Who Owns Social Media? Ultimate Answer: The Opposites

I’ve seen it first-hand. Despite companies aspirations to openess and full cooperation, there exists a rivalry over “control” of social media with the main combatants Communications/Public Relations (“PR“) and Marketing/Advertising (“Mktg”), leading to internal battles, mistrust and inefficient social media use by both.

And each discipline has valid reasons for wanting this. For PR, social media is a communications, corporate reputation and thought leadership opportunity which will lead to increased, unpaid brand mentions — “earned media”. Mktg views it as an additional opportunity to advance its message to potential and current customers to advance its sales goals.

PR Only or Marketing Only Doesn’t Work

Both have valid points. And the truth is, that utilizing social media by one area without the other is a losing proposition. Organizations that relegate social media to marketing only are losing the vital advantage that social listening; conversational engagement; brand enhancement and thought leadership brings when marshalled by PR. Also, improper use/overuse of social media for purely marketing/advertising purposes can have the opposite effect of turning off your audience to your social media efforts entirely. Similarly, social media use by PR only is a lost opportunity to connect with the audience to convey the value proposition of its goods and services.

And so, in most companies that have realized the advantages of leveraging social media there exists either dual strategies or, worse, no strategy at all as both areas do their own thing. This leads to fierce competition for resources and recognition, departmental distrust, and breakdown in communication (ironic, given social media’s utility for increasing communication).

So Where Should Social Media “Live”?

Of course, in a discipline as young as social media (very few of us have been paid social media practitioners for over 10 years) PR and Mktg are not the only areas where leadership social media mat reside. For my 10 years working at AOL it was in the Product division; during my tenure at BusinessWeek it was part of the Digital division; and when I worked at Bloomberg L.P it lived in Communications, but then later consolidated (to my chagrin) into Marketing.

While not the ultimate answer (see below), if forced to make a choice mine would be PR. The upside potential for understanding audience sentiment; deepening end-user engagement; developing brand supporters, loyalists and defenders; and raising awareness of the organization’s goods, services and leaders is best handled by communications pros.

The one caveat: the need for a social media professional, one who has a visible social media footprint, a  and documented success as a paid professional  on staff to lead the organization in developing an overall social media strategy; implement best practices; develop internal social media policy; evangelizing social media internally including education and training and working with other departments such as HR and, yes, Marketing to employ social media the right way is an absolute requirement.

The Ultimate Answer

That is not the final answer to the “who owns social media” question — it’s the way most companies should proceed at the early stages of this discipline. The ultimate answer is: the opposites: “No one” and “Everyone“.

A fully integrated, successful social media strategy’s goal should be where both no department feels that they own social media; but every department is responsible for utilizing it as part of a comprehensive, coordinated effort.

Quick Tweet: The State of Community Management in 2011

Great report by Edelman Digital and The Community Roundtable on the state of community management in 2011

http://ow.ly/4skjI

Epsilon: NOT Such a Negligible Effect

From Ancient Greek ἒψιλόν (epsilon, “the letter Ε”), defined in the context of computing as “A negligible effect.”

But also, Epsilon is an online marketing unit of Alliance Data Systems Corp., servicing over 2,500 clients via the distribution of permission-based emails.  On Wednesday (March 30), Epsilon announced in a short statement to its clients (not to the public) with no details other than ” a subset of its database was accessed externally” resulting in email addresses and names being stolen. And far from having a negligible effect, this may represent the largest security breach in the history of the Web.

What does this mean to you? At a minimum it will lead to targeted unsolicited emails being sent to you in greater frequency and quantity.

I started to get wind of the problem when I received two emails from retailers I have dealt with online, but haven’t interacted with in many months, Brookstone and Disney Destinations. Then I saw other people mention on Twitter receiving similar notices from TiVo, Kroger and other brands. There had to be a common denominator and it was Epsilon.

How widespread is the breach? Hard to tell at this point, but according to Neil Schwartzman, chief security specialist for CASL Consulting, “It is the biggest breach we have ever seen; and to say no financial information has been stolen is, well, understating the massive breach and concern.”

