Who owns Social Media? Marketing? Communications? Other

In the past, it was quite easy for organizations to segment different types of outreach or communication into departments. Marketing and Communications in some organizations operated separately from one another; human resources, and technical support all normally operate in their own distinct branches. While overlap does occur from time to time, especially between communications and marketing, for the most part, actions and activities adhered to a set organizational structure.

But how do you classify social media? There is no question that social media can be used in so many different ways, social media fits into many traditional departmental hierarchies. Is social media primarily a product of marketing or communications? Is it ultimately about client service and support? Does its technical nature put it under the IT department and its policies? (Perish the thought)


This is a question that many organizations have and there does not seem to be a clear-cut answer.

Social media is a natural extension of both marketing and public relations. It is used extensively across both disciplines and the impact can be major, especially in large campaigns.

Social media has proven to be a solid marketing tool, so it isn’t surprising that many organizations who are in the private sector associate the two with one another.

Likewise, the wide and distributed nature of social media makes it a great platform for public relations or communications teams. We’ve seen how useful social media can be as a source of news, and increasingly individuals are turning to social media channels to get information directly from an organization.

While social media continues to expand into more and more areas, for many organizations, lately in the public and non-profit sector it is still ultimately a part of marketing and communications.

Frankly the argument about who owns social media is a debate that will go on for a long time I suspect.  Usually the debate about “ownership” is between PR/Communications and Marketing.

As Shelly Kramer points out in her article PR doesn’t own social media; it belongs to every department

Practitioners in the PR field are often so self-absorbed and so accustomed to operating in silos that they have trouble stepping back and taking the long view.  The reality is that no one department within an organization owns social. Or at least that’s the way I think it should be. Social should permeate the entire organization and be a part of the culture, no matter the size of the organization. Social media is reality. Your audiences are there, your clients are there, your competitors are there, your employees are there, your future employees are there, your kids are there, your parents are there, and your grandmother is there.

Lately the public relations/communications field are claiming that they   should “own” social media.
Frankly this is very debateable.  Communications professionals tend to look at how social media impacts an organization from a communications standpoint, instead of from the larger standpoint of the organization as a whole.  They tend to focus their messaging on what they as communicators want and need instead of what their clients/ members/stakeholders want and need. And that’s a recipe for failure and why I continually advocate that communicators think and act more like marketers.  Client focussed strategies and approaches are the essence of marketing.

Social media isn’t just about being an experienced communicator it’s about comprehensive social intelligence. It’s about the organization as a whole understanding how social media affects every department within an organization and maximizing that for the benefit of the organization.

To paraphrase Shelly Kramer again, social intelligence enables client service teams to listen to what clients are saying, solve their problems, and be attuned to their needs in a way that prepares them to spot developing trends that can affect their future strategic focus.

Social intelligence enables marketers to develop campaigns based on client feedback, monitor performance, and tweak as needed to gain maximum benefit from each and every marketing campaign.

Social intelligence enables revenue generation teams to focus their efforts more effectively on successful fundraising and other related activities (e.g sponsorships).

Social intelligence enables content strategy teams to develop content that’s in line with information that clients want and need, as opposed on focussing on what the organization wants to communicate.

Researchers and data analysts routinely use social intelligence to measure brand awareness, sentiment, trend spotting, potential crisis identification, and more.

Social intelligence and data enables strategists and operations teams to drive strategy, monitor performance and adapt their own strategies accordingly.

Social intelligence enables human resource teams to identify and recruit the very best and brightest talent to their organizations and enables them to keep their employees happy and satisfied.

Anyone who is short-sighted enough to think that any one part of an organization e.g communications owns social media are on the wrong track.  And the same is true of marketers who think they need to own social media.  Now you may need some part of the organization to coordinate and support the management of social media but no one owns it.

Social media is about so very much more than most people think, and it truly affects every function within an organization.  This includes research and development, client service and relations, marketing departments, human resources teams and, public relations/communications.

In future let’s try and think about this differently. Instead of any one part of an organization  owning social media , let’s focus on the integration of social media throughout the organization, using data gleaned from social media  in the most beneficial ways, using social media to anticipate problems and solve issues that our clients and stakeholders have in as close to real time as possible and, of course, training people throughout the organization to see beyond the basics of social media and understand the full impact of a connected clients and a connected world on the organization in general.


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