Breaking Down the Social Media Fences

When part of my garden fence fell down this week, my dog was delighted, my neighbor exposed, my wife mortified and my impatiens completely flattened. After spending a couple of hours jerry-rigging the crumbling wood back into place, I realized this experience was a convenient if not appropriate metaphor for the challenge marketers face in dealing with social media within their organizations.

Like a dog with a bone, consumers are thrilled with the tumbling divide between themselves and the brands they choose to engage with. Unfortunately big companies do not necessarily share this enthusiasm, treating social media as yet another channel to be managed by an existing department like marketing or corporate communications and in doing so limiting the opportunity for a truly new approach.

In fact, in a recent poll conducted by The CMO Club, a whopping 62% of CMO’s said their department leads social media. Added one of the polled CMO’s, “social networks are about engaging customers ands stakeholders so Marketing has that responsibility.” Pete Krainik, founder of The CMO Club, explained that, “marketing departments have a more strategic view of the business, customer trends and upcoming programs,” and therefore should be leading social media initiatives.

In this same survey, CMO’s acknowledged that just over 1 in 5 companies have PR/Corporate Communications leading social media. But this may be a vestige of the early days of social media. Explained one of the polled CMO’s, “responsibility started in PR/Corporate Communications but we quickly moved it to the Marketing department as community marketing became more and more important to us.” (Hmm, can’t help but think a Corp Comm head might see these as “fighting words.”)

And despite the fact the Social Media is a fence-busting hydra touching just about every aspect of a company’s business, only 11% of the CMO’s surveyed said that social media was lead by a cross-functional team. When I asked Catherine Davis, the former SVP of Marketing at Diageo about this, she explained, “Cross department collaboration can be quite complicated, particularly with new disciplines like social media.”

Complicated or not, Josh Karpf, Senior Manager of Digital Media Communications at PepsiCo, professed that “everyone has a role, marketing, communications, HR and you need a variety of skill sets from customer service to insights to editorial strategy.” Added Karpf, “you likely won’t be able to find all those experts in one function within a company.” So, while Robert Frost’s proverb “good fences make good neighbors” may be true in real life, it is not necessarily the ideal approach to dealing with social media.

Like my mortified wife, companies are less than thrilled by the collapsing fences between brand and consumer, and many are jerry-rigging solutions while they figure out a long-term plan. Noted Dan Greenfield of Bernaise Source Consulting, “PR and marketing pros seem a little conflicted; few deny the value of integrating sales, customer service and community moderation teams when building a modern day engagement strategy but most lack a clear sense of how to do it.” (Greenfield will be addressing this challenge head-on at the upcoming PR+MKTG Camp.)

And while there is little hope of recovery for my flattened impatiens, a flattened organizational structure may be just the trick for companies seeking to truly engage with consumers via social media. PepsiCo’s Karpf instructed, “it’s really about process and clearly defined roles, so the trick is finding the right team and a cohesiveness that allows the process to move forward.” Confirmed Davis, “I have always found it helpful to establish joint objectives with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.”

Instead of plopping social media into a pre-existing department structure, this author can’t help but wonder why more companies aren’t trying a new and highly collaborative approach. Despite the inherent challenges of cross-departmental collaboration, if ever there were a time to try something new, this would be it. Social media simply touches too many disciplines from customer service to PR, human resources to marketing, recruiting to sales, to rationalize keeping the old departmental fences in place. (Note: this article first appeared on

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *