Gini Dietrich

Where Does Social Media Belong?

By: Gini Dietrich | February 6, 2014 | 

Where Does Social Media Belong?By Gini Dietrich

Earlier this week, Sam Fiorella wrote a blog post called, “Why Your Social Media Team Should Be PR Professionals.”

Naturally, I clicked over for a read.

I found myself nodding all the way through his blog post.

Yes, PR pros know how to manage crises.

Yes, we are trained to manage reputations.

Yes, we know the right questions to ask to create a calm before the storm.

Yes, we can train pros in other disciplines to manage themselves appropriately online.

Yes, most of the knee jerk reactions that happen in social media are done so because the community management is handled by someone without these skills.

But then I got to the comments.

Danny Brown said, “Disagree. Two words – Justine Sacco.”

And that got me thinking.

Sacco is a communications professional. She knew better. And yet…

Sitting on the Fence

Here I sit, right in the middle of the fence on the topic. So I brought up the topic yesterday while Joe Thornley, Martin Waxman, and I were recording next week’s Inside PR.

Martin’s take is that we are trained in both crisis and reputation so it makes sense to have social media reside with us.

Joe’s take is that there are plenty of skilled and experienced professionals who can handle the customer acquisition, networking, and engagement better than some PR professionals.

Yes. And yes.

As they were debating (and I continued to agree with both sides), I started to think about how we approached social media in Marketing in the Round.

As much as I would love social to belong to PR, I believe it belongs to everyone.

Social Media Belongs to Everyone

The sales team should use it to network with new prospects.

The customer service team should use it to answer questions, immediately respond to issues, and generally build loyalty.

The product team should use it for research and informal focus groups.

The marketing team should use it for customer acquisition.

The PR team should use it for reputation management, brand awareness, and to manage an issue before it becomes a crisis.

The executive team should use it for thought leadership and credibility.

And one person (or a team of people) – who has enough knowledge of each of the disciplines to be dangerous – to coordinate all of it.

That could be a PR pro, the receptionist, a computer programmer, or an engineer.

The Marketing Round

While I agree on a very high level with Sam, I also agree with Danny.

Sure, Sacco is just one person in an industry full of really talented professionals. But, to Danny’s point, it goes to show not everyone is equally equipped to handle an online crisis.

If you want to be the point person (or the middle of the marketing round) and you’re not trained in reputation and crisis, get some professional development to round out your skills.

It can belong to any of us if we’re so inclined.

Image courtesy of Geek Whisperers

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • But, Sacco wasn’t ‘handling’ an online crisis. She *was* the online crisis. I think the two are quite different. She is also a human being, who (possibly?) in the heat of her excitement to board a plane and get home to see her family, tweeted something which in her mind (again, possibly) was an attempt at humour, but in fact was horribly offensive. Does that mean she wouldn’t have been highly qualified and capable to handle same if it had been a client of hers who tweeted that out? No, it doesn’t. I don’t know about you, but when I’m “on the clock” I’m more focussed at the task at hand, how I’m supposed to carry myself, what I can and can’t post, how I should or shouldn’t comment on other’s posts, etc.. When I’m ‘off the clock’, I would say I’m less focussed on the rules of work, and ergo, the potential for an online ‘misstep’ increases. Yes, Sacco’s particular mistake was epic – but I don’t think it should take away her years of experience, and how hard she must have worked to get to where she was in her career. I just don’t think we can hold her up as an example of why PR people aren’t better equipped to handle social. And before the tar and feathers come out, I’m not making ‘excuses’ for what she did. I just think she’s wayyyy too easy a target for someone looking to disagree with Sam’s post.

  • I think belllindsay’s point (But, Sacco wasn’t ‘handling’ an online crisis. She *was* the online crisis.) is a good one. Really, no matter how you look at that situation, she’s not exactly a good example of social being handled in a PR-minded way.
    That said, I’d like to make “social media belongs to everyone” T-shirts. The biggest social successes I’ve had have never been those in which one social media “expert” holes up in a room alone, they’re always the situations in which more people take part.

