Social Media: The Tension between Collaboration and Ownership

March 24, 2010
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One 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

One 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?

Social Media: The Tension between Collaboration and Ownership is a post from: Phil Simon