Let's Get Over Who 'Owns' Social Media

Leaders Should Be Chosen Based on Talent and Experience, Not Area of Practice

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Chris Perry
Chris Perry
Two strangers are talking at a bar when the topic turns to movies. One guy becomes excited when asked if he saw a particular film, and begins blaming "casting missteps," "a jumbled story arc" and "blind spots in the character development."

The other guy nodded.

After carrying on for 10 minutes, the guy listening observed, "I'm impressed. You sure know a lot of about movies."

"Well, I should hope so," exclaimed the talker. "I'm a movie critic and have my own movie website. You seem to like movies, what do you do?"

"I directed that movie."

Social media circles are full of critics, many angling to do more directing themselves. This analogy is important, given the conversation around traditional media, marketing and the subject du jour, social media. As the online conversation rages on, the subject increasingly involves the question of who "owns" it. The question speaks volumes for how shallow and self-serving the dialogue has become.

Let's get real. No one owns it. No one company, no one specialty, no one individual has all the answers to address the fundamental changes taking place. The changes are too sweeping, too fast moving, too complex for anyone to talk in absolutes. We're still in the early stages of a media disruption that affects marketing communications in ways yet be fully understood.

That said, assume that within all companies every function will become more digitized, socialized and, dare I say, integrated. Social and digital communications practices are being applied to every traditional function across the enterprise. It's happening with varying degrees of sophistication, through marketing products and services, serving customers, working with the press or communicating with employees. Members of ad agencies, PR firms, interactive agencies and new specialty shops, working side-by-side with the client counterparts, are increasingly focused on this work. We all have a significant role to play in defining new processes and campaigns suited for the times.

While no one can own it, we all now have equal opportunity to lead. As a working member of a PR firm I know from deep, direct experience we have a very credible claim to lead social-media efforts and new-age campaigns. My counterparts in other ad, PR and interactive agencies would argue the same. It's a part of a competitive agency dynamic. But in reality this is a secondary concern.

It's secondary because new communications programs are developed by people, not functions or agency archetype. The decision on who to lead should not be based by the practice they represent, but by the talent, experience and relevant ideas they bring to the table.

This comes from choosing people with a history of trial and error, refinement and a track record of meaningful success -- in not just executing one-off programs or product launches, but in helping complicated companies transform themselves into 21st century media-savvy organizations. It's earned based on the full faith and trust to execute what's been proposed, knowing there's a big difference between the idea of doing something and actually making it happen with measurable effect.

This transition also requires leaders with cross-company visibility as integration becomes a requirement. This remains a blind spot for a majority of mature companies and a missing link in the conversation about changes taking place. Integration doesn't come from tactical analysis, pontification or popularity within Twitter circles. It happens through those with institutional knowledge and understanding of what drives a business forward -- who know as much about what makes sense not to do as well as what to do in pursuit of reality-based objectives. It involves chipping away at and evolving complex business practices carried over from the 20th century.

Integration has long been talked about as the holy grail of brand communications. Socialization of media warrants finding it, and fast.

So while debating who owns social media makes for good copy for the pontificating class, it's not helping our clients adapt and take advantage of the great media disruption in play. To get there, clients need leaders with an equal understanding of the new means of reaching and connecting with people online and how these means can best be applied to specific needs and company norms.

As businesses seek to sort out the new-media equation, where to find these leaders should be question no. 1 on the list.

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Chris Perry is exec VP-digital strategy and operations at Weber Shandwick. He oversees the firm's digital initiatives and operations and consults with and executes programs for clients including HP, Verizon, American Airlines, Standup2Cancer and CKE Restaurants, among others.

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