Who Owns Social Media? Everyone and No One

March 23, 2010

Social Media

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been involved in a number of meetings both within Booz Allen and with my clients to discuss social media, and I’ve noticed that more and more organizations are moving beyond the social media experimentation stage. I’m finding that I’m no longer justifying the use of social media, but helping develop the processes, policies, and personnel that will move the use of social media from interesting experiment to a long-term way of doing business.

While your organization’s initial foray into social media may have started with a junior public affairs professional, some webmaster in the IT department, more and more organizations are now trying to figure out how to integrate these social media “pilots” into their long-term strategies and plans.

In one case, I met with a room full of information security professionals. In another, it was a public affairs office. In another, I met with the recruiting office of an agency. In still another, it was a mish-mash of people including public affairs officers, project managers, internal communications, privacy specialists, records management professionals, and senior leadership. Everyone viewed “ownership” of social media differently. Some thought their team should control social media for the entire organization while others felt a more decentralized approach would be more effective. Others wanted to create an integrated process team with representatives from across the organization. The only thing that everyone had in common is the view that their perspective and concerns weren’t getting the attention they thought they deserved.

Internally, we’re going through a similar evolution – in a firm with 20,000+ employees spread across the world and dozens of different business lines and market areas, there’s no shortage of people now looking for ways that social media can help them and their clients. In talking with one of our Vice Presidents the other day, he asked me, “in your opinion, who should own social media here?”  Who was going to be THE person he could reach to with questions? The first answer that came to mind was “well, no one should own it, but there are a lot of people who need to be involved in owning it.”

Then yesterday, I came across this post by Rick Alcantara, “Who Should Control Social Media Within a Company?,” and I couldn’t help thinking that we’re asking the wrong question. If the use of social media is so transformative and paradigm-shifting, and we agree that there needs to be new processes and policies in place to deal with it, then shouldn’t we also be looking at new governance models as well? Why do we assume that social media should (or can) fit into our existing buckets?

The Problem

Organizations traditionally consist of distinct lines of business, teams, branches, divisions, service offerings, etc. This model works great when these teams don’t have to work with one another – IT is responsible for protecting the network, public affairs is responsible for communicating with the public. Great.  But what happens when these teams need to work with one another, need to collaborate with each other?

In some cases, these teams work well together, not because of some formal charter or governance process, but because of the personal relationships that have been made. My team and Walton’s (my counterpart on our IT team) team work well together not because we were told to, but because he and I have a relationship built on trust and mutual respect for each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In other cases, one team works on something and then sends it on to the other team for a formal “chop.” That’s not collaboration – that’s an approval chain. Sometimes, an Integrated Process Team (IPT) is formed to facilitate this collaboration, but those too often devolve into screaming matches or passive aggressive maneuvering, and most IPTs don’t get any real power beyond “making recommendations” anyway.

Just as social media has fundamentally changed the way organizations communicate and collaborate internally, it is also forcing us to rethink the way we govern its use. Maybe social media shouldn’t be “owned” by anyone? Maybe it should be governed in a similarly transformative way?

The Solution

I like what Jocelyn Canfield, owner of Communication Results, has to say at the end of Rick’s post:

“Organizations are best served by collaboration, not control. PR, Marketing, HR, IR, Corp Communications all have a vested interest in effective social media activities, while IT and graphic design can be an important allies in seamless execution. If everyone feels ownership, everyone benefits.”

Emphasis above was added by me – I think everyone has to feel ownership, but they shouldn’t necessarily have ownership. Organizational use of social media impacts everyone across the organization in different ways, from IT security to HR to legal to marketing and ceding “control” to just one of these groups seems to be both short-sighted and unrealistic. What happens when you say that Public Affairs has control of social media, but then IT decides to block all access, citing security concerns? Who resolves that issue? Do the Directors of IT and Public Affairs arm-wrestle? Steel cage death match? Frank and thoughtful discussion?

The answer to who should control social media is everyone and no one. Here at Booz Allen, we’re bringing together both social media leaders and select representatives from across our various teams to form a committee, primarily to ensure that open, cross-team collaboration becomes the norm, not the exception. One of the primary roles for this committee will be to ensure that everyone feels ownership, but that no one is actually given ownership.

How’s this different from an IPT? Well, for starters, I’m proposing that all committee meetings be livestreamed internally where anyone from any team may watch/submit questions. We’ll be blogging internally about what we talk about. Meeting agendas and minutes will be posted to our internal wiki. Everything will be done in the open, encouraging participation, contribution, and truthfulness and discouraging passive-aggressive behavior, back channel discussions, and hidden agendas. The committee’s goal isn’t to determine who owns what; rather, it’s to ensure that everyone understands that no one owns anything.