  • belllindsay Hi Lindsay. I loved this “She *was* the online crisis.” It´s sad to see when a PR pro for an absolutely stupid mistake looses a reputation build during a lifetime. Yet, for the rest of us it´s a reminder that, just like  ginidietrich said in a previous post “we are never off the record when speaking with a journalist”. This is also valid in the online world. Be smart about what you say online. On the other hand, it´s also about common sense and respect for the people around you, no matter the country or race.

  • corinamanea ginidietrich  Corina, I absolutely agree. We are never truly ‘off the record’, but I don’t think it’s fair to hold Sacco up as the poster child for why PR skills aren’t important to have when dealing with social media. I think, had she made the horrible tweet accidentally *on behalf of a client*, then the comparison would hold. As it stands now, based on a personal tweet during down time, IMHO, it doesn’t.

  • EleanorPie Definitely. There’s no excusing what she did. She SHOULD have known better, and I’m betting she DOES know better, which is why it makes it more painful to watch someone like that go down in flames. But, that said, I still doubt she would have made that same mistake on behalf of a client. Of course, we’ll never know now, will me. 😉

  • The problem with social media is that it involves people  Back at the paper, sales gained tremendous benefit from social, as did the reporters, as did customer service as did distribution and circulation.

    Like I said the problem with social is people. We are all capable of having a momentary lapse and tweeting something stupid. That is why I think the person in a social media role, particularly a management role, needs more than anything judgment.

  • Denis Poitras

    Awesome article. True that one person should manage all different aspect of a company on a social network. In case of crisis a resolution group should come in to help that person in charge. It’s a combined effort that makes a company prosper

  • When I first saw the headline in my email, I muttered out loud, it should reside everywhere with everyone… with safeguards. Happy then to see you agree and qualify with the skills needed for each area involved with the oversight of an individual or team to coordinate. That individual or team caveat is my ‘must have’ for success in smooth sailing the often choppy seas of social media. This will help to provide buoyancy when the ship lists from potential human error and hopefully a preventive measure for taking down the entire ship if too much weight is in one compartment.

  • belllindsay  I think the thing that bothered me most about that whole thing was how she responded. I totally see making a mistake. It’s human. But her non-apology and then apology and then deleting her account…all the stuff that happened afterward was what made me shake my head and think, “She knows better.”

    That’s neither here nor there…I thought Danny’s point was a good one because I was nodding all the way through Sam’s post and then I read his comment and I thought, “He’s right. Even if you have the right training, you’re not necessarily equipped to handle a social media crisis.”

  • belllindsay corinamanea I think you’re focusing on that one thing and not the general vibe of the post. PR skills ARE important to have when dealing with social media, particularly the crisis and reputation management ones. But if you can’t handle yourself appropriately personally, who’s to say you can do it professionally?

  • BillSmith3

    Great post and I’m looking forward to the next Inside PR Podcast regarding this topic. Put me down as every department has some ownership of social media, of course with proper training and an easy to comprehend policy.

    As for Justine Sacco, well she became the “After School Special” of the communications world after that fateful tweet over the holidays. Not everyone is cut out for crisis communications, especially when they are the crisis.

  • EleanorPie belllindsay  The only reason I agreed with Danny’s comment about that is because it made me think, “Huh. You’re right. Sometimes that training doesn’t come into play.” AND just because you’re a PR professional doesn’t mean you’ve had crisis training. There are many, many of our peers who have never had the experience.

  • ClayMorgan  That’s why I love social. It involves people and it’s human. Sure, we all make mistakes. It’s how we handle them that makes up for them. Sometimes the receptionist is the right person to say I’m sorry and sometimes it’s the PR pro. That’s why I think it belongs to everyone.

  • annelizhannan  Are you using boat and sea metaphors because you’ve made it to Cape Cod?

  • BillSmith3  And not everyone has crisis experience. It makes me sad to watch a PR pro go through something like that. And that’s why I stopped and thought about Sam’s post…just because you’re a PR pro doesn’t mean you have that kind of training.

