For the past decade, people have argued about where social media should sit in a company's organizational chart. And communicators have summarily been shifted around as the argument evolves and various experts pontificate on the best location.
But ultimately, there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach—social media’s location should be a direct reflection of a business’s core priorities. For some organizations, social media is best seen as an extension of customer service, while for others, it may make more sense to locate it within marketing or communications.
Social Media in Customer Service
Certain aspects of social operations make the most sense in customer service, particularly when a customer is reaching out to a brand for assistance.
Many incoming messages and engagements that occur on social media are customer-service related, such as problems with a product, or questions about hours or locations. Yet, many social media teams sit in marketing functions that aren’t empowered to directly respond to and provide for customer care. Customer service teams, instead, have the flexibility to offer discounts and otherwise care and nurture the customer relationship.
Essentially, service is the new marketing, where the customer’s experience is the most pivotal aspect of a brand. Therefore, a brand that has a centralized care unit can also responsibly handle social in a way the best benefits the customer.
Social Media in Digital Marketing
Rather than position social media under a specific discipline, some argue for the unification of the marketing tactic within the complete marketing picture.
“If social sits within a digital organization, it often can influence and impact in a more lateral fashion,” says Jessica Jensen, director of marketing at telecommunications firm Qualcomm. “It can connect to ECRM (electronic customer relationship management) for demand gen, it can embed blogs and drive to a .com site and it can leverage pixels of web visitors to retarget with paid social media. The customer hand off among the various digital properties, left to right, in a marketing org is much more seamless.”
For many years, social media was an add-on tactic, yet now it’s often the first way a customer finds a brand and begins their digital journey. Ensuring consistency and alignment there can help the customer best understand your brand and how it fits into their life.
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Social Media in Marketing Communications
Social media marketing and influencer marketing should have a strong partnership within the marketing and communications groups, according to Nicole Smith, global brand and innovation communications manager at Intel.
“This connection allows us to drive and maintain strong relationships while ensuring that the audience is getting the full story of the company or campaign,” says Smith.
If social media sits within a PR organization, it is often closely tied to influencer programs. "Social media can also be used as a forum to address crisis, if needed, and it is often at the tip of the spear with regards to news cycles," says Jensen.
Therefore, with brands who have strong storytelling or news missions and a need to drive specific core narratives, this alignment can support and benefit the broader organization. However, doing so may sell social media—and your customers—short.
Public relations professionals aren't always empowered to immediately act on social media inquiries, like customer service teams. Nor do they always have visibility of the broader marketing mix and how to drive and engage across various marketing disciplines, like a digital marketing team. While supportive of PR and social media relationships in telling unified stories, few professionals think it is the best fit for the health of a company’s culture.
Every company has different needs. While social media is not a magic bullet, a strategic understanding of the role it should play in your company will help to decide it’s organizational location. That location will then provide direction for what that team should do—where to allocate resources, what types of hires to make and what other parts of the company it should focus on and engage with most heavily.
“Regardless of where the social media team physically sits in a marketing org, it is only becoming more integral to our traditional marketing and PR efforts year after year,” says Jensen. “It is the new web.”
Kristina Libby is a professor at the University of Florida, the CEO of S.W.C., a digital marketing and communications consulting firm, and the co-founder of SoCu, an influencer marketing platform in Dallas, Texas. She recently published her first book "You Don't Need Social Media Unless You Are Doing It Right," and has written for and appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan, Entrepreneur, More, Forbes, the Los Angeles Times and others.
Connect with Kristina Libby: @KristinaLibby