Organizations should look at social media governance as a way to re-think traditional ownership roles in their organization. When this type of governance is based on open discussion and mutual respect instead of turf-protecting and power grabs, who owns what becomes less important and who KNOWS what becomes more important.

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Director of Public Relations at Brunner in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

View all posts by sradick
  • Steve,

    Great post and something that I have been struggling with (http://andrewpwilson.posterous.com/the-social-media-org-chart) and seem to have almost daily conversations about with colleagues and friends.

    You raise a good point though about whether or not we are actually asking the right questions. I have begun advocating a shift in thinking about social media which considers it as one component of citizen/ public engagement From this perspective, social media is just one of the many different tools and channels where interaction can take place. Other channels include more traditional “Web 1.0”, ideation and feedback tools, email, call centers, etc. Envisioning this collective toolkit more holistically and focusing on better integrating these channels might help us achieve our ultimate goal – providing better service to the public.

    Rethinking the question, as you have done, may be the key to finding truly transformitive solutions. Thanks so much for your thoughtful contribution to the conversation.

  • Steve,

    Great post and something that I have been struggling with (http://andrewpwilson.posterous.com/the-social-media-org-chart) and seem to have almost daily conversations about with colleagues and friends.

    You raise a good point though about whether or not we are actually asking the right questions. I have begun advocating a shift in thinking about social media which considers it as one component of citizen/ public engagement From this perspective, social media is just one of the many different tools and channels where interaction can take place. Other channels include more traditional “Web 1.0”, ideation and feedback tools, email, call centers, etc. Envisioning this collective toolkit more holistically and focusing on better integrating these channels might help us achieve our ultimate goal – providing better service to the public.

    Rethinking the question, as you have done, may be the key to finding truly transformitive solutions. Thanks so much for your thoughtful contribution to the conversation.

  • Gianpaolo Baglione

    But I like owning things. Who’s accountable if no one has ownership? If we are saying that Social Media is really just an extension of what we’ve always been doing (communicating) then the roles and responsibilities haven’t really changed just because you add a new tool. All of your arguements for collaboration are solid, but social media is not the cause. Accentuate the weaknesses in existing comm structures? Possibly. Reinvent the organization as we know it? Probably not.

  • Gianpaolo Baglione

    But I like owning things. Who’s accountable if no one has ownership? If we are saying that Social Media is really just an extension of what we’ve always been doing (communicating) then the roles and responsibilities haven’t really changed just because you add a new tool. All of your arguements for collaboration are solid, but social media is not the cause. Accentuate the weaknesses in existing comm structures? Possibly. Reinvent the organization as we know it? Probably not.

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  • Great post Steve. I greatly related to the first paragraph as I’m currently working on a document and in the notes literally just typed, “We are no longer needing to “convince” people about the value of social media. People get it. More so, people what to know how to apply it. This shifts the conversation more to highlighting case studies, approaches, strategies, etc. to get people’s brainstorming juices running–so that we can continue to improve on its implementation and evaluation.

    Also–this whole part: “Well, for starters, I’m proposing that all committee meetings be livestreamed internally where anyone from any team may watch/submit questions. We’ll be blogging internally about what we talk about. Meeting agendas and minutes will be posted to our internal wiki.” Bravo. Transforming an organization is hard–and you (and your team) are doing it. These are ideas and techniques we can all use and learn from.

  • Great post Steve. I greatly related to the first paragraph as I’m currently working on a document and in the notes literally just typed, “We are no longer needing to “convince” people about the value of social media. People get it. More so, people what to know how to apply it. This shifts the conversation more to highlighting case studies, approaches, strategies, etc. to get people’s brainstorming juices running–so that we can continue to improve on its implementation and evaluation.

    Also–this whole part: “Well, for starters, I’m proposing that all committee meetings be livestreamed internally where anyone from any team may watch/submit questions. We’ll be blogging internally about what we talk about. Meeting agendas and minutes will be posted to our internal wiki.” Bravo. Transforming an organization is hard–and you (and your team) are doing it. These are ideas and techniques we can all use and learn from.

