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Social Media: The Tension Between Collaboration and Ownership

Thoughts on the collision among the two.
Mar | 24 | 2010

Mar | 24 | 2010


media_roundupOne of the primary reasons that many technology endeavors fail is that coordination and cooperation among employees and departments is typically lacking. That’s not exactly a news flash. Enterprise 2.0, with its emphasis on collaboration, is supposed to be about minimizing the traditional barriers among departments, breaking down data and communication silos to produce superior results.

At least, that’s the theory.

Who Owns Social Media?

Against this backdrop, I find the challenges posed by one of the most prominent emerging technologies—social media—to be fascinating. I strongly believe that we’re in the very early stages of the adoption and evolution of social media. Many things still need to play out. Perhaps the cardinal question for organizations with regard to social media is, “Who actually owns this stuff?”

I recently read two posts recently that addressed this question.

In Who Owns Social Media? Everyone and No One , Steve Radick writes:

Who should “control” social media within a company is anything but cut and dry.  It’s like asking, “What department delivers the greatest value.” The answer apparently depends upon whom you ask. A public relations person will likely say “PR” while a marketer will almost certainly indicate “Marketing.”

Completely agreed. In a related post, Rick Alcantara in Who Should “Control” Social Media Within a Company? writes:

Collaboration across departments, according to several of the respondents, is key to any successful media operation. Jocelyn Canfield, owner of Communication Results, summed it up best. “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.

I have mixed feelings about an exclusively collaborative approach to social media within an organization. Yes, collaboration is essential but, absent a clear owner, how can an organization enforce accountability? Call it the “Who’s minding the store?” problem.

Different departments and employees invariably use social media for different purposes. Consider HR, likely to use social media for recruiting (think LinkedIn) and employee communication. PR, Marketing, and Advertising use it to get the word out or build awareness. Of course, IT needs to be involved for obvious reasons. What’s more, I can’t see too many judicious Legal departments opting to ignore social media.

The Same Old Problem

Collaboration can be amazing. Think open source. To paraphrase Aristotle, the whole can be much greater than the sum of its parts. However, I have seen time and time again people drop the ball because they thought that others were responsible for specific activities. Also, remember that collaboration certainly does not ensure effective utilization or expected results, particularly at very large or geographically dispersed organizations.

With that in mind, I put a few questions to you:

  • How have you or your organization addressed the tension between collaboration and ownership?
  • As someone who hates title inflation, I’d hate to see the creation of a “Chief Social Media Officer”, but would that be beneficial?


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  1. Steve Radick

    Phil – I think your point below is valid and justified…

    “Yes, collaboration is essential but, absent a clear owner, how can an organization enforce accountability? Call it the “Who’s minding the store?” problem.”

    This is something that I’ve thought about many times over and haven’t come up with a good answer. Like I said in my post, I think the secret is in providing people with a feeling of ownership, without actually giving them ownership. As you point out, social media touches so many different parts of an organization – there needs to be a lot of people involved. But to give “ownership” to one entity flies in the face of the open collaboration that social media is all about. Maybe this works if you happen to have a great social media leader in that department, but more often than not, you end up with a pissed off IT department because they’re told that everything has be opened up or a public affairs office with their hands tied because they can’t engage in conversation because everything is blocked.

    I like to think that organizations can create these sorts of committees where decisions can be openly discussed and collaborated upon across all of the groups.

  2. Terri Rylander

    So, Phil, I’m curious about how you define “control.” Is it from a legal perspective? Security? Branding/PR? Technology? I’m in agreement that social media/collaboration is yet another (valuable) business process and that each department will use it in their own way.

    I guess before you define controls or ownership, you need to define why you want/need to control something. Would love to hear more on this topic.

  3. philsimon

    Hey Terri

    I’d argue that control is a very tough thing to define with social media precisely because it falls under so many different departments traditional domains.

    It’s easiest for me to “control” my own social media because I’m an independent. I don’t have to worry about other people or departments (at least, in my “organization”) not being on a same page.

    The minute that I add another person, that control disappears. Now, imagine the potential issues with involved with coordinating and managing a coherent message among many different people in many different places.

    You’re right, it’s certainly not an easy thing to define.

  4. Terri Rylander

    So I still ask “what are you controlling for?” I think that’s step one.

    You mention it’s easy for you to “control” your own social media. Well, what does that mean? Control in what way?

    That’s the gist of my comment. 🙂

  5. philsimon


    I can only control what I put out there–the message.

    Note that I can’t control what others say or write about my company, my books, or me. The same is true for larger organizations and that was the main point of my post.

    To assume that one can completely control blog comments, tweets, product reviews, etc. is the height of arrogance. The best that an organization can hope to achieve is a degree consistency in the message that it puts out. To that extent, different departments and people have to be on the same page.

    For example, a company like Coach wants to communicate that it makes great products and has an outstanding warranty and customer service. That’s part of Coach’s brand. Coach doesn’t compete on price (not that I have a coach bag, mind you). I would think that the company would not want to muddy that message with claims about competing on price. Coach just doesn’t do that.
    .-= philsimon´s last blog ..Travails of a Technology Consultant #9 – Book Release Party =-.

  6. Rick Alcantara

    Terri has a great point when she asks, “How do you define control?”
    First, we can think of control in the form of which department has been granted formal authority/ownership of the social media profiles and analytics. Second, we can view it from the perspective of which individual(s) defines the brand message, visual presentation, strategic objectives, response protocol, etc. Third, if the company is highly regulated, control can take the form of compliance review.


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