Who’s in Charge of Corporate Social Media Efforts?

By Bill Leonard Oct 29, 2013
Now that many businesses have fully embraced social media, employers are grappling with the question of who should manage their organization’s online presence.

According to a recent survey released by The Creative Group in Menlo Park, Calif., executives are divided over which corporate department should oversee social media efforts.

More than 400 U.S. marketing and advertising directors responded to the survey. They said responsibility for social media lies with public relations (39 percent), marketing (35 percent) and customer-service departments (15 percent). The remaining responses were split between the owner/CEO (6 percent) and “Don’t Know” (5 percent).

“Just who owns the company’s social media effort is becoming a bit of a divisive issue in some organizations,” said Martin Morgan, director of sales and marketing at the Raleigh, N.C.-based business group Capital Associated Industries Inc. “You can see in survey data that there really is no clear consensus among business leaders who should control this extremely vital communications and marketing tool.”

All Departments Should Weigh In

According to Morgan, the role of HR in social media is becoming more important as corporate social media initiatives mature.

“If your HR department isn’t involved at some level with your organization’s social media presence, it really should be,” advised Morgan. “Policies on how employees use social media and how they access it at work are crucial; so HR at least must work closely with whatever department oversees social media.”

The growing number of social media outlets and even corporate intranet sites means workers have a lot of options when it comes to using social media—making comprehensive corporate strategies tough to manage.

“Social media is huge, and it’s only going to grow,” he noted, “so it’s definitely something more employers are looking at and trying to decide the best way to manage it.”

A wide array of needs and focus areas among departments can make it difficult, at best, for a single group to manage an entire organization’s social media effort. In its report on the survey, the Creative Group suggested that organizations make social media initiatives inclusive.

“Create cross-departmental working groups to manage social media activities, leveraging the strengths of different teams,” the report recommended. “Be sure to establish clear success metrics and accountability for reaching those goals.”

Morgan agreed with the report’s list of suggestions, but he took it a step further, saying HR managers must ensure that their department’s input isn’t ignored or discounted.

“Each department is going to have their own agenda, and the goals of public relations are going to be different from marketing and advertising,” he said, “so in some ways every department needs to have some control or at least a voice in how the organization’s social media effort works for them.”

Besides setting and communicating usage policies, HR has a crucial part to play in promoting an employer’s brand to potential job candidates and applicants. Numerous studies have found that social media is now an integral part of corporate recruiting efforts. The employment page is typically the most popular element of corporate sites on social media outlets such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+.

“The role HR plays here cannot be understated,” Morgan stressed. “It’s a huge part of promoting an employer’s brand. And it can be miscommunicated or have the wrong emphasis if PR or marketing have total control; so it becomes a very tricky balancing act.”

According to Morgan, the trend has been toward individual departments taking more control over their segments of the company’s social media efforts. Although this may work for some businesses (typically larger and more diverse ones), smaller to midsize companies might find a more coordinated effort works best.

The Creative Group’s report makes several recommendations, which have HR-related implications. First, the report suggests that organizations scout their talent pool and identify employees who have an interest and knack for social media. These workers can help drive and coordinate an organization’s efforts, “whether from a strategy, execution or maintenance standpoint,” the report states.

Another suggestion is to “communicate best practices to all employees, and all staff members should be provided with company guidelines regarding posting content, managing feedback and handling negative comments.”

Finally, the report recommends that employers “identify and hire highly skilled freelancers who have experience developing, launching and managing social media campaigns.”

These contract workers can help lighten workloads and offer outside expertise that an organization may lack, the report concludes.

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.​​


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