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  • Tim Dibble

    Steve,

    Like a hammer which is useful to everyone depending on their need, ability and possibly training; the Social Media tool(s) are arguably useful to everyone, again depending on their need, abilities and training. Like the Hammer, there has to be someone, somewhere in the organization who is responsible for maintaining the hammer, fixing the hammer when it breaks or buying a new one when it has reached its useful life, showing new people how to use the hammer, how to get the most benefit from it and occassionally correcting them if they are going to cause themselves (or others) injury.

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  • Tim Dibble

    Steve,

    Like a hammer which is useful to everyone depending on their need, ability and possibly training; the Social Media tool(s) are arguably useful to everyone, again depending on their need, abilities and training. Like the Hammer, there has to be someone, somewhere in the organization who is responsible for maintaining the hammer, fixing the hammer when it breaks or buying a new one when it has reached its useful life, showing new people how to use the hammer, how to get the most benefit from it and occassionally correcting them if they are going to cause themselves (or others) injury.

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  • Excellent post and I wholeheartedly agree. While I define Enterprise 2.0 a bit differently than Andrew McAfee in my new book, emerging technologies will only be implemented–and utilized–successfully with more collaborative mindsets.

  • Excellent post and I wholeheartedly agree. While I define Enterprise 2.0 a bit differently than Andrew McAfee in my new book, emerging technologies will only be implemented–and utilized–successfully with more collaborative mindsets.

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  • Thanks Andrew – I remember your post and that was one of the posts that I thought back to as I was writing this one. This is something that I know we’ve both been struggling with and I think, will continue to struggle with. I’m not sure what the right approach is, but I’m going to say that it will require an approach that’s out of the ordinary :).

  • Thanks Andrew – I remember your post and that was one of the posts that I thought back to as I was writing this one. This is something that I know we’ve both been struggling with and I think, will continue to struggle with. I’m not sure what the right approach is, but I’m going to say that it will require an approach that’s out of the ordinary :).

  • I struggled with this too – however, I think we have to look at it differently here at Booz Allen. For a traditional company, I definitely get your point, but for a company like Booz Allen, where there’s the firm’s marketing & comms department AND a client-facing service offering. From that perspective, we can’t have IT alone or Strategic Comms alone “owning” the social media offering. We need to identify a way to bring together all of the different components of this thing – IT, privacy, change management, records management, training, etc. If you bucket social media into the existing structure, you’re not going to get the well-rounded perspective.

    By creating a structure that brings all of these groups together without identifying a specific owner, you create a structure that will eventually allow it to not only remain just an extension of what’s already being done, but increase the collaboration that takes place amongst all these groups, not just with social media, but with other areas too.

  • I struggled with this too – however, I think we have to look at it differently here at Booz Allen. For a traditional company, I definitely get your point, but for a company like Booz Allen, where there’s the firm’s marketing & comms department AND a client-facing service offering. From that perspective, we can’t have IT alone or Strategic Comms alone “owning” the social media offering. We need to identify a way to bring together all of the different components of this thing – IT, privacy, change management, records management, training, etc. If you bucket social media into the existing structure, you’re not going to get the well-rounded perspective.

    By creating a structure that brings all of these groups together without identifying a specific owner, you create a structure that will eventually allow it to not only remain just an extension of what’s already being done, but increase the collaboration that takes place amongst all these groups, not just with social media, but with other areas too.

  • Thanks Alex – means a lot coming from you!!

  • Thanks Alex – means a lot coming from you!!

  • Exactly Phil – I don’t see this approach applying JUST to social media, but as a potential new way of collaborating/governing in other cross-cutting areas as well.

  • Exactly Phil – I don’t see this approach applying JUST to social media, but as a potential new way of collaborating/governing in other cross-cutting areas as well.

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  • If I understand your point, you are saying that there’s this “thing” called “social media”, and no one should own this thing, it should be free and roam the wilderness like a beautiful wild mustang. Only in this way do we all get to ride the pony.

    Or are you talking about a different thing? You talk about “creating a structure”. A logical or physical structure? It can’t clearly be a physical structure, because then we would have guys with hard hats building social media. SO it must be a logical structure. A set of rules and constraints with defined boundaries so you can clearly say what’s in the structure and what isn’t. So Twitter is definitely social media, because it’s not email. Email is definitely not social media, because it is email.

    I’m being deliberately argumentative because I don’t believe there is much to be gained from having this thing called “Social Media”. Facebook is just a new pipe for me to talk to people, and for people to talk to me, and for us all to raise cows together. This thing you’re calling “Social Media” are just new technologies for carrying on conversations.

