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According to recent figures from Zendesk around 60% of companies are using social media for both marketing and customer services.

But who should take the lead?  

We ask the experts for their views.

In many companies the marketing department has driven social media adoption and usage. Yet some are starting to question whether customer service, with its focus on delivering value, isn’t better suited to managing social customer engagement.

It’s a controversial topic and customer service consultant Martin Hill-Wilson, is unequivocal in his response:

Marketing's DNA is not to run operational stuff or clean up other functions messCustomers are for life. They are not just campaign outcomes. 

MD of social media agency Immediate Future, Katy Howell, sees things differently:

Customer service brings techniques that allow a deeper interaction with individuals, alongside efficient workflow and management, but it’s marketing that understands how the brand can then be represented online – the wider implications and the need to represent brand values and messages. 

Many large organisations, such as Dell and Zappos, have side-stepped the marketing/customer service question by creating cross-departmental social media teams that manage and filter queries to the right departments.  

Yet even these social media management models aren’t perfect. Author and consultant, Brian Solis writes on his blog:

The customer doesn’t see, nor do they care about, who owns social media. They see one company and they simply need an informed and empathetic response. 

He also champions the need for real-time customer service, saying:

Businesses must look at creating a holistic experience where customer service extends to social media, providing engagement and resolution at the time and place of the social expression”

Katy Howell agrees: 

Time is the biggest issue. Call centres and customer service departments focus on resolution in the fastest time. Social media doesn’t always fit into a clear workflow management.

When asked how such end-to-end, cross-departmental and real-time engagement can be achieved Martin Hill-Wilson suggests a combination of “collaboration software, to get the right groups talking, Customer interaction analytics, to provide the insight and evidence to generate change and Customer Experience Leaders, to provide the methodology for making it happen”.

Katy Howell claims marketing has an active role to play in this:

Companies need to redesign their processes for managing social customers. The starting point is to understand the voice of the customer. Looking for patterns and establishing a typical consumer journeys – the journey through issue resolution and the one across a sale. 

Martin-Hill Wilson, Katy Howell and Head of Digital Strategy & Adoption at Everything Everywhere, Ben Kay, plus Citibank’s Frank Eliason (formerly @comcastcares) and others will be debating the relationship between Marketing and Customer Services in social media at The Social Customer 2012 in London, 29 March.

Luke Brynley-Jones

Published 14 February, 2012 by Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones is Founder at Our Social Times and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn

12 more posts from this author

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Steve Morgan

Steve Morgan, Freelance SEO Consultant at Morgan Online Marketing

Great article.

I was going to write a blog post about this, as it's a tricky subject...

On the one hand, Twitter is about the individual - it can be argued that the ideal situation would be if one person were responsible for an account at all times. But obviously with annual leave and sick days, that's just not possible for a corporate account.

Even then, with a group approach, it can be difficult to decide who gets overall ownership. I worked at a large company a while back who gave their social media to the PR Team, followed by the Content Team. We had a Digital Marketing Team, who were not asked to be involved at all. I found this to be a foolish approach, as we knew how best to take advantage of the channels, whether it's a greater understanding of what time of day to post a Facebook update, or how to write the perfect tweet with appropriate hashtags.

I think the best bet in that example would've been to grant "ownership" to members of the Digital Marketing Team, but ask PR to provide the voice/tone; Content to provide the content; Customer Services to help out with any customer problems, etc. In other words 1-2 individuals who hit the 'Tweet Now' button, with assistance and involvement from others, each specialists in their own respective area.

almost 5 years ago

Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder at Our Social Times

Thanks Steve. Yes, it's tricky. My background is marketing, yet in my client work I find it's the customer service teams who are often better to lead on social. Having the systems, sCRM tools and processes in place to make this work, though, another matter - hence the theme for the conference in March.

BTW - I spotted some tweets saying "Wrong question" (referring to the post title). I'd agree with that - and I think that view is reflected in the post - but given most businesses still think in terms of Depts, it seemed a good starting point.

almost 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

It really can't be one or the other. All departments should have a hand in a social media marketing strategy. Different audience members have different needs. If the message is only coming from marketing or customer service, it's likely that some good information is being missed out on.

almost 5 years ago

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Tim Ngwena

Customer / fan perspective ... if I love a new ad by company x, ill tweet and tag company x. If I buy the product and end up hating it, ill tag company x in the tweet.

Every one who needs to acces to social media should take joint ownership of social media. To treat social media activity as an instance and not a timeline defeats the whole point of building relationships, they happen over time and change. Social media tools of today make this sort of management possible.

almost 5 years ago

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Ben.