Here’s only some of the 50 brands whose customers are affected (note the many financial institutions):

  • 1-800-FLOWERS
  • Abe Books
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • Barclays Bank
  • Best Buy
  • Brookstone
  • Capital One
  • Citi
  • Disney Destinations
  • Eddie Bauer
  • Hilton
  • Home Shopping Network (HSN)
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • Kroger
  • Lacoste
  • LL Bean
  • Marriott Rewards
  • McKinsey & Company
  • New York & Company
  • Robert Half
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Target
  • The College Board
  • TiVo
  • US Bank
  • Visa Card
  • Walgreens

Got spam? Blame Epsilon (yes, I know they aren’t the only causal factor, but they’ve now further sullied the ecommerce waters). It’s important to note that the companies listed above and others caught in the maelstrom are not to blame. They contracted with a well-known service provider with a stellar client list. It is reasonable for them to have felt confident that a company whose stock in trade is in email communications to have safeguards in place to protect their data.

As for reparations, blogger and former co-worker during my AOL years Joe Manna says, don’t expect anyone to pay for your inconvenience based upon past incidences similar to this one:

“This is the work of offshore hackers where laws are weak, jurisdiction is limited and tracking people down is near impossible. Don’t expect anyone to get arrested, because the hackers are global.”

One more thing —  as of this morning (April 4) the Epsilon web site shows no mention of the breach even as the story is exploding online naming them as the cause, letting their clients take the blowback (and the blame?). The story went public on Friday and so the social web has had three days to spread the story without company response. It appears Epsilon needs a social media professional on staff to help modernize its marketing and public relations.

Again, old thinking or as we in social media say a PR #FAIL.


Follow the Epsilon not-so-negligible fallout: Targeted Google News Search

A Scorpion, a Frog and an Aflac Duck

By now you’ve heard that Aflac insurance fired comedian Gilbert Gottfried as the commercial voice of its Aflac duck for tweeting insensitive and offensive remarks (since removed) about the disaster in Japan on Twitter.

True, tweets like these  (here are two of 12 issued in total) are insensitive and could be considered offensive:

Charles Sykes/SYKEC, via Associated Press“I was talking to my Japanese real estate agent. I said, ‘Is there a school is this area?’ She said, ‘Not now, but just wait.’”

“Japan is really advanced. They don’t go to the beach. The beach comes to them.”

The company stated the tweets were “lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac.”

Fair enough, and the fact that Aflac does 75% of its business in Japan is certainly a valid business reason to end their relationship. The company was entirely within its rights — and indeed had no choice — but to do so, even though Gottfried’s voice is not used in the Japanese versions of the ads and most of Aflac’s customers likely never knew that Gottfried supplied the duck’s voice.

Insensitive, offensive and ill-timed. But that describes Gottfried who has a long-held and well deserved reputation of being, as Howard Stern recently put it, “the most foul-mouthed comedian” out there.

Example: Shortly after  9-11, Gottfried was part of a Comedy Central/Friars’ Club roast of Hugh Hefner where no one was in the mood to laugh. There, a joke about his plane having a connection at the Empire State Building was met by catcalls and cries of, “Too soon!” Concluding that it was time for a comedy “Hail Mary”, Gottfried broke into an obscene, graphic, vile, extended version of the recognized “dirtiest joke of all time” – ‘The Aristocrats.’ It is also accepted as the best performance of that joke ever.

And that brings us to the fable of the scorpion and the frog. A scorpion approached a river and Read more of this post

On Employee Appreciation Day, How Will Yours ‘March 4th’?

March 4th! The only day of the year that is also a command. In today’s socially networked environment, where companies are forced to realize that they don’t control their brands — their customers do — their best “Brand Ambassadors” are often overlooked, under appreciated and underutilized: their employees.

Employees appreciate the annual Bloomberg L.P. picnic

And that’s dangerous. When 50% of employees who say they have considered leaving their job (source: MarketTools, Inc.) mix with the explosion in social media a potentially brand killing lethal combination ensues.  For example, let’s say you frequent a social media site where new autos are discussed and saw a valued member of the community who worked for an automaker but had nothing good to say about the company, you’d think twice before considering buying one of their models.

Social media builds engagement with employees, too. Traditional internal communications efforts, typically administered by your HR team and utilized to inform employees of company news and events via e-mail, newsletter or a Web 1.0 designed internal site are no longer enough. These cascading, ‘sermons on high’ one-way communications are often discounted or (worse) ignored by employees — especially in large companies with multiple offices spread over widely divergent geographic areas.