    I see your point as being an organizational culture issue and not anything specific to social media. We can have our marketing and comms people keep doing what they’re doing, just now it’s in <140 characters, while at the same time our service offering helps people to adjust to the new reality that people expect to be able to talk back directly to a real live person, and they may occasionally say nasty things in public. Smart companies are recognizing this shift in the cultural landscape and letting their people off the leash; technology just enables them to do this so efficiently that they don't have to give up their "day job".
    TLDR: The conversations created by "Social Media" are good, do more of that; the technology doesn't matter.

  • If I understand your point, you are saying that there’s this “thing” called “social media”, and no one should own this thing, it should be free and roam the wilderness like a beautiful wild mustang. Only in this way do we all get to ride the pony.

    Or are you talking about a different thing? You talk about “creating a structure”. A logical or physical structure? It can’t clearly be a physical structure, because then we would have guys with hard hats building social media. SO it must be a logical structure. A set of rules and constraints with defined boundaries so you can clearly say what’s in the structure and what isn’t. So Twitter is definitely social media, because it’s not email. Email is definitely not social media, because it is email.

    I’m being deliberately argumentative because I don’t believe there is much to be gained from having this thing called “Social Media”. Facebook is just a new pipe for me to talk to people, and for people to talk to me, and for us all to raise cows together. This thing you’re calling “Social Media” are just new technologies for carrying on conversations.

    I see your point as being an organizational culture issue and not anything specific to social media. We can have our marketing and comms people keep doing what they’re doing, just now it’s in <140 characters, while at the same time our service offering helps people to adjust to the new reality that people expect to be able to talk back directly to a real live person, and they may occasionally say nasty things in public. Smart companies are recognizing this shift in the cultural landscape and letting their people off the leash; technology just enables them to do this so efficiently that they don't have to give up their "day job".
    TLDR: The conversations created by "Social Media" are good, do more of that; the technology doesn't matter.

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  • Great insight you have here, the difference between ownership and control is not drawn out often enough. Also, it’s interesting to think of social media as an engine for paradigm shifts and not just another tool- maybe the communal buy-in, many-owners ethos of SM will permeate other aspects of business.

  • Great insight you have here, the difference between ownership and control is not drawn out often enough. Also, it’s interesting to think of social media as an engine for paradigm shifts and not just another tool- maybe the communal buy-in, many-owners ethos of SM will permeate other aspects of business.

  • Melissa Reilly

    As always — fantastic blog Steve. I can’t wait to start tapping you on my project.
    Melissa

  • Melissa Reilly

    As always — fantastic blog Steve. I can’t wait to start tapping you on my project.
    Melissa

  • Melissa Reilly

    Hi.
    I’m jumping in here. The essential benefits to sharing the “ownership” have everything to do with success and effective use of social media. I go back to a basic premise, as a marketer. Social media is a strategic tool to be used as part of an overall strategy. Any effort is better served when you have buyin from the entire organization (yes, easy to say), but the very nature of social media makes cross-functional involvement key to its succcess. Want a cohesive voice? Want to drive toward a common vision? Want to assure your audience(s) are gaining VALUE from your outreach? This all lies in the full participation. I will also suggest that “ownership” not be confused with accountability/responsibility. Yes, ultimately the actual launching and technical management (blogger wrangling) needs to be led, but the direction of content, inclusiveness of all areas of the business require cross functional participation. VERY thought provoking convo –thanks all. I think we are still far from creating a list of “best practices” in this still evolving set of tools… but there is certainly excellent learning (and yes, provocative questioning) to be done!

  • Melissa Reilly

    Hi.
    I’m jumping in here. The essential benefits to sharing the “ownership” have everything to do with success and effective use of social media. I go back to a basic premise, as a marketer. Social media is a strategic tool to be used as part of an overall strategy. Any effort is better served when you have buyin from the entire organization (yes, easy to say), but the very nature of social media makes cross-functional involvement key to its succcess. Want a cohesive voice? Want to drive toward a common vision? Want to assure your audience(s) are gaining VALUE from your outreach? This all lies in the full participation. I will also suggest that “ownership” not be confused with accountability/responsibility. Yes, ultimately the actual launching and technical management (blogger wrangling) needs to be led, but the direction of content, inclusiveness of all areas of the business require cross functional participation. VERY thought provoking convo –thanks all. I think we are still far from creating a list of “best practices” in this still evolving set of tools… but there is certainly excellent learning (and yes, provocative questioning) to be done!

  • Thanks Melissa – looking forward to working with you too!