David Hargreaves

Reflections on the reinvention of the PR industry

The Two Most Common Questions

There are two questions that I keep getting asked that point to a common problem. The questions are: Who owns Social Media? How can Social Media scale?

Both of these seem perfectly reasonable questions. Indeed they were questions that came up again at our BiteBash in San Francisco last night. The ‘how can Social Media scale’ question is born out of the challenge in keeping track of and responding to all that is going on in the social web. I then thought a bit more about the question and decided that it is a rather strange question if you consider social web as a channel of communication. It is a bit like asking, how do you get this ‘telephone’ thing to scale? Or how do you get this ‘email’ thing to scale?

The way you do it is to prioritize the people you talk to. Let’s face it, not all people are equal in terms of the priority they get. You certainly wouldn’t expect the PR team to talk to all stakeholders from customers to the media. The customers are sent off to the customer service center or sales. The business partners should be put in touch with the partner relations team. The media should similarly be handled in an appropriate way. In other words everyone is looked after but by the right department in the right order.

Social Media is no different. You can’t and shouldn’t respond to every tweeter. You can’t respond to every blog post. You need to pick your engagements. Our role is to help companies identify the most important points of influence in the conversation and prioritize them accordingly.

And the second question: Who owns Social Media? This isn’t a new question given it was debated at length at the Social Media Club in October and again in AdWeek, although the original article seemed to focus on who owns it within the marketing function (interesting but not, in my humble opinion, the right debate for organizations).

Again, it is a strange question when you think of social media as a channel. It is like asking who owns the telephone or the web. In fact the web is a good example because initially the marketing department owned it because it was an online brochure. However, now every function uses the web as a communications channel or even transaction channel, in the case of sales. Social Media is no different. The communications function is often at the vanguard of how this channel can be used. However, over time, all functions within the organization need to embrace the tools in same way that the customer service team embraced the phone, then the web/email, and now Twitter.

It was refreshing last night to hear David Weiskopf of Charles Schwab talking in such pragmatic, grounded terms. Let’s face it, it’s just a channel of communication, nothing more nothing less.

So the answer to both of these questions lies in social media being embraced across the whole organization and embedded within every function from customer service to HR to marketing to sales and even finance (that one needs a bit more thought!). Our role as an agency is to not only be at the vanguard of how the channels can be used and help prioritize and engage with the right people but to act as consultants who advise on how Social Media can be embraced across the whole organization because of the reputational impact that these tools have. In its own way, this is pretty exciting because all of a sudden we become advisors to the broader business.

Filed under: Communications, Public Relations, Social Media, , , , , ,

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