  • BillSmith3

    ginidietrich BillSmith3  Agreed, I have been to a couple of professional development events on how to handle a crisis, but that doesn’t make me an expert in that specialty. It takes a special breed to do crisis comms and do it well.

  • BillSmith3 Unfortunately, the only thing that makes you better at it is practice. Lots of practice.

  • ginidietrich

    contentgroove Thanks, Blake!

  • SusynEliseDuris

    Great post Gini. Love this post. Yes, the million dollar question of where should SM belong. I have always put SM with PR because of how public facing it is. Others might consider SM as pull marketing. And while  as Bill notes below that every dept has some ownership of SM – from a content and brand perspective, yes – a dept like PR should be in charge to be point/coordinate to ensure social media policy is being followed, react quickly if a crisis occurs, ensure comms are on brand, etc. Training is key as you point out, so you are always prepared and have a plan for any situation.

  • SusynEliseDuris  What’s interesting is I talk more and more with organizations about their social media efforts and it’s always silo’d in a social media department. That makes me crazy.

  • ginidietrich EleanorPie Yes, I agree Gini, to your point about crisis training, Very important to note.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    ginidietrich Some companies are their own worst enemy at times. Jeez. Re: silos, I’m still finding a lot of sales and mktg organizations still operating in silos. smh

  • SusynEliseDuris Most organizations do. I think it must be a comfort thing.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    ginidietrich  When Sales and Mktg don’t work together, everyone suffers. Drives me totally insane that they can’t work together.

  • contentgroove

    ginidietrich Happy to share! Really enjoyed reading it.

  • SusynEliseDuris ginidietrich This idea is so completely backed up in the book I am reading for review (Age of the Customer by Jim Blasingame) – customers are so much more  knowledgeable and well informed these days, a sales or marketing person in a silo may miss the fact that the customer approached their business through an entirely different department or door …. if everyone isn’t talking / coordinating the sale may be lost to an organization which is more completely in sync.

  • Brilliant analysis and I absolutely agree. This is definitely one of our shared passions and something that drew me into communications and marketing in the first place — the way social media inherently breaks down these silos. But then companies build artificial ones to perpetuate their comfortable (antiquated) world view and org chart.
    Social should belong to everyone. And in larger organizations it could get incredibly complicated, but I do see companies heading in this direction.
    Oh here’s a good one … is the coordinator in an enterprise the CSMO?  Chief Social Media Officer?  : D

  • belllindsay EleanorPie  I agree. I imagine she was probably compartmentalizing her online behavior, which I really think we all do to a greater and lesser degree.

  • DwayneAlicie  I think the companies that set up social media departments are thinking along the right lines, but they end up being silo’d and don’t bring in PR or marketing as they should. What would be awesome to see is a social media department with one person from each discipline – and a CSMO as the executive.

  • ginidietrich belllindsay Hi Gini, nope, I am not focusing on that one thing, just made a comment on Lindsay comment 🙂 and had to go for a while.

    And yes, I agree with you that SM should belong to everyone in the company, but I will emphasize on the fact that PR should be in charge of the overall supervision, especially in big companies. I came from one and I am well aware that PR dep. does not know what marketing or sales do and vice versa. Yes, being a PR pro it doesn´t make you an expert in crisis communication, but you are certainly trained to deal with it, compared with the rest of departments. How all turns out it´s a completely different story.
    I think social media is the best way to make a company´s departments collaborate nowadays. 
    Again, yes, the people handling SM MUST have PR skills. Let´s not forget that building relationships is the core of PR (this would be only one of the reasons).

    Regarding Sacco, don´t know her, but her actions speak really loud about her. For me is just another confirmation that SM is not a game, you have to take it seriously, whether you handle your personal brand or represent a company.

  • ginidietrich Probably because my brain is frozen from hitting this iceberg of a peninsula and feel I am on a sinking ship.  It is sooo cold here and hasn’t stopped snowing or sleeting since I arrived. I haven’t unpacked and can’t get out of my flannel PJ’s. I had better do an archive check for some of your motivational posts or I may not come out again till May;)

  • KevinVandever

    Awesome! As I was reading the first two sections, I was thinking “No, Social belongs to everyone”. Wait, that means I’m thinking like you?

