Who owns social media?

Of course no one owns social media. Social Media is the way people express themselves using powerful new tools, and they cannot be controlled. No one can stop someone tweeting a piece of news, for example, which can then trigger off a groundswell of activity online.

Companies have been structured into hierarchies, with information traditionally moving from the bottom upwards and top downwards. This is how most companies are modelled. But social media travels freely, regardless of company structures – anyone with a phone can quickly find information and share it with their friends. It is so accessible, and there are so many ways for people to use social media online and express themselves without having to have a meeting first, write a proposal, make a business case, seek permission or go through interview processes.

Social media is very fast, 24 hours a day, accessible, open and democratic. So if you have something interesting to say, then you will be rewarded with people online voting you up the pecking order or sharing your content. They will not read or share what you say simply because you hold a certain position in a company. Nor will they necessarily respect you because you hold a certain position in a company. It is what you say and what you share, and how you say it and how you share it that counts.

Against this backdrop – or rather infiltration of life with social media through phones, laptops, blackberries, iPads, TVs, game consoles etc – companies naturally need to put in place social media strategies.

So who owns the strategies? There are a variety of models in the marketplace, including a centralised approach where a team stipulates company policies and guidelines, sets out best practice, and oversees training of people, so that these then officially engage on behalf of the company – and so on. Some companies are more engaged than others, depending on the cultural condition of the business, the types of people within it and their mindsets, and how it is structured.

There is an interesting piece about this from Intel. They admit they cannot turn all their employees into social media experts but they realise they need to provide training and guidelines to protect the brand. Having spent so much on those ‘Intel inside’ ads, they don’t want someone to blow it by tweeting something damaging.

Intel’s approach is centralised, which clearly works for them, but in the social media world there is no so-called ‘centre’. Valuable insights and information can break from anywhere, which means management of companies has to be more open-minded and more open in structure and in sharing of information.

There needs to be more opportunities for staff to participate in the making of decisions. It is a difficult balance to strike between maintaining control and being open. The degrees of tension that companies experience, and how they manage that tension, will go some way, I think, to defining their successful transition to a more open and connected world.

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