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.



Canadians Weary of Economic Action Plan ads

Recent polls are indicating that Canadians may be growing weary of, even hostile to, all those Economic Action Plan ads being run by the federal government for the last four years.

Eight polls the Finance Department commissioned between 2009 and 2012 suggest the TV, radio, print and Internet ads are starting to fizzle, and annoying some people. The most-recently released survey has respondents calling the material “propaganda” and a “waste of money,” while fewer people than ever are taking any action after viewing the ads.

How did it start: Finance Canada has been a leader in Economic Action Plan (EAP) advertising after coining the phrase for the landmark recession-fighting budget of January 2009.The plan logo with stylized arrows and blue background has been stamped on every budget since the 2013 budget will be the next chapter of the so-called EAP?

The early surveys show as many as a quarter of those who remembered seeing the ads in 2009 took some action, such as registering for a home renovation credit. But that number steadily declined in 2010 and 2011, and by April 2012 only about seven per cent of people who said they saw the ads did something as a result.

The very first Economic Action Plan television ads in early 2009 were recalled by 45 per cent of those later polled by Ipsos-Reid, the highest level in the eight polls. The percentage for recall of the TV ads has since been in decline, hitting about 33 per cent in the spring of 2012, the last published poll. And a Privy Council Office analysis of the 2012 numbers shows that when people were quizzed about the actual content of the TV ads, only 20 per cent could describe them in any detail. That suggests the campaign was connecting with only one in five Canadians.

The spring 2012 television campaign, which followed an austerity budget, cost the Finance Department $3.8 million, plus another $1.1 million for production of the ads themselves.

The opposition criticize the  government for EAP advertising which they believe is propoganda. The government‘s position is in an uncertain global economy it is important that Canadians are aware of the measures and programs in the EAP and how they will lead to jobs, growth and long-term prosperity.  Canadians want government to inform them of the nature, availability and ways to access benefits and programs according to POR commissioned by the federal government

The Finance Department has spent well over $25 million in Economic Action Plan ads since 2009, in addition to tens of millions of EAP ad spending by other departments. The government reported $52.3 million in total EAP ad spending in 2009-10, but has not provided annual totals in the years since then as ad spending declined.

The analysis, obtained by The Canadian Press notes that among those who had not seen the ads, 42 per cent approved of the overall performance of the government. But the number rises to 47 per cent among those who had seen the TV spots, a five-percentage-point boost in popularity attributed to the advertising campaign.


Four years after the Conservative government launched its first Economic Action Plan advertising, a new poll suggests that Canadians have become jaded to the continuing barrage of radio and TV commercials.

More than half of those surveyed this week reacted negatively to the ads, calling them either political advertising, a waste of taxpayers’ money, or “junk.”

Forum Research found that only about 1 respondent in 10 thought the widely-broadcast ads were just part of normal government communications.

The Conservative government has been blanketing the Internet, newspapers and radio and television airways with the ads since 2009, along with the distinctive blue and green signs posted next to government-funded infrastructure projects.

Respondents to the poll most often characterized the campaign as political advertising for the Conservative Party (30%), while 24 per cent called them “a waste of taxpayers’ money” and 12 per cent denounced them as “more commercial junk.”

Forum Research’s findings are consistent with Finance Canada’s own tracking polls, which found increasing numbers of respondents considered the ads “propaganda” and a “waste of money,” according to a Canadian Press report last month.

The exact amount the government has spent on the ads is unclear. In the first year of the ad blitz, 2009-10, the government reported spending $52.3 million on EAP ads, according to the Canadian Press, but more recent figures are not available.

Overall, 64 per cent of Conservatives approved of the ads, with disapproval expressed by 66 per cent of Bloc Québécois supporters, 57 per cent of New Democrats and 53 per cent of Liberals.

Past federal governments have also faced allegations they used tax dollars to promote their political objectives, most famously the Liberals under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien over the scandal-ridden sponsorship program in Quebec.



Focus Groups in the Public Sector: Judgement vs. Research

“The federal government has sponsored research that has produced a tomato that is perfect in every respect, except that you can’t eat it. We should make every effort to make sure this disease, often referred to as ‘progress’, doesn’t spread. “
Andy Rooney

The Governor of the Bank of Canada issue a public apology recently at the furor over the bank’s airbrushing of the features of an Asian-Canadian scientist in the mock-up for the new $100 bill — she was made over as a Caucasian. Focus groups had apparently objected to the image of the Asian-looking woman on the notes — some (presumably non-Asian) because other ethnicities had not been so honoured, others (presumably Asian) because it stereotyped Asians as scientists. So: put her in, and you offend some people; take her out, and you offend even more.

