Which Department “Owns” Social Media?

I participate in a number of online forums that cover various communication issues and a question that invariably comes up is “what department should ‘own’ social media”?

It’s a legitimate question and, as a former corporate communication/marketing director, I definitely “get” turf wars. But, while I tend to believe that all organizational communication should be managed through a single channel to ensure consistency and effective brand management, “owning” social media does seem to represent a bit of mission creep. I suppose it would be like “in the old days” having debates about which department should own the typewriter, the phone, the fax or the computer — all tools used to communicate. It’s one of those debates that hinges on definition, I think – it all depends on “what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”

I think we need to reframe the question. It’s not a matter of owning “social media.” It’s a matter of owning the process or outcome that is being impacted by social media. And, again, it’s like debating about who “owns” the telephone. If I’m in sales, I might use the telephone to contact prospects. If I’m in customer service, I’ll use the telephone to help customers find answers to their questions.

As I often caution clients, social media simply represents a new communication tool. It doesn’t change the basic processes that organizations engage in. In fact, as I talk with companies about their need for policies addressing social media, it quickly becomes clear that they’ve generally addressed the issues they’re concerned about already in other existing policies. Remember in the “old days” when you couldn’t “speak on behalf of your company” using company letterhead or in responses to questions from the media? Well, guess what? You *still* can’t speak on behalf of your company via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or LinkedIn. (Well, you can, but you’d better to prepared to accept the consequences.)

No single department owns social media. Various departments may *use* social media to serve their needs–just as over the years they’ve used the telephone, the fax machine, cell phones and the Internet to do the same.

So, in your company…

  • Which department is responsible for the organization’s brand image? That department should also be responsible for how social media impacts the brand.
  • Which department is responsible for customer service? That department should also be responsible for how social media is used to impact customer service.
  • Which department is responsible for recruitment? That department should also be responsible for how social media is used to impact recruitment.

And, yes, all of these departments should work together to coordinate their activities just as they would typically do. But no single department will “own” the entirety of a communication tool that has such broad impact on multiple processes across the organization.

Think about it this way–does a single department monitor every written communication that leaves your organization either via the U.S. postal service or through email communications? Hmmm. No? Why not? Granted “snail mail” isn’t likely to have the same impact as social media *might*, but the concept is the same. The bottom line–social media doesn’t change what organizations do or what their individual departments are responsible or accountable for.

While it’s new and trendy and not yet widely understood, even by the self-professed “social media experts,” it is still simply a communication mechanism. It simply represents another option that can be used to achieve individual, departmental and ultimately organizational goals.

Tags: , ,

One Response to “Which Department “Owns” Social Media?”

  1. Vicki Hoehn says:

    Great article Linda!

Leave a Reply

Complete the math problem before submitting a comment. * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.