PR pundit Shel Holtz recently blogged on the ongoing debate of who should “own” – or manage and lead – social media strategy. The post is a good snapshot of the conflicting arguments on this issue – which is much more than a theoretical polemic, since figuring out who does what is often a huge stumbling block to many organizations considering getting involved in social media. The question comes up in almost every presentation or conversation I have on the topic. For what it’s worth, I agree with two key arguments presented by Holtz:

– Specialized agencies should not own or lead social media projects, since giving up control to external teams – no matter how talented, smart and well-intentioned they are – takes decision-making too far from the critical teams inside the organization

– Social media strategic planning and execution should be directed by a cross-functional team, since various players should have a stake in the program but all have biases and shortcomings that could derail the effort without a broader perspective

The second point is the most important, from my perspective. It’s very tempting to try and leverage social media for narrow, tactical gains that ignore the broader implications and strategic priorities.  Marketing, for example, has plenty of expertise in digital content and online marketing, but they might be too tempted to push the selling envelope. IT is too often focused on its own internal roadmaps and might resist applications and programs that were created outside the firewall. PR might want to reinvent the press release to the detriment of larger branding initiatives or outreach beyond traditional media. In short, the team format is probably required to strike the right balance across diverse (and often competing) priorities and steer the effort in the right direction.

The best examples of companies engaging in social media (e.g. Dell, Procter & Gamble, Nike) seem to share bold, englightened leadership, strong agency support and broad, cross-functional programming. Probably not a coincidence.

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