It really is a mix of the two, each dept has different needs and wants from there clients and products. This is something that if cracked can really help any business.

almost 5 years ago

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Martina

"Who owns social media?" is the wrong question to ask but I know from experience that most companies are heavily siloed and need an answer to that question.
However, social is not something you own- it is something you are. Therefore all internal and external stakeholders of a company need to be social. I highly recommend social media as a starting place to become more social as a company and evolve over time into a truly social business.

almost 5 years ago

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Martin Soler - wihphotel.com

Hm, not sure what's so tricky about the subject. In social media Marketing is like walking into a party dressed in a sandwich board and a megaphone announcing the latest car deals.
Honestly when you're at home checking out Facebook updates and seeing what your family and friends say, then suddenly have some useless post from BMW on your wall, do you really stop and look?
Marketing should use social media as an ad platform and release a few fun viral videos while PR and customer services should use it as a tool to interact with customers. The point is what is social media? it's word-of-mouth on steroids.
The sandwich board man at the party, isn't going to get much positive word of mouth. I wrote an article about this with Phil Butler some weeks back going over exactly this point.

almost 5 years ago

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Robin O'List

In my opinion social media should be heavily focused on marketing – hence, Social Media Marketing. But as a social media marketer one should possess the qualities of not just a marketing professional, but also elements of a customer service driven person, after all social media is another touch point for your customers, and possibly a place for them to vent their anger or appreciation of your brand. But in addition to the above I strongly believe a good social media marketer should have good knowledge of design and tech. Look at the Facebook iframe for example, you should know how to implement these without the use of third-party apps, you should also know how to design and develop a good blog, whether it be using any of the free CMS platforms or a custom platform, he/she must also know how to implement social share buttons, open graph etc into the company’s main website. Social media should really come under branding. As we all know, branding covers all aspects from marketing to customer service, from Advertising to website development and more. But if a company does not have a branding department then marketing should be the next option for sure.

almost 5 years ago

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Fernando

If it is possible it should be a separate area colaborating with all the organization. If the structure is small, subject to the profile of available resources, Marketing might be the best option, as generally they know better how customer thinks and feels and what is the impact on business of any interaction

almost 5 years ago

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Fernando

If it is possible it should be a separate area colaborating with all the organization. If the structure is small, subject to the profile of available resources, Marketing might be the best option, as generally they know better how customer thinks and feels and what is the impact on business of any interaction

almost 5 years ago

Tim McKane

Tim McKane, Owner at navajotalk

The real opportunity for companies is to look at how their whole structure is designed. Silos and departments are the barriers to successful business. Using Yammer internally to access the combined power of the community internally, and then empowering all of the staff to contribute to the social media plan and implementation is itself a powerful management opportunity. It won't happen. Yet. But people need to realise that everyone wins with more business in the company,and so the sale or retention of a customer should be a team effort. We are still at the early adopter phase of social media, but if you take a disruptive view of how things are done, the potential for leadership is immense

almost 5 years ago

Alan Charlesworth

Alan Charlesworth, lecturer / researcher at University of Sunderland

As you might expect from someone who teaches the subject – is the problem with the definition of ‘marketing’?


As a lecturer in marketing I would say that all of the departments mentioned above are – in fact – part of ‘marketing’. Does any company have a distinct department called ‘marketing’ along side other departments called ‘PR’, ‘digital’, ‘service’ and so? Could it be that the ‘marketing’ referred to in the article’s title is actually ‘advertising’ or ‘promotion’, which are – as any marketing text book will tell you – elements of marketing.

And yes … I do appreciate the concept of marketing orientation where every department in an organization is an aspect of that organization’s marketing – and that in reality it is that kind of organization which benefits most from social media as a vehicle for developing its relationship with customers.

You can put your pens down now, the class is over :-)

almost 5 years ago

Rob McQuattie

Rob McQuattie, Digital Marketing Specialist at Rob McQuattie

I would argue that it primarily depends on the type of business, your customer and how you position the brand.