  • BillSmith3

    ginidietrich BillSmith3  Oh I know.

  • KevinVandever  The shame! We need to put a stop to this!

  • corinamanea Sorry – I meant “you” in the general sense, not you in particular. I’m still not sold on PR being in charge of overall supervision. How do you feel about a social media department that is made up of one person from each discipline?

  • Part of me thinks that social seems like a natural fit for PR or marketing, but then I consider the larger organizational and cultural implications of what social is (and does), I quickly realize I’m being shortsighted. 

    I’d love to hear an insider’s look on digital media inside heavily regulated industries.

  • Great read and great post.  I truly wish we could get to a point where social belongs to everyone.  The issue as I see it, and one of the reasons it tends to be siloed within organizations, has a lot to do with budget and who owns it based on that.  When you factor in the budget required to acquire the platforms and measurement tools to monitor and measure what you are doing effectively, it tends to be a cost that sadly PR loses out on, and community managers, lead-gen program owners have an easier time justifying. With that said, for any social effort to be effective, it needs as broad a team as possible, hopefully using good judgement and knowing when to seek the right help when they may be in over their heads.

  • ginidietrich I think it´s a great idea. It would work very well for both big and smaller organizations. Maybe it´s not applicable to small companies, meaning the department will have one person in charge of everything. Still, the social media department should be supervised/coordinated by someone with PR skills (though it has a PR rep inside). I say that having in mind my former organization with 5,000 employees and many many departments, where there was (still is) a need of coordination among departments and of someone to take the lead.

    I was reading earlier Arik Hanson´s post on how Walmart PR team uses the 7 Twitter accounts they have: Quite interesting.

  • Here to me is what’s super great about social for today’s businesses: It’s NOT just used for marketing and PR. As you mentioned, it now serves as a platform for numerous operations, customer service, sales, R&D, industry monitoring and discussions,  and even internal communications/employee relations. The way business is done is changing, and an organization that can look at the platforms available and see how they can best suit their individual needs across all levels of the business is way, way ahead. 

    Power to the people!

  • Touchy subject. First off Sacco. I just think we all sometimes say something stupid. Just some of us doing on the wrong platforms lasting forever. In fact I just said something dumb to my wife I want to take back. Most professional business people are trained to a degree in acumen and etiquette. So not something unique to PR.

    Where I see the problem is communications, customer service and sales are not always the same. While Sales will take a hit from a crisis a lot of social data needs to be fed to them. And customer service often resides in operations. So you have 3 groups there. 

    I guess I would ask Sam if today call centers reside under PR? What about the people who work checkout at stores? Just think of how PR might want a customer interaction done the right way. OPS might want it done for the least cost (best ROI), and Sales doesn’t want anyone pissed off.

    That is why I say the technology should reside in IT. It is technology. This isn’t media. It isn’t communication. Social Media is technology. Phones and Computing Comm tools don’t reside under any of those three. It is up to Sales, PR, Cust Serv to work with IT to come up with the best technology solutions for their needs from hardware to software. And often division heads will be the ones who decide common platforms like everyone using Evernote or Dropbox etc.

  • annelizhannan Ha! I’ll bet it’s a bit of a shock, weather-wise.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    biggreenpen ginidietrich  A simple concept. I need to write a post about “Death To Silos”.  I think you would love it, Gini!

  • SusynEliseDuris biggreenpen YES, I WOULD!!

  • SpinSucks

    howiegoldfarb ginidietrich here or there? anywhere? ^lp

  • howiegoldfarb

    SpinSucks ginidietrich sctually at the trappfamily lodge is where it is found 8)

  • Lovely points, Gini! It would be ideal for social to solely belong in the hands of PR professionals, but that would hinder everyone else in your company from making strong connections like you said. 
    However, that doesn’t mean PR professionals aren’t bad to have on standby when one of those co-workers find themselves in a Twitter battle.

