01 June 2010

Social Media: Who Should Own It?

The topic of "who owns social media" came up around a family dinner when my parents were curious why social media roles exist under different departments depending on the company. In actuality, the answer is a bit more complex.

The key lies in how a company wants to approach it's social media engagement. The uses for social media can range from support & technical assistance to brand evangelism to lead generation and sales. Often companies find that one of these areas presents itself first. They then opt to create social media plans based on this need. What they don’t plan for is that the moment that they start engaging, they have opened the doors to all social engagement. Even though their best intention was to fulfill a need in one area of the company, the users need to connect to the company is still greater.

Without creating a framework for how to engage socially, a company’s social media will be incomplete and will risk confusing employees, disappointing customers, and ultimately leading to failure.

The question shouldn’t be, “who owns social media?” It should instead be, “who do we want to engage on this medium, and why?” In answering this question, you start to create a framework of what do and don’t we want to talk about? How do we want to engage? Which teams or functional areas are involved? Developing engagement guidelines is basically brand management but with new participation rules. Brand guidelines ensure that the visual representation of your brand is controlled down to imagery, text, color, etc. Social media guidelines are similar in that a company’s employees understand the parameters in which they can engage socially.

Setting social media guidelines is beneficial for both the employees who are willing and eager to participate as well as the hesitant employees who want the reassurance of a virtual safety net. As with sales, marketing, even dance or music, you have to go back to basic structure. It may sound cliché, but it seems this step is all too commonly overlooked. Perhaps it is because social media is perceived as being a new and cutting edge topic, people jump the gun and forget. Don’t allow yourself to get sidetracked by the technology, the platform, or the buzz-word.

Before you hire that intern to take the task of updating your Twitter and Facebook accounts, sit down with people from each department and understand what it is that you are trying to accomplish as a company. Ask yourself a few questions:

Who are our customers and how do they want to engage with us? Understand which platforms are best for your customer base. Twitter users are typically older (45-55 are the top demographic, 23-34 year old following closely behind -comScore). If you are trying to reach the younger crowd, don’t waste your energy. Spend your time wisely.

How do we want to engage? Is your objective to convey marketing promotions? Do you want to offer support? Are you looking for ideas to make your products better? In order to have conversations about varying topics, you will need to cover more than one base. YouTube, Facebook, perhaps even develop your own online support forum where you can not only help your customers find technical assistance, but ask them questions about what they would enjoy in future generations of your product.

What are our limitations for engagement? I’m a big fan of adding character and allowing your customers to interact with the many personalities that comprise a company. Decide if it is OK for friendly and benign commentary (ie “Go Red Wings!” or “I love My Morning Jacket, too!”). Understand that sometimes your customers will be mad. One of the biggest fears of companies is “what if someone says something bad about us? Then it will be on our wall/thread/page!” Well, there will always be customers who are not happy with your company. It is OK if they post something negative. I have found more value in customers who come in and leave a negative comment on our wall because it allows us to understand that there is (or may be) an issue somewhere that we have not seen. It also allows our community to see that our company is listening & that we care. My team addresses all questions on our Twitter/Facebook/YouTube channel, regardless of if they are positive or negative. In doing so we allow the entire community to see that we are all trying to work for the benefit of the customer. Recently, we have had a few instances where new members come in and write negative comments (also known as “trolling” when they are just looking for a fight) and our established community answers their questions before our company can participate- letting the trollers know that there is a solution to their problem & not to attack our company. We have clearly nurtured advocates of our brand by showing we are human, that we are listening & that we participate.

Once these questions are answered, each department can then participate in social media in a way that is not only beneficial to their distinct area, but to the company as a whole.