Unless you are heavily resourced it can make little sense to open yourself up to dealing with complaints constantly and whilst social media is a community it is not essentially a forum on the flip side of that people very quickly turn off when all they see is a marketing tool. I would argue that social media should be directed from marketing with exposure and input from customer services. Customer services input is important as I can say from experience that marketers can expose their business when they try to do customer service.

almost 5 years ago

Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder at Our Social Times

Interesting comments - but there's something that hasn't been directly addressed (as far as I can see), which was partly the subtext for the original post, and that comes down to the purpose of Marketing vs the purpose of Customer Services. Marketing, whether it's confined to a department or dispersed across an organisation, has as it's basic goal lead generation. Customer service's fundamental purpose is to help and support the customer with problems and issues that arise. IMHO social media is better suited, as a medium, to fulfilling the goal of Customer Service - and therefore that's where the emphasis should be. I know Katy Howell (quoted) and others disagree, which is why we'll be arm-wrestling this out in public next month. BTW - I'm expecting you guys to come and heckle.

almost 5 years ago

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Mark Wardell

I don't think any one department can own social media, it is becoming a vital communication tool and as such works across a variety of functions. Organisations should have standards / guidelines in place for social media but should forget about who should own things just because it may be more convenient for them.

almost 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Great comments.

I've seen the debate a few times, with different main actors involved including: Marketing, SEO, 'Digital', Comms, PR, Customer Service, Recruitment, HR, Business Development, Sales, and even... the 'Social Media' department.

I think there are 2 things here:

1. 'SOCIAL MEDIA??'

Though ancient by internet standards, the term still means different things to different people.

You say 'social media is better for customer service', but someone else will say 'but Youtube is social media - how is that good for customer service?!'. Or the buzz service of the week Pinterest - 'how is that good for customer service?' etc.

2. THE FALSE DEBATE

I think the 'who should own it?' question is really a false debate - a little like asking the question "which department should own the telephone?"

Different departments can use social media for different purposes. And, in many cases, they do.

Hope the comment's useful!

dan

almost 5 years ago

Luke Brynley-Jones

Luke Brynley-Jones, Founder at Our Social Times

Fair comment. My point is really that the ethos of customer services chimes better with the ethos of social media - where you get the best results if you're genuinely trying to help people, rather than sell to them. The 'ownership' question is, as you rightly say, false, but then... someone has to drive a social media strategy and whether that person is thinking in terms of Marketing or Customer Services (or PR, or Content...) could dramatically affect the direction and success of the strategy.

almost 5 years ago

Aggelos Taplatzidis

Aggelos Taplatzidis, Consultant, Web solutions at Squiz UK

I will go with Dan, it all depends how social media is been used by the various departments.

In an ideal world you could have a person from customer services, another from corporate communications / PR and a 3rd from digital marketing working together and delegating responses.

This way the messaging will be in-line with corporate profiles while the company comes across well responsive.

almost 5 years ago

Russell McAthy

Russell McAthy, Digital Marketing Consultant at Stream20

some great comments above. I wouldn't say its the wrong question as within a business there has to be a responsibility and reporting line in which case someone is the business 'owner'.

When it comes down to who contributes this differs in many businesses and to many different effects. Key for me is a good content strategy in which no matter who is interacting within the social space, they follow a guide to how the brand should be perceived online. This helps with voice/tone/style and messaging.

I think the silo'd business argument is a good one , integration and cross department understanding is key to a business message being constant in all media. Customer experience shouldn't differ by channel or communication method.

almost 5 years ago

Aggelos Taplatzidis

Aggelos Taplatzidis, Consultant, Web solutions at Squiz UK

Luke, the success of any strategy is defined by its objectives. It seems we all agree that social media is a broad communications medium, and as such it can be used in different ways.

In an ideal world and for most companies, the best thing would be to have someone from PR and someone from customer services monitoring social media channels and responding accordingly.

That way the company comes across as both responsive and efficient.

almost 5 years ago

Joanna Pieters

Joanna Pieters, Director at Time WIzard

'Who owns social media?' isn't the first question. 'What is the objective of our company using social media?' surely has to be the starting point.

Goals might be improved customer response times, keeping customers informed of a complaint's progress, measuring sentiment, answering questions, improving conversion. It may even be leads generation. But they're likely to be slightly different for every company.

Having defined goals (and how they can be measured), there needs to be an evaluation of how implementation is likely to fit with/impact brand messages, existing work and processes, internal skills, structure and resources (budget and staff).

The processes put in place (and the 'ownership') have to make those outcomes most likely to be achieved. That may well lead to some challenging conversations across silos/departments. It will almost certainly mean setting in place guidelines, controls and lines of responsibility/authority.

Difficult though those conversations may be, however, they're likely to be less painful than the ones when your social media disaster goes viral because you failed to have them.

almost 5 years ago

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Roger Poultney

An interesting question - though in my book customer services is actually part of marketing (and so should be inextricably linked)..

almost 5 years ago

Guy Harvey

Guy Harvey, Marketing Consultant - Social Media and Media Relations at Human Factors International

Agree with Roger. Customer service and marketing are part of the user experience. It's a problem if they are disconnected.

