It’s a mark of how far businesses still have to go when a 10 second search trawl brings back literally thousands of articles still agonising over which department should take ownership of social media.

After a (highly unscientific) click through the first few pages of Google, I found about 60% of the results ended up saying it was best aligned with a marketing skill set, around 30% pointed out that really it was customer services that knew most about dealing with individual enquiries.

The remaining 10% put forward a more “enlightened” approach by claiming that social media was so fundamental to the future of business that it had to start with the CEO and work down from there.  

I agree with every one of these, the real value that brands add to a community is through content, this is natively a part of marketing, real conversations should always be between real people and our customer services team is great at that.

And yes, the future of all media is social, and having a CEO that gets this is enormously important. What very few of the articles seemed to get is that whilst I agree with every statement above, the customer doesn’t care one bit, at all, in the slightest.

The audience doesn’t look at which department owns a social property, they go there for their own reasons, whether that’s convenience, re-assurance, exclusivity etc. 

The key element when it comes to “ownership” is that people’s reasons for investing time in a brand’s social media presence are defined entirely by the engagement that takes place there.

The owner of a social property has to be the best placed person, or group of people to deliver that experience so, for example in our case the social media newsroom and press-focused Twitter presence is owned by the PR team whereas the Facebook presence (where, due to the legalities involved, we avoid engaging in discussions about customer’s personal accounts), is driven and guided by the marketing and brand teams, but the responses carried out by Digital Support – here they engage conversationally and cover customer issues/service where appropriate.

There’s a clear set of criteria that define when a Facebook post needs elevating and this applies to both the PR and Marketing “owned” properties. If anything, “ownership” should be about being responsible for making sure the customer’s experience is seamless.

From a strategic point of view obviously, this adds a layer of complexity, particularly when it comes to aligning departmental goals but again – goals shouldn’t be about the department, they should be about the customer and improving his or her experience. 

So despite the obvious (and sometimes compelling) arguments for social media ownership within an organisation sitting with one department or the other (or even an individual), there really is only one person who can own social media for any company, and that’s the customer.

Natalie Cowen

Published 16 July, 2012 by Natalie Cowen

Natalie Cowan is Head of Brand and Communications at first direct and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (9)

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Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder at Our Social Times

It's certainly a thorny on-going topic. My personal view is that Customer Service ought to have the final word, since they represent the customer internally.

I blogged on this topic here a few months ago:

about 6 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

"If anything, “ownership” should be about being responsible for making sure the customer’s experience is seamless."

I think you make a great point. There is no "right" person; it's whoever is going to do the best job with it and create the kind of user experience your audience needs.

about 6 years ago

Stuart Bruce

Stuart Bruce, Principal at Stuart Bruce Associates

Interesting, and perhaps depressing, that more than 10 years on into using social media we are still debating this same old issue. One reason is that it is the wrong question. It is far too simplistic and crude to ask who 'owns' social media. It can be right to look at social media from the perspective of the end stakeholder, but that rarely means just customers. Even if you don't get into the debate about the need to remove internal departmental silos you need to accept that most departments will need to 'own' a bit of social media in order to accomplish its objectives. HR for recruitment and retention, marketing for sales, customer service for service, R&D for research and insight etc.

Therefore a better question is who should be the custodian or coordinator of social media. That requires a holistic view across the whole of an organisation's activity. This logically suggests that the custodian's role should fall to corporate communications representing the CEO. Corporate comms is one of the few departments that needs to look across almost every aspect of an organisation's activity, which is what you need to do in order to oversee social media. This allows marketing to 'own' its activity, alongside HR 'owning' its activity etc.

about 6 years ago

Joseph Buhler

Joseph Buhler, Principal at buhlerworks

I totally agree with @Stuart Bruce on first of all the depressing fact that we are still - and with increasing frequency, it seems to me - debating the same old issues.

It's not a question of ownership but more of buy-in and that starts at the top with the CEO and the overall corporate culture. If the WHY are we doing all this question is not addressed and solved, the social web effort is unlikely to bring expected results. But, again, I'm sounding like a broken record here as this has now been suggested in posts across the web for a number of years by many.

The social web train has left the station and is moving ahead. The destination will be social business a term that has now entered the vocabulary. We're likely to read about it in 2017 as well, I guess....

about 6 years ago

Natalie Cowen

Natalie Cowen, Head of Brand and Communications at first direct

@ Stuart - for me ownership and responsibility are the same thing and in any big organisation, where there is work that needs to get done there has to be someone responsible for the doing. Similarly with your point re: stakeholders / customers. What I'm talking about is moving away from a model where an organisation starts with it's own internal structures and processes and instead starts with something seamless for the users. That was why I gave the example of our Facebook page - the resources applied to that are from both brand marketing and customer support, this way, regardless of what goes on behind the page what the end user experiences is seamless.

about 6 years ago


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

I too agree with @Stuart Bruce - it's down to organisations being able to 'unite the tribes' and break down barriers between teams.

I spend a good bit of my time getting Business teams and Tech teams to meet up: getting all to agree that customer experience is all their responsibility. The whole user experience online is delivered of course by technology; so it;s vital that it's being measured ina way that all understand and agree with and all know how they can improve it.

Some big companies have a culture that makes that agreeing around a 'single point of truth' easier - some don't sadly.

Despite the obvious and proven ROI of having everyong sing off the same hymn sheet when it comes to online experience - some bosses don't get it!

So Customer Service (via social media or not) continue to be left with grumpy users, for whom they have no good explanations as to what went wrong, and can share no details of any plans that are intended to prevent reoccurences.... ouch.

about 6 years ago


Elena Savvides, International Marketing Manager at Telligent

This is a really interesting post and I actually get asked this question all the time. For me, I think businesses should be asking themselves what they want to achieve from social, once they’ve determined the “what”, the question of “who” becomes obvious. We’ve found most of the customers that use Telligent can be split into 6 use cases, all of which will have a “lead” and then usually require all functions of the business to see the project through. I’ve included a link to these use cases – would love to hear your view on these:

about 6 years ago

Tamsin Fox-Davies

Tamsin Fox-Davies, Small Business Marketing Mentor at Constant Contact

It doesn't matter who, but someone inside the organisation has to take final responsibility for social channels. As Dan pointed out, it makes sense for this to be the person who deals most often with customers already. For smaller businesses this isn't always as clear cut. Often the owner or manager is having to wear a number of hats.

At times there may only be a few minutes each day to spend on social media but it's crucial to have clearly defined roles outlining who is responsible for responding to comments or issues on the various social media channels, to ensure speedy and effective communication with customers, either negative or positive.

about 6 years ago


Yoav Burger

Great post, Natalie. Companies with forward thinking CEOs should have ownership at the top (the CEO) who understands how all the separate pieces work together and is then able to delegate social media job functions throughout his organization. But since most CEOs still don't 'get-it' yet, then I believe in most cases marketing should take the leadership role and delegate to customer service, and other departments in the company. I have included your post in 'Best of the Web' so a wider audience can also share your great content. Thank you.

about 6 years ago

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