence and shape them.

Everyone should therefore be responsible for ‘owning’ their bit of social media.

We’re not there yet. In fact most companies are still not even paying lip service to social media in most of these disciplines and departments. If companies are active in social media it too frequently tends to be simply for marketing communications. To sell more stuff. There are lots of excellent examples of companies using social media for marketing communications. Just as there are many bad ones.

And that’s a problem. Social media isn’t just about marketing and too narrow a focus on sales can be damaging for a company or organisation as it doesn’t take sufficient account of all the other factors that can effect its future.

And everyone doing their own thing is also a potential recipe for disaster. People can say the wrong things at the wrong times. More often they simply might not be very good communicators so what they do gives the wrong impression and can be misinterpreted. That’s damaging for reputation.

So if no one discipline or department owns social media how do we fix this issue?

The clue is in the name. Social media.

Not everyone is very good at being social. Not everyone is good at media. So if they are to do it then they almost certainly need help. If they get it wrong it negatively impacts on the reputation of the company and that damages the business or organisation.

That’s where public relations professionals come in. Being social is about relationships. Media is about content and communication.

The clue is in the name. Public relations.

PR professionals are good at managing relationships. PR professionals use media for two way communications with public(s) – be they external stakeholders, internal stakeholders or individuals.

Public relations is the discipline that manages reputation. That puts PR people in pole position to be the profession that leads and coordinates social media in businesses and organisations.

PR should be the discipline that encourages and helps other disciplines to embrace social media and equips them with the skills needed to communicate effectively using social media.

But let’s never claim that PR owns social media. And certainly don’t let marketing own social media.

PR should be the social media advocates, facilitators and champions.

Photo credit: Jonny Ross


2 Replies to “Who owns social media?

  1. I think it really depends on what you are hoping to accomplish with social media. Social media is an inherently useful tool for public relations, but it can also be of great use in advertising if the use isn’t too overt. No one side can claim to own social media, especially since the lines between advertising and PR are becoming so blurred.

  2. Stuart Bruce – PR Futurist 🛰️ Counsel and training for communications teams and PR agencies 📊 Strategist 🗣️ International speaker 📺 NED 📈 Author 📘 Mentor 👂
    Stuart Bruce says:

    I agree that no one side can claim to own social media – that’s the argument of the post. And I also agree advertising can and should use social media. just as every discipline and department should be using it to achieve its objectives. My point is about who should lead and co-ordinate to ensure that this huge variety of activity creates benefit, rather than reputational damage. I don’t really agree with the idea of lines blurring between advertising and PR, as ultimately advertising is about communication, where is public relations is about corporate behaviour and how it is communicated. I would agree that some of the channels and tools are blurring as PR has always been a channel neutral discipline using whatever it needs to (including paid for advertising), where as advertising has historically been mainly about paid media advertising.

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