Who Owns Social?

Over the last 36 months I have been listening to very interesting debates over who should own ‘Social’. These debates are not restricted to external providers of marketing and business services but they also cover internal departments. Passionate arguments are made by all parties to justify their ownership claims on social. This is an attempt to take a closer look at these ownership claims and take a balanced view on how organisations can partner for successful integration of social into their business.

Most organisations are structured by functions with very clear roles and responsibilities. They’re designed to operate in silos with well-defined boundaries. It worked well historically till social came to the party and challenged the conventional boundaries. Importance of social is recognised across different functions and almost every major department is trying to take ownership of social. Marketing views it a brand building tool, corporate communications classifies it as a public relations/reputation building vehicle, sales looks at it as an acquisition channel, customer service wants it to be a platform for solving problems, human resources sees it as a way to keep a check on employees and finally corporate strategy sees it as an opportunity to score points with the CEO and the management. This seems like a very happy situation that almost all departments are committed to it. Unfortunately it is not the case as in most cases all these departments work on their own rather than in concert with each other. They work with their own external partners leading to a lot of duplication and confusion.

The marketing and business services industry is highly fragmented. There are many players who claim their proprietary over social. Let us look at what they bring to the table.

Public relations firms are now at the forefront of claiming ownership on Social with reasoning that it is closer to PR or Corporate Communications rather than any other form of marketing. They claim to know how to pitch stories to influencers and how to get earned media. And just like they do news monitoring they can do social listening.

Media agencies claim ownership on social because it is often referred to as social media. They’re the experts in planning and buying media hence social media is right up their alley. They’re also good with numbers so they can analyse the data and also the much needed returns.

Creative agencies consider social as their domain because they’re the experts in ideas and act as brand custodians. They know how to convert their TV ads into YouTube videos or sometimes create original viral videos and release them in social media.

Business consulting firms are not far behind. Almost all the business consulting firms are under pressure to diversify and generate new revenue streams. Marketing in general and digital/social in particular are the new areas of focus. They think they own anything strategic and C level hence they own social.

Digital agencies believe all the above-mentioned players are useless and they own social because it is digital. They know how to do websites, banners, microsites, videos, and media. So creating a page on Facebook or buying media on YouTube is easy. Additionally they also have an army of young digital experts who can get the work done.

Social agencies feel digital agencies are useless. They are the new kid on the block and own social because it is in their name – XYZ Social. They can create and manage Facebook pages, YouTube videos, tweets, post photos, and seed forums. They can help you acquire new fans and grow the buzz.

Social media owners (social platforms and publishers) think that they own Social because they have the platform and own the customer data. They all pitch social strategies with more than excessive focus on their own platform/network and offer ultimate nirvana to brand marketers.

Social data providers claim the ownership because they bring the most important component to the table – the social data. They have the tools to listen and monitor social chatter.

I have spent some time thinking about this ownership debate, spoken to clients and people from above-mentioned players. In my humble opinion no one owns social except the consumer who spends time on social platforms and have positive, negative or neutral emotions about brands. Brand will have to understand these emotions better and respond with sincerity. It doesn’t really matter who takes the lead in helping brands to become successful in social as long as it is a collaborative solution. Gone are the days when all smart people worked for one agency or a firm. Smart people are all over and it is important for clients to work with them rather than getting stuck in the ownership debate.

I came across this quote many years back and it is so appropriate for the Social Ownership discussion.
“You can whistle individually but it takes an orchestra to create a symphony.”

(Originally published in ClickZ.Asia on 14 September 2011)