How to Settle Social Media Turf Wars

social media fightA lot of people wonder, “Who should own social media?”. For example, in many organizations, PR seeks to own relationships with all journalists including bloggers, but Corporate Marketing wants to build blogger relationships, and so do Product Marketing, community managers, and the folks who manage alliances. Who’s right?

Lesson From the Past

To answer the question, “Who owns social media?”, I look back to the late 90s when Process Reegineering was getting the attention that social media gets today, and the world’s leading brands were hiring people like Michael Hammer to tell them how to make their “siloed” organizations more “process-centric”. Process reegineering shares a lot with social media, including:

  • People’s opinions were shaped by their personal experience. Many people found tremendous value while others experienced inappropriate design or poor execution.
  • A lot of books were written about it.
  • It promised lower costs and greater revenues.
  • It was enabled through the latest information technologies.
  • It forced every organization to wrestle with the question of internal ownership.

Just like social media, processes cross organizational boundaries. Ownership is often unclear.

In the days of process reengineering, many organizations created Process Champions: senior executives with strong relationships across the organization, who could influence across organizational boundaries, without a need for formal authority. The Champions were rarely given direct control over all of the groups they needed to corral. Instead, they usually had to navigate the politics of the organization and convince people to get on board. In all cases, though, the Champions had the full support of the CEO. And that made all the difference.

For example, I was at Bank of America in the late 90s (then called NationsBank) when the CEO designated three Customer Champions: one for each of the bank’s three major customer segments. Each Customer Champion was a very senior executive with decades of experience at the bank, and deep relationships across the organization. Each was responsible for improving the processes that served their customer segments, but none held direct reporting ownership of the departments that they needed to work together. Even so, the compensation of each Customer Champion depended on specific financial targets for their customer segment.

Suggestions for Today

If you lead an organization with different departments battling over ownership of social media, you really need to put someone in charge of social media. You need a champion. You don’t need to make everyone report to the Champion, but someone needs to lead the decisions that cross organizational boundaries — for example: which capabilities should be centralized, and which should be decentralized. Someone needs to ensure that metrics are effective and consistent. And someone needs to make sure that the organization is keeping pace with the competition in this rapidly evolving space.

If you find yourself waging war with another department about ownership of social media in your company, you have four choices:

  1. Take your peer to lunch and find a solution that works for both of you, and your organization.
  2. Find a senior executive with the clout to bring the two (or more) teams together and craft a collaborative solution.
  3. Define and execute a social media strategy with the resources under your control, and set such a compelling example for the organization that others join your cause.
  4. Keep doing what you’re doing.

I hope you are able to choose one of the first three.

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