“Just as ‘All politics is local‘; ‘All communications is social'”

As mentioned in a prior post, let Communications/Public Affairs handle PR; let Marketing handle marketing; and now, let HR handle human resources – but rely upon a social media professional (yes, that skill set, again) to optimize all three.

The application of current social media two-way conversation strategies will engage a company’s employees the same way social media is used to connect the company with its customers. The more the employees feel connected to the company, its brands and products the more supportive they will be. Acknowledge that their opinion matters and is heard.

As for quick things you can do today, Read more of this post

Don’t Blame Twitter — Case Study: STRABAG SE

Austrian based STRABAG SE, one of the largest construction companies in Europe with 73,600 employees and annual revenue of € 12.B (both as of fiscal 2010), posted this update on Twitter after 18 months of use —>

In an email to IR Web Report (whose article inspired this blog entry), spokesperson Paula Rhys of STRABAG’s investor relations team said: “We do not see any benefit in using this social media tool for the time being. Stakeholders did not discuss actively with us on Twitter despite our efforts to ask questions.

Now, regular readers of this blog or my Twitter stream know that a recurring theme of mine is that companies need to place the responsibility for its social media initiative in the hands of a social media professional. A quick review of this move by STRABAG underscores this requirement.

The Facts
STRABAG created their Twitter account on August 5, 2009 and issued its first tweet two days later (“Largest construction company in CEE

  • It has issued 146 tweets over the 575 days from inception to the date of this entry (~4/week)
  • It follows 524 people, is followed by 527 and appears on 32 Twitter lists
  • Its bio info is exactly the same as its first tweet (see above)
  • Its profile provides a link to its home page: http://www.strabag.com

The Analysis (aka Why They Were Doomed to Twitter #Fail)
First, let me say that the mistakes STRABAG made are not uncommon when companies apply traditional marketing and communications strategies towards leveraging social media. I do not mean to assign blame to its communications and marketing teams — it’s not their fault — they were simply operating the way they were trained. But, Twitter, and indeed all social media, is a different animal. Here’s what they did wrong: Read more of this post

Of Kenneth Cole; Twitter; and Crossing the Line

“The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interred with their bones.”
– from ‘Julius Caesar’ by William Shakespeare

By now you’ve heard about this tweet issued by fashion designer Kenneth Cole where, in an obvious case of insensitivity, he tried to connect the world-changing events in Egypt to his spring line:

Ouch! And for this he has rightfully drawn the scorn of the Web. That’s what he did wrong.  You know it, I know it and he  knows it.

What he did right next was to remove the offending tweet,  but not try to cover it up; instead he acknowledged the mistake and apologized publicly within a few hours:  

When negative reaction persisted, he did so again, more extensively. Still, “the evil lives on”, these days in the form of first page Google search results.

But, as inevitable as that sounds,  mistakes will be made – so create an action plan now for handling the blowback.

Cover-ups Never Work

People always ask me how to remove negative social mentions online. The truth is they can’t be summarily deleted. Manipulating social media to obfuscate the truth never works. I can cite examples. The social space is in many ways self-correcting, and the truth will out. Always. The best tactic: do good things. And get those good things (thought leadership examples; blog entries; positive reviews of personal appearances) published online. Get them in front of key influencers and, this is vital, do everything while maintaining three core principles:

Accuracy; Integrity; Transparency

Social media reputation management does not work any other way. Don’t let the good be interred with the bones of the brand’s or individual’s reputation when crises hit. Be both reactive and proactive.

Of course, the best way to handle a PR crisis is to avoid them in the first place. As a brand, Kevin Cole is known for being socially relevant and supportive of social causes — often in a controversial way. As such, his brand supporters and loyalists will not likely be affected by this social media faux pas compared to those for whom he was an unknown.

In a sense, he’s lucky that it was he who made the intended-to-be-pithy-but-ultimately-offensive remark. Had a social media manager in his company done this he/she’d likely be looking for a new job.

But then again, in the hands of a professional, maybe the mistake would have been avoided.

Full disclosure: In a past life I worked for El Greco Leather, a company owned by Kenneth Cole’s father and run with his two brothers. I never had any direct contact or dealings with Kenneth (though I do wear his shoes)
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