From my latest contribution to Harvard Business
Some have asked, Where does social media live? Is it marketing? Is it public relations? Is it IT or corporate? Is it a combination of multiple business units and functions, and if so, who leads the efforts and how does an organization choose partners? These are valid and complex questions, currently with no simple answers. Social media is still emerging and being defined in real time.
There's a question missing from that litany, one that organizations or individuals rarely ask themselves: Do you live social? Many organizations simply skip this question because they assume that they themselves don't have to be social (open and collaborative) to reap the rewards (cost savings, marketing ROI, effective reputation management, and search engine juice) they think they might get from social media.
But social media's not a product you foist on others, or some rigid business process that, if implemented, yields results. You shouldn't treat social media like a temporary advertising campaign. Social media is more organic than that. It's a way of thinking and approaching business that requires passion and commitment and, above all, willingness to participate in social spaces honestly and freely and by the rules of the social network itself. When someone ridicules your organization in the social space, unfiltered in real time, how do you react? If you are trying to control rather than participate in the discussion, then you're not living social. When your own employees talk about your organization on a social network what do you do?
An organization which bans the use of social networks of its employees may have perfectly good reason to do so, but then turning around and hiring an ad agency, PR firm or business consultancy to go out and "be social" for them will limit potential success. One of the beautiful (or perhaps frustrating, if you're in marketing) aspects of social media is its ability to detect and look askance at posers. If you're not genuinely, honestly engaged in the social network, you're not going to get far with those who are.
It's not easy for organizations to adopt a social mindset, after decades of command-and-control marketing and PR. I believe that starting small is the way to go. Pilot initiatives that demonstrate success by being more open, collaborative and participatory pave they way for changes that can slowly influence the direction of an organization. Executive sponsorship will also help give social media efforts teeth. I've always been pleasantly surprised to see initiatives such as My Starbucks Idea result in new ideas getting implemented, like splash sticks. (Full disclosure: Starbucks is a client of Edelman, the firm I now work for).
Training can help get you started, too — some individuals naturally lean toward working/living in a social way while others need a bit of assistance.
So while managers debate who will control social media inside their organizations — marketing, PR, corporate, IT — I say stop and ask the bigger question: Do any of the people who make up your company, agencies, partners and so on actually live social? Do they demonstrate that they work and play in a connected fashion? Once we begin to resolve that (and don't underestimate the power of baby steps), then we can worry about which discipline, department or agency/consultancy is best equipped to help lead the way.