The ethnically ambiguous scientist looking into a microscope on the back of the new $100, for instance, is intended to represent “medical innovation source

The bank immediately ordered the image redrawn, imposing what a spokesman called a “neutral ethnicity” for the woman scientist who, now stripped of her “Asian” features, appears on the circulating note. Her light features appear to be Caucasian.

“The original image was not designed or intended to be a person of a particular ethnic origin, according to a bank  spokesperson, citing policy that eschews depictions of ethnic groups on banknotes. “But obviously when they got into focus groups, there was some thought the image appeared to represent a particular ethnic group, so modifications were made.”

A spokesperson for the Chinese Canadian National Council slammed the bank bending to racism. Victor Wong, the group’s national executive director, called on the bank to amend its policy of not depicting visible minorities. “You’re erasing all of us,” he said from Toronto. “Your default position then is an image with Caucasian features.”

The Strategic Counsel conducted the October 2009 focus groups in Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Fredericton. The Toronto groups were positive about the image of an Asian woman because “it is seen to represent diversity or multiculturalism. “In Quebec, however, “the inclusion of an Asian without representing any other ethnicities was seen to be contentious.” .  One person in Fredericton commented: “The person on it appears to be of Asian descent which doesn’t represent Canada. It is fairly ugly.”

In my many years in government I used focus groups on numerous occasions but I rarely made marketing decisions based on focus groups only. Focus groups are great at giving you insights on the target groups but they can be misleading if taken at face value.

Also I knew that journalists love reading Government focus group reports so they could find something contentious and “stick it to the government’`a favourite preoccupation of journalists especially in the Ottawa market. Later in my career, after I was burnt a few times, I read focus group reports submitted by research companies very carefully.

Focus groups should rarely be used in isolation. Marketing researchers employ a variety of tools, including one-on-one interviews, surveys and polling to track consumer opinion. Used with all of the above or at least some quantitive measurement, a focus group can be an integral part of gauging public perceptions.
Some of the drawbacks of focus groups are:

  • The small sample size means the groups might not be a good representation of the larger population.
  • Group discussions can be difficult to steer and control, so time can be lost to irrelevant topics.
  • Respondents can feel peer pressure to give similar answers to the moderator’s questions.
  • The moderator’s skill in phrasing questions along with the setting can affect responses and skew results.

Also Moderators can greatly impact the outcome of a focus group discussion. They may, intentionally or inadvertently, inject their personal biases into the participants’ exchange of ideas. This can result in inaccurate results. Moderators can also lead focus group participants into reaching certain assumptions or conclusions about an idea or product. Out of fear in going against the opinion of the moderator, or even out of fear of disappointing the moderator, participants may not disclose their true and honest opinions

Also in recent years many public sector and non-profit organizations use focus group research as a crutch and to quote David Ogilvy `there is an increasing reluctance on the part of marketing people to use judgment; they are coming to rely too much on research, and they use it as a drunkard uses a lamp post for support, rather than for illumination. “

So here is my advice, focus groups are valuable but making marketing or product decisions on focus groups alone is risky. Yes I know that focus groups are exciting as you can actually witness behind a mirror respondents discuss your product, service, ad, etc. but done in isolation without any other type of marketing research is really questionable. They are also very expensive. An alternative to focus groups is panel research. They are more representative of the population you are targeting, more scientific and price sensitive. Check out the “Probit” panel at EKOS.

Also if you work in government, review focus group reports very carefully. As mentioned, journalists like getting access to your focus reports as they will always look for the controversial statements and turn them into a headline to embarrass your department or program.

If you are going to use `real people’ in your product or communications, there are real risks when using any racial minority or worse if you have a group shot and use only white people. These are the realities of working in the public sector. However, sometimes public sector marketers and communicators need to “break the barriers“,  and take some risks. Easy to say but hard to do.

I would be interested to hear from the readers of the blog how you deal with minority depictions on your products and communication vehicles.


The Centre of Excellence for Public Sector Marketing supports Healthpartners/Partenairesanté. Here’s why? They are the coordinating organization of sixteen of Canada’s most trusted health charities who share a common goal to support lifesaving medical research and health programs that improve the health and quality of life of Canadians. For more information go to: http://www.jimmintz.ca/2012/09/13/why-healthpartners-is-our-charity-of-choice/