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Sharing is social but ownership still rules

March 16, 2011

In many organizations social media is still suffering from a lot of shiny object syndrome. A lot of organizations, including those in federal government, know they want social media but they’re not sure who should do it. Is it a marketing function or an IT function? Better to outsource or use internal assets?

Like most communication dilemmas the answers will vary between offices, and leaders should look carefully at their business processes and goals to find the right solutions. Several organizations, however, have learned that no matter what choice you make you had better make sure you own the messaging, and that you have a crisis communications strategy that you are ready to implement at a moment’s notice.

Chrysler recently learned the hard way that outsourcing social media comes with pitfalls. A contractor with New Media Strategies accidentally tweeted a profanity laced post criticizing Detroit drivers from Chrysler’s official Twitter account. Oops. Bad because of the profanity but also bad because this sad soul also felt compelled to use the hashtag #motorcity, which references a Chrysler campaign. For me as a social media consultant it points to a reality I discuss with peers a lot – even if this had been tweeted from a personal account, as was the intent, it exemplified poor judgment that should have raised eyebrows.

Note to communications consultants everywhere: you are the brand in any public communication, regardless of whether it’s an official medium. If you don’t like it, find another brand to work for.

The issue for Chrysler came in clean up. It appears they weren’t prepared for a social media snafu and the corporate communications department struggled to synch up with their contracted social media team. It’s nothing new; “ownership” of social media remains a serious struggle for almost any office.

This week Information Week highlighted the continued disconnect between IT and marketing departments when it comes to social media ownership. What should in many ways be a shared responsibility becomes a liability when internal offices are fighting over responsibility or worse yet, embarking on completely separate efforts. As a professional communicator I’m biased, but I see social media as a majority communications/marketing function, with involvement and participation by IT a requirement. Regardless of who’s responsible, however, the fact that there continues to be such strong disagreement as to who is in charge, even within the same company, spells trouble.

In Chrysler’s case there were tandem social media efforts being undertaken by the company communications department and the consulting firm. Perhaps multiple accounts were called for but they should have been operating under the same umbrella and in almost every case there should be an in-house leadership team, composed of both IT and marketing, and solid oversight over any consultants or outsourced agencies.

Good social media should build community and increase organizational transparency. If even the organization doesn’t know who’s communicating on their behalf, or what’s being said, there should be no surprise that mistakes will be made. Don’t let your company or agency be caught in that situation.

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