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Social strategies need clear owners

by Molly Flatt on 16 July 2012

Who do your social media briefs come from?

This is still one of the questions I’m most frequently asked at 1000heads. Because the need for social communication crosses organisational barriers, our new business pipeline remains uniquely varied; although many enquiries come from PR, marketing and digtial teams, we’re also approached by product development, IT, HR, customer service and CEOs.

But this ‘democratic’ aspect of social, along with the truism that everyone in a business needs to take responsibility for valuing and implementing social practices, can obscure a simple fact.

Although everyone should be involved in social, someone needs to take ownership.

New data from Silverman Research and Unilever strongly suggests that the right people may not be taking responsibility for acquiring and evangelising social in their business. The ‘Social Media Garden’, an open-access online network, crowdsourced the opinions of 644 people from more than 30 countries on how they use social media at work and why organisations aren’t making the most of them. And there were some clear indications that ownership is at the heart of the problem.

Take HR. You’d think that HR professionals would be jumping on the chance to spearhead social, which is profoundly changing the way people interact with their work and each other. Yet although 51% of participants said that their organisation had embraced online networks for use in people practices, only 31% thought that HR was best placed to take the lead on using it.

The implication was that HR sees social as a threat and is ill-equipped to lead its adoption in a positive way. Company director Phil Woodford, a top commentor in the study said: “Social media is profoundly democratic. This takes power away from managers, marketers, HR professionals and others within the organisation, which might be expected to sponsor its growth. Business owners and managers who are resistant to change probably won’t be convinced and there’s little that can be done to shape their attitudes. The world will simply change around them.”

This highlights a wider problem: lack of senior leadership. 81% believed that the successful implementation of social media is an issue of leadership rather than technology.

As another top commentor in the study said, “I think in the end it’s not about designating one person from a team over another but about collaborating and getting the support from Senior Leadership. If the CEO isn’t supporting SM then it needs to start there. Convince Senior Mgmt and the rest will fall into place thanks to their support and them engaging the employees.

Mike’s already talked about the importance of the C-Suite in leading social, but it doesn’t necessarily matter who takes ownership of the strategy. A charismatic retail manager who really believes in the efficacy of social could have much more success than a lacklustre and threatened CEO. But if that is the case, that retail manager needs to be given the authority, resources and support to properly own and action their strategy.

The buck has to start – and stop – with specific, named, knowledgable individuals, even though hundreds of others may be deeply involved. That may sound a bit anti-social, but it’s quite the opposite.

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  • http://www.onemanandhisblog.com Adam Tinworth

    I think what you’re actually highlighting here is the distinction between “who owns social” as a question with a business function answer, or a named individual answer. The former is divisive, restricting and an error. The latter is pretty much a necessity in any organisation.

    That might not be “owns” in the sense of dictatorial control from the top, but a co-ordinator, arbritrator and, in extremis, decisions maker.

  • http://www.facebook.com/BillBoorman Bill Boorman

    Interesting thinking, my experience is a little bit different. Sponsorship is more important than ownership. In a corporate business you get taught from day one that if you want to speak on behalf of the company then you need 3 levels of authority and permission written in blood. You need a high level sponsor to give permission.
    It’s also not free, so the owners tend to take the set up costs in to their budget, and thats a good reason for passing the ownership hot potato. Everybody wants it, but not everybody wants to pay for it. At #SHRM12 in Atlanta I asked two questions to just over 750 HR profesionals:
    Who is active in social media? About 5% of the room raised their hand.
    Who has been responsible for setting a social media policy? About 95% raised their hand.
    HR are largely not involved in social, so do they make the best owners? Probably not.
    For me you get high level:
    Co-ordination is more important than ownership once you have these in place. A community DJ approach rather than a Manager or owner. The DJ needs to drive social internally, before any company can attempt to benefit from social externally. Many companies get this the wrong way around, chasing the benefits without the investment of time being social.

  • http://www.mollyflatt.com/ Molly Flatt

    Good point – I did muddle the two somewhat. As you say (and as I say in the penultimate paragraph), the owner can come from any division. But they have to exist. And yes, owning should not mean being dictatorial but it should mean being accountable and making calls. Unpopular ones if needs be.

  • http://www.mollyflatt.com/ Molly Flatt

    Good points Bill. Sponsorship – and in particular demonstrative, public sponsorship – is essential. And I like the community DJ approach. But I do believe that the DJ will also have to sometimes make sole decisions, quickly and instinctively, and provide a place for accountability to land. And, as you point out with HR, that DJ also has to know their stuff inside out; not be a pure administrator or indeed a scapegoat.