In my company marketing owns social media but we've come up against walls when we've tried to get people involved from technical staff in our social media efforts. Are followers would really rather talk to our technical staff than marketing people but the technical people would rather be doing their work than social media :-).

I like what Dell has done by providing in house social media training across the organization. Ideally in our company I'd like to have a social media evangelist in key departments like our technical division.

I think marketing can develop strategy, best practices, policies and training that can be shared with other departments.

almost 5 years ago

Matt Owen

Matt Owen, Head of Social at Econsultancy

Quite a debate going on here and some very interesting comments so I thought I should jump in on this as well.

At Econsultancy Social is technically an arm of our Editorial department, but I usually have a tentacle or two extended across the board.

I personally feel that a hub and spoke approach suits social media best, with priority being given to certain departments on specific platforms. Rather than just saying 'We use social as a customer service channel', I think it's generally more valuable to think 'Twitter is our Customer Service channel, Facebook is more about marketing -but will respond to customer issues if needed.' That said, your customers will often determine how you should be using external channels -if they all decide to ask for help on LinkedIn, then that's your customer service channel...

almost 5 years ago

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Andy Betts, Managing Consultant, Business and Digital Strategist at Bett-zi

In my opinion - Every department should own social - it should run through your organisation. It terms of control and/or co-ordination it should be managed by marketing

almost 5 years ago

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Margaret Robertson

Lots of relevant comments but it is not really an either/or in most consumer facing companies. Demonstrating customer responsiveness and good customer service should be part of the brand promise, and social is just another way to have this dialogue.
This is also about having the best people owning different aspects of customer service or communications - so those who work in telephone based contact centres will have great skills in spoken communication but may not be so good at written communication - a skill found more likely found in marketing teams.
Overall as long as the customer does not see the joins, it does not matter who owns social but that of course is the big challenge.

almost 5 years ago

Philip Buxton

Philip Buxton, Chief Marketing Officer at Exponential

Kotler said: "marketing isn't a function, it's your entire business from your customers' point of view."

I'm not sure that helps.

almost 5 years ago

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Laura Hall

I don’t think it’s a false question. Yes, different departments will use it for different purposes but that is exactly why some sense of ownership is needed for strategy and consistency.

But as each company’s needs differ, I don’t think there is one simple answer to this question. Perhaps as more businesses use social media it will be increasingly seen as a department in its own right, rather than a tool to be used by other departments?

almost 5 years ago

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Tim

Hire someone who has PR/Comms/Marketing/Digital experience and is highly geared to solutions and is consumer focused to lead the Social Media team and working very closely with group of key functional and business unit stakeholders.

almost 5 years ago

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Daniel Rae

My organisation has a cross-departmental team consisting of mostly customer service along with marketing (digital) and corporate communications. It's working pretty well so far!
I do think (and being a marketer, I might be biased) that Digital Marketing require to be involved in Social Media because they generally understand and often control the other aspects of electronic comms, such as email, websites, etc.
PS - in response to Dan - I believe YouTube IS good for customer service (in some industries). Video, in particular how-to guides, can reduce the need for people to contact customer service in the first place, or can be used by customer service reps to explain how to do things.

almost 5 years ago

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John MacDaniel

Thought provoking post and some terrific points being made in the comments. Marketing has traditionally owned social media within most organizations. If that was the perfect model we most likely would not be having the discussion we are having. Marketers to their credit are doing a better job of moving from using social media as a platform for content marketing to more engagement. But as conversations increase and questions become more complex and at times service oriented there is a realization in my opinion that by simply placing social media strategy and execution within a single department (marketing) is to stop short and to shortchange what social media can really do for a brand. I think we need to move past marketing and customer service operating in separate silos. I have heard marketers talking about customer service is the new marketing and although that may be true not all marketers are equipped to work within the customer service space anymore than customer service professionals can easily work within the marketing space. Strategy needs to be defined jointly by Marketing and Customer Service and engagement efforts need to be handled by the appropriate areas of an organization (i.e. PR related issues should be handled by PR and Service related issues handled by Customer Service). But all groups need to work from the same playbook to ensure consistent brand messaging and voice. Hopefully Social Media can act as a catalyst to push departments closer together and not to pull them further apart.

almost 5 years ago

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Luke Brynley-Jones

Looks like I stirred up some strong feelings with this post! Lots of great contributions - which I'll feed into my Welcome speech at the conference later this month. Thanks everyone.

almost 5 years ago

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