Tuesday, August 28, 2012

War of the worlds: how to win the social media turf tussle (and why corporate affairs should take the lead)

By guest blogger Holly Clark

There is a turf war breaking out and at the centre of the struggle is social media. The land grab for shrinking marketing budgets has resulted in marketing departments all wanting a piece of the social media action. That is at least, when things are going well. Which brings us to the question of who takes charge when things are going pear-shaped?

Last week Target became the latest social media casualty after a mother with a strong opinion aired her disapproval of some of the store's clothing options for young girls on its Facebook page. Within four days, she found herself starring in a half page article in the SMH. If Corporate Affairs didn't move in to own social media at this point, I'm sure they received a knock on the door from marketing shortly after.

Ultimately this highlights an issue that has been bubbling away since the advent of Facebook, and that is, who owns social media? And no, I'm not missing the point, we all know that the consumer is the true owner of social media, but where should social media sit within a business?

It's not a straightforward issue. The recent ruling by the Advertising Standards Board means companies are responsible for all their content on their Facebook pages, even user comments, as Facebook is deemed to be a marketing tool over which a company has control and which is designed to promote a product. Add to the mix the vexed issue of censorship and we have a virtual minefield.

I'm not going to suggest that every business needs a large social media communications function to verify every comment and carefully develop 'on brand' responses screened for every possible reputational risk. But surely Corporate Affairs departments, which are skilled in producing content, communicating with external audiences and safeguarding their companies' reputations are ideally positioned to take the lead? And training and developing guidelines to ensure there's consistency and leadership from internal teams is a great place to start.

Day to day, the owner of your organisation's social media channels should, ideally, be the person who is best placed to deliver the experience that users are looking for. So it may be that Corporate Affairs manages the Twitter presence where comments might be about the company as a whole, whereas Customer Services may be responsible for Facebook, where things can get more personal. These are of course sweeping generalisations that will vary from business to business. While requirements may vary, there is always a place fora clean plan describing how social media is addressed and resourced.

We know that in years to come, this debate will become redundant - or at least muted - as social media takes its inevitable place as an ingrained part of an organisation's daily operations. But in the meantime Corporate Affairs has a large role to play in safeguarding the reputation of a business as it enters the social media landscape.

Holly Clark is BlueChip Communication's Account Director

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