  • By the way, I forgot to mention I love the photo for this post! 
    PR Vader:  “No, Social Media… I AM your father!”
    Social:  “No! That’s impossible!” 
    PR Vader:  “It’s true. Search your retweets and private messages.” 
    Social:  “NNNOOOO!!!” 

    Sorry! Couldn’t contain the goofiness!  😛

  • Fewellie

    AllthingsIC ginidietrich I think it depends on who engages with the brand but mostly frequently lies between PR and customer service.

  • oz2designs

    ginidietrich Well thought out and well shared! It is for everyone.

  • patrickreyes

    not much to disagree with this. Everyone needs to take ownership but to your point someone needs to coordinate it all.

    Go Lions.

  • ginidietrich KevinVandever Hey Kevin for only $49 (guess the inside joke) I have a 12 step program guaranteed to have you think like yourself again. I have helped thousands of readers….soon millions.

  • ginidietrich DwayneAliciein the mid 90’s all the companies in the semiconductor industry had to get ISO9001 certified, My company took one person to become the czar. He trained folks like me to be internal trainer auditors. The people like me resided in all departments that would get audited. Worked great. When E-Commerce arose again they took one manager and she was in charge of spearheading it.

    Doesn’t have to be a department but definite there needs to be an internal champion.

    BTW the hottest trend is companies introducing pencils and paper to their orgs!

  • ginidietrich ClayMorganI think Social at Arment Dietrich should reside with Clay!

  • belllindsay  She had the opportunity to “handle” the crisis. She deleted her account and went silent.
    Everyone is also a human being. Not everyone makes such erroneous judgement calls (though it was just the latest in a long line). You speak of her years of experience, but that didn’t do her any good when lacking in judgement as to what to say in public and what to say in private.
    But let’s swing it away from Sacco. 
    How about when the RBC Bank in Canada’s PR machine messed up with their advice when social channels were lighting up about the bank’s outsourced employment practices?
    Or the JP Morgan #AskJPM fiasco?
    Or the decision by Lowes to pull ads from All-American Muslim and the way they handled the backlash?
    Or Applebees deleting the comments of folks criticizing their firing of a waitress who posted a negative quote about a tip?
    And on, and on.
    The point is, just because you have an awesome PR team with years of experience across multiple industries, disciplines, etc, doesn’t mean that’s the right team to lead social (or any business-wide tactic or channel).
    It’s a multi-faceted role that needs the right person with the right experience for that moment in time to be leading, with strong support from the other stakeholders at the table.

  • Perhaps we need to move away from the mindset of belonging, and switch gears to look at taking ownership instead.

  • VirginiaMann

    I think the reason social media belongs in PR is because PR has (or should have) a seat at the table.  They know what’s going on in an organization, from top to bottom (sometimes before some executives).  They’re prepared and trained to talk about topics in a way that promotes and protects the organization. That said, everyone else has to be active participants and own their part of it, but I believe that the ultimate responsibility should reside in PR.  Too much at risk and too much to gain for everyone not to work together.

  • Howie Goldfarb ginidietrich Takes a special person, I am sure, to forge and maintain all those relationships effectively.
    And see?  ALL good stories either begin with “in the mid 90s…” or end with “…and don’t look at me like that. It was the 90s.”  All of them!

  • VirginiaMann  You know, you have a really compelling point here, Virginia, especially since PR pros are also supposed to have their finger on the pulse of the public and use it to serve as a wholly honest and trusted advisor for top executives, at least according to Seitel in my PR textbook last semester …

  • SusynEliseDuris biggreenpenginidietrich AMEN! AMEN! #DeathToSilos

  • SusynEliseDuris

    biggreenpen ginidietrich  Stay Tuned. I’m working on it!! 🙂

  • SimonMonger

    AllthingsIC ginidietrich PR for the individual. #narcissism Business just trying to catch up and look cool. And often failing.

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    Definitely a combined effort! Well said Denis! ^lp

  • VirginiaMann  You could also say the same of legal and HR. And legal is the one that essentially makes the final decision that even PR has to adhere to.

