A question I’m asked with increasing frequency at various meetings, conferences and gatherings is, “Where exactly should social media fall in the organizational structure?” It’s not an easy question to answer as different organizations have different strengths, weaknesses and established silos of discipline. The answer becomes even harder when my own honest answer is somewhat contradicted by my own agency’s architecture, with social media standing as it’s own department and almost stand-alone component of the marketing mix.
My honest answer is that social media should be the responsibility of public relations. Or at least that is how I see social media’s evolution.
The reason is simple.
Social media is a method of communications. Social media tools facilitate these communications. To be effective in social media, whether as a marketer or just an ordinary participant, you must, first and foremost, communicate well.
Yes, social media tools are mostly driven by technology. But they are driven by technology to deliver a message or messages. You don’t trust your IT department to layout your print ad. Why would you trust them to run your blog?
As I’ve said before, we are in an era of technology transition. Communications professionals are learning quickly that to be relevant and effective in the age of social computing, there’s more to competency than communication skills. Technology has become a requirement of the skill set. Yet, so many communications professionals – from public relations to customer service staff and from copywriters to journalists – are horribly deficient in average computer understanding, much less that of web-based technologies and tools.
Therefore, I would not plant social media efforts totally on the shoulders of the public relations staff today, unless of course your PR department can exhibit the kind of tech-savviness required to accept the responsibility. I would, instead, employ a specialist in social media (or hire an agency with one … have no idea who I’d recommend though … heh) who reports to the same person or department as the public relations director with both instructed to work hand-in-hand on social media projects.
What is most telling in your social media efforts is the message. And that is most likely already being supplied by your public relations or communications arm. If you see social media as technology-driven, you probably have your website run by the IT department when it often is, first and foremost, a marketing mechanism.
As soon as three to five years from now, I see social media marketing as an almost exclusive domain of public relations professionals, so long as we get our collective heads out of our asses and learn how to do it. Some of us are there. Many of us are not. Too many of us think social media is newspapers in Eastern Europe.
In my mind, social media is essentially public relations in the online world. Divide the category up by component — blogs, social networks, microblogging, podcasts/Web TV, wikis/collaborative software — they each ladder in some way to a component of public relations — writing, corporate communications, community relations, media relations, event management.
PR as social media owner in many ways also addresses the concern of the online community that marketers don’t belong. Assuming we can trim away the corporate speak and manage transparent communications efforts in years to come, public relations representatives are the least likely to sell and most capable of speaking as humans to humans, rather than up-selling hucksters to “consumers.”
Where should social media fall in the corporate structure? Right now, it depends. Tomorrow? Social media will evolve into components of a sophisticated public relations effort. The only question in my mind is, will public relations evolve to embrace it?
Image: “Responsibility” by Nosha on Flickr.