who-owns-social-mediaIncreasingly the issue of ownership is a stumbling block when trying to set up and organise an effective social media strategy, so how do you decide who owns your social media?

Simple, realise that no-one does.

As more businesses take more active roles in social media there are a set of common problems arising, and one of the first you’re likely to encounter is that of ownership.

By and large, businesses seem to be placing social media under the auspices of marketing, but given the vast reach and flexible networking opportunities available, this isn’t always the best way to go.

There are certainly arguments for marketing, but PR also has a huge role to play, as does HR, tech and others. One of the main problems faced by businesses attempting to drive engagement across social networks is the multi-functionality most now offer.

As an example let’s look at LinkedIn:

Certainly it’s a business orientated network, making it particularly suitable for B2B concerns, but it’s increasing application as a business discussion point has grown from an original focus on employment, meaning a large number of early adopters have an active recruitment presence, and the community itself is weighted towards recruitment agencies (this is changing, but it’s still visible).

Likewise, although change is coming there is still the ‘Intern Phenomenon’ to contend with, some companies still insisting that running a corporate Twitter stream can be delegated to the lowest of the low, the untrained and ill-paid interns and junior staff.

As opinions and experience evolve however, business seems to be coming to the utopian realization that everyone should own the social media presence. All departments should be utilising social media, for promotion; networking; employment; customer service…the list goes on. With every department having a say then there’s maximum potential for a great campaign.

The only thing wrong with this thinking is that it’s completely unworkable.

Different departments not only have different priorities that can conflict with each other, but there are also different mindsets at work. Traditional marketing departments may be highly creative, but there’s still a tendency to be mired in the need to sell. ‘Always Be Closing’ still has its place, but frankly that place isn’t anywhere near your social network.

So, how to decide who owns social media within your business?

Simple: realize that no one does.

Instead, stop thinking about the medium as something you can ‘own’. You don’t, you’re simply a participant. Mark Zuckerberg owns Facebook, not your social media team. Rupert Murdoch and Newscorp own MySpace, not thousands of Goth bands from Iowa.

This realisation is both troubling and liberating. Always keep in mind the fact that a corporation other than your own is in charge of your network. They have the power to completely rearrange it whenever they want, and they have the same goal you do: to make money.

Once you disregard the consideration of true ownership however, your role in the game changes.

You are still at the mercy of system crashes, network outages and Fail Whales, but you your solution and options have changed. Instead of treating social media as a company asset, you can view it as a third party contractor. It’s the guy who prints and distributes your flyers. It isn’t what you put on them.

It may be a ridiculously simplistic analogy, but it’s still the one people seem to overlook. Social media is a broadcast system that goes above and beyond email, but unlike email, the system you are using is wholly owned by a third party – and so is some of your content.

Rather than choosing an existing department to handle social media then, if you want to succeed you’re going to need an entirely new team on the case. Recruit individuals with different skills, allocate resources and drive the whole thing from the top down.

Treat social media as a freelancer, a third party you hire to help out. You wouldn’t put your entire company strategy in the hands of a consultant, you’d allow them to advise you and show you examples of things that have worked for others, but if you felt it was wrong for you then you’d disregard it.

Social media is a facilitator, rather than a creator of business.

The important thing to take on board here is that social media isn’t a two way street between you and your customer, it’s a crossroads between you, your customer, the network and all of their other customers.

Given this lack of control, should you move back into more traditional marketing?

Of course not, but you should treat social media as a driver, as a way to deliver news, traffic or advice, rather than the hub of your promotional efforts.

Social media is a channel in and of itself, so set your social media manager up at the end of the production line. Create a distinct, separate social media department and allow others to request services from it and you’ll end up with an integrated system that puts out information and receives feedback, but doesn’t do so for its own sake.

Certainly you can use it to create specific campaigns and organize events, but don’t be tempted to hand over your entire online presence to networks. Be a player, not an owner.

Take part, get engaged, but be prepared to sever ties and have backups in place. Just because a network is the current king and everyone else is on board, doesn’t mean you can’t jump ship. 

Ultimately your online image and presence revolves around your company website, and while aggregated traffic is growing compared to direct-to-site, make sure you use social media as a pointer, not as the main presentation.