  • Danny Brown And I totally agree with “needing the right person” – social really is a skill – I mean, look at our “in real life” lives! I know many, many people who are really, really bad at social skills. LOL So, yes, I agree, but I also think that social shouldn’t be silo’d – there needs to be representation from (as some have suggested in comments above) all areas of the company, as all departments have different needs and different….restrictions, let’s say. However, if something REALLY blows up, I would rather a PR/communications pro was consulted, rather than leaving it in the hands of the social team. In all the examples you mentioned above, I would love to see a study, or get insider information on how these disasters were handles, and by whom. Ten bucks says that the “higher ups” in the C-Suite handled (or didn’t!) what happened, without advice from their ‘people on the street’. Just my two cents.

  • Hmmmm… I’ve been thinking about this because there are SO many obvious PR mistakes made by ‘Community’ and ‘Social Media’ managers.    Those Comm Mgrs are the ones on the front line, everyday.  They are your company voice, and they are usually the ones to pull the trigger quickly in an exchange….
    They need to have PR skills.  They need to understand customer service. They need to be able to take a deep breath and think. And they need to have patience.   I don’t think they have to BE PR pros – they don’t need to understand the entire width and breadth of what a PR pro does for a living, but they need to understand the foundation of PR in customer service.
    All of this makes me think that what a company needs to do is understand what the profile of a Comm Mgr looks like, and hire THAT type of person for the job.
    Now, I’ll go read Sam’s post.

  • VirginiaMann

    @dannybrown, legal and hr don’t have the communications expertise. And, it seems, if reports I’ve read are accurate, that the usual battles between pr and legal are waning and increased weight is being given to the Pr/communications perspective Personally , I think that has led to increased transparency, and contributed to business’ increased ranking in Edelmans most recent Trust Barometer survey.

  • ie_comm

    ginidietrich Great article with valid points. Social media can belong to everyone in different ways.

  • Danny Brown  I like this subtle shift and the change in thinking it implies.

  • patrickreyes  Bears.

  • samfiorella

    ginidietrich no good will come of this.

  • ginidietrich

    samfiorella It rarely does

  • I’m voting for Social Media is for everyone…well, everyone who already has good character traits to handle crisis…or has the wisdom to defer to someone else in the organization if it hits crisis mode.

    Otherwise, different aspects of the organization need to be contributing their expertise and perspective while representing your company…to help along the sales cycle as well as support existing customers.

    In our own listening and analytics solution, we allow folks to “engage where the author wants to be engaged”…native to their preferred communication channel. But we also have alerts setup, or the ability for someone to click on that little “email” icon next to a tweet or FB/G+ status or product review, to take a potential crisis “behind the curtain” to determine who is best equipped to handle the crisis or inquiry.

  • So I think that this will vary by organization ginidietrich The reason being is that there is no one-sized fits all mold for how social is structured. Sacco is an easy scapegoat, but one that should not be used here. There are PR pros who do a fantastic job managing social, but also marketers who do a fantastic job. I like to look at social as a partnership across teams and putting the right people in place to collaborate on decisions. 

    My gripe with the siloed approach is that it has more holes than Swiss cheese. PR folks often have a seat at the table, they lack the ability to tie back to business values and marketers often shift to performance over people. You need to have someone lead with a good mix, but have stakeholders and decision makers in place for nimble response should crisis hit including law dogs and HR or creative folks.

  • SusynEliseDuris

    jeffespo ginidietrich  I loved the  “the siloed approach…has more holes than swiss cheese” line. Amen.

  • guptaabhijit318

    Great points there. I think
    an effective social media strategy is a combination of marketing and customer
    service. Both important
    factors to reach your goal which is to have a customer centric strategy. Thanks
    a lot for sharing.

  • ginidietrich

    digett Ding, ding, ding!

  • digett

    ginidietrich It’s almost like different silos can use it differently and still get value from it! 🙂

  • SanjayS31736850

    I enjoyed this post.  Honestly agree with everything on it. I’m
    learning more and more about blogging in order to take my own blogging practice
    to the next level

  • Gini Dietrich

    Shel Holtz wrote a post of similar ilk called “Where does the telephone belong?” I thought it was apropos.

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