Social Media Fools: The Fallacy of Ownership

No single department owns social media; you must work together to tame The Crowd

by Malcolm De Leo |

Who owns social media inside your organization?  Stop all raising your hands at once.  You know you are all raising your hands.  Whether you are a marketer, a insights maven, run customer service or own public relations, you all think you own it.  And those in “digital” are smirking now too.  You think I forgot you.  Well, face it, you are a label not a function.  If you attach digital to your title you still sit under one of what I call the big four; you just have some experience in the nebulous digital world.  I am not saying those with digital expertise are not experts; I am simply challenging you to recognize you are a focus and not a true function.

So why would I bring up these functions and the focus of digital?  Because the fact that all of you think you own responsibility for managing what I call The Crowd (all those out in social media land who are talking to each other moment by moment, conversation by conversation) and frankly I am here to tell you that none of you do.  I repeat NONE of the big 4 (consumer insights, marketing, customer service or public relations) own interacting with The Crowd.  Why?  Because you can’t own it; no one can.  The Crowd is the single greatest voice ever created in modern times and it is truly uncontrollable.  Think about it. The Arab Spring mostly happened on Twitter when The Crowd banded together to somewhat spontaneously coordinate the overthrow of governments.  I mean how you can you tell me that you can control this?  You can’t.  I work in social media understanding the ebb and flow of the massive conversation and I tell every person I interact with every day that I know nothing about social and I spend all my time trying to devise ways to create business value from the data.  It is my one lesson from all my years in the business.  The sooner you recognize its vastness, the sooner you can get over yourself and really get down thinking about the problem.

So what am I saying here?  I am here to give you a different way to think about your role managing The Crowd.  So the first thing is to say, “I don’t own social”.  In fact, my argument to all of the Big 4 is this; you all own it. Stop and say it out loud.  This is important advice for you.  Because when you can admit you don’t own it, you can begin to figure out how to collaborate with your peers and stop the political battle that is doing nothing good for your organization.   In fact, I would argue that each of you own it differently.

Who Owns Social

This illustration is simply saying that each of The Big Four must work together and maintain their role if you want to best serve your company.  By creating a “role” in your day to day work with The Crowd, you will create greater collaboration rather than the political infighting that I see in every organization I work with.  I am at the point that when I talk this picture above, I get nods of truth from anyone I talk I to.  You all know there is fighting and the picture above is why.  Stop trying to own a piece of the pie and own the piece you do.

Let’s go a little deeper…

Consumer Insights (The Listeners):

In a world where consumers within The Crowd have been given the means to create the world’s largest focus group using the new modes and venues created in the last 20 years, this function needs to change its stripes.  They are in charge of using the world’s largest data pool to make sure they understand and process any relevant communication that is important.

Marketing (The Influencers):

Marketing’s job has always been focused on delivering the right message to your core consumers in order to maintain loyalty in an effort to build your brand.  Well, that sure has changed.  These days, most marketing functions are simply blasting content at The Crowd or setting up a digital lemonade stand (Facebook page anyone?) hoping desperately that they can gain engagement.  Their job is not simply to drive engagement with The Crowd.  Their job is to use what the listeners do to figure out how to creatively influence all that chaos.  If they can influence The Crowd, they can catalyze a power more vast then anything they could do when they had control of the old modes and venues in the authoritarian era.

Customer Services (The Appeasers):

In the new economy, customer service served a company’s customers by reacting to those who made themselves known.  Well, boy that has changed.  Today, in the digital economy, Customer Service must be proactively appeasing anyone anywhere who might work to sully the name of a company.  And in a world where any individual can harm you, anytime, anywhere, appeasing has taken on a whole new meaning.  Imagine working within a function that is failing all the time no matter how successful it is because you can’t put enough resources to really serve everyone.  All you can do is build processes to proactively appease those you can touch in an effort to helping marketing influence the message in a positive direction

Public Relations (The Sharers):

Sure, the public relations function is about appeasing The Crowd, but this function does serve two purposes.  Yes, they manage the message when things go wrong, but they also look for opportunities to bolster your company’s image when the opportunity arises.  The best they can do is merely share the message and hope it is well received.  They must be the masters of sharing the message your company is putting out into The Crowd.  We use the term “share” because they really don’t control anything.  Even if their ability to share is influential, how much influence do they really have?  Welcome to your new role PR; you are now the mouthpiece that is a single voice screaming into a place where the sum of The Crowd’s whispers drowns you out without even trying.

There are two opposing forces at work here.  The first is that you can’t control The Crowd.  The second is by fighting with your peers over who own the responsibility of controlling something that you can’t control is a fool’s errand.  Anyone who isn’t recognizing that the new digital economy has changed who has control, hasn’t been paying attention over the last 5 years.  And riddle me this;  has your attempts to wrest control of having responsibility for The Crowd been working?  My experience across all verticals and industry and functions has shown me not so much.  So I challenge all of you to work together and know your role because The Crowd is telling you what it is.  And in order to really get The Crowd to work for you, you are going to need as many friends in your company to do so.  Because when you step into the maelstrom that is The Crowd, the only way out is through.


About the Author

Malcolm De Leo

Malcolm, Chief Evangelist at NetBase Solutions, Inc.,  is a subject matter expert in the area of applying social media in an effort to build the marketplace for this powerful new consumer data source. Previously, Malcolm was the Global Vice President of Innovation at Daymon Worldwide and prior to that Malcolm spent 10 years at the Clorox Company managing partnerships with technology companies, developing innovation processes and building new innovation infrastructure.