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The HR Department Should Own Social Media

September 23rd, 2009 · 46 Comments

It seems that there is still debate on which department in a company owns social media. The question is whether it’s Marketing, Public Relations, or Customer Service.

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) Marketing, PR and CS all have irons in the fire, but the real answer is the whole company needs to be involved which means HR should be the owner of SM.

Brian Solis weighs in with his thoughts, “it’s the customer who owns it” Which is profound but not terribly helpful for a company to implement.

Joseph Jaffe states his case that it’s everyone in the company who owns social media in an “integrated” fashion. Again a good idea and true but not very actionable.

Rachel Nicole had a far ranging discussion of it recently with Chris Brogan, Jason Falls, Rob Hahn, Charlene Li, Scott Monty, and David Meerman Scott.

My belief is that for a company to be truly successful in social media it must be a part of the company philosophy. It should be standard policy for everyone in the company. For that reason the true ownership of Social Media should be in the Human Resources Department. They need to be given guidance by Marketing and Public Relations, but HR should own the social media implementation.

Every company that is a thought leader in the field, Zappo’s, Dell, Southwest Airlines, all have hundreds of bloggers who are allowed to say whatever they want. Understanding that they must live with the consequences. And their people are doing an excellent job of representing the companies.

Marketing and PR must give guidance to the entire company on the messages, and the ways that will be received. And HR must work closely with Marketing and PR when an employee says the wrong thing. But Marketing and PR are not equipped to handle this alone. So the fight isn’t between them

Can you give me 1 Good Reason why the HR Department shouldn’t be the manager of Social Media at your company? Leave your comment below:

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Tags: Reasons For Net Marketing · Truthful Tuesday

46 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Justin Kownacki // Sep 23, 2009 at 9:21 am

    HR “owning” social media presumes that the primary function of social media in *every* company is to support its employees. While you could make that argument, you could just as easily argue that the sole function of social media in any company is to increase sales… or raise consumer awareness… or any other aspect of business that’s “good for the company as a whole.”

    But not every company is run the same way, or has the same goals, or the same team. And while HR may be skittish about letting SM marketers define their company culture, those SM marketers would be just as concerned about handing over final say on all promotional efforts to the office responsible for employee retention.

  • 2 Chris Kieff // Sep 23, 2009 at 9:44 am

    Justin,
    I’m only assuming that every company should have a broad SM footprint. I wasn’t thinking of it for internal use at all. I’m thinking that employees are communicating about the company to the public. Just as we do in our real lives. Therefore all employees have the right and duty to do that as they see fit. HR should advise them on how the company wants that done, with guidance from Mktg and PR.
    Chris

  • 3 Scott Monty // Sep 23, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    The department that should steward social media (note I didn’t say “own,” because it should be a distributed/democratized function) is the department that understands it best and can educate others on it. HR certainly should have a role, but the ownership should come from specialists who can truly speak the language and understand the nuances of the communications method.

    HR isn’t in charge of email, are they?

  • 4 Chris Kieff // Sep 24, 2009 at 6:45 am

    Scott,
    HR doesn’t own email, or the telephones. But they do administer the instruction on company policy to use them. No 976 calls, no porno emails, etc.

    For a company to do SM right it needs to be ubiquitous and that means it’s as distributed as telephones and email.

    HR should tell all employees how to use SM in the same manner. With appropriate guidance from all stakeholders.

    Chris

  • 5 gianandrea facchini // Sep 24, 2009 at 7:08 am

    I wish to try to outline another definition.

    HR should define rules and limits for Social Media tools adoption by employees (but do not forget my assumption that employees are the first customers of any corporation, company, etc.).

    Marketing and Communication should define the integration of Social Media within the overall strategy.

    Indeed, any corporation, company has its own structure and this may affect the above definition.

  • 6 Patti Breckenridge // Sep 24, 2009 at 10:18 am

    I like what our company is doing. The Strategy Support department is leading a discussion among the major players (Marketing, Public Affairs, Recruiting, Labor Relations, Legal) to set high-level objectives and measurement standards. The CEO and the President will both review and provide feedback. Then each function can do their own thing as long as they abide by those high-level objectives. I don’t think HR should own SocialMedia because they aren’t the experts in Public Affairs or Marketing products and services. And I don’t think any of those departments should own Social Media because they aren’t experts in Recruiting.

  • 7 Ellen Naylor // Sep 24, 2009 at 10:34 am

    I don’t think it’s a one size fits all implementation or ownership issue. In the companies where I worked, both large Fortune 500, it would definitely be PR who would own social media, since honestly HR was not respected and would not be listened to. But if a message came from PR, it would be taken more seriously. The point I make is like other business functions, the company’s culture should be the deciding factor about who ‘owns’ a particular function. The important thing is to have the discussion and have a well articulated and circulated SN policy. Ideally it would be good to include even as employees are hired and leave the company, and there it would be up to HR to administer.

  • 8 Michael VanDervort // Sep 24, 2009 at 10:55 am

    I work in HR and I don’t think HR should “own” social media. I don’t think marketing, communications, or PR should own it either.

    I think social media tools should be viewed as just that: tools. The social media strategy should be developed as a multi-functional program that is then utilized, supported and developed to the needs of each department within the parameters of the corporate brand and strategy.

    I also bleieve you should have both internal and external social media strategies.

  • 9 Marc Meyer // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:13 am

    I don’t think any one department can “own it” simply because the messaging can be different across the board. HR doesn’t know nor do they want to know how to push PR releases. They also wouldn’t necessarily understand how to have “conversations” with clients and customers.

    Each department has a functional, utilitarian, use that will differ from the next. My 2 cents.

  • 10 Nick Lawhead // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:14 am

    I agree with your statement: “My belief is that for a company to be truly successful in social media it must be a part of the company philosophy.” However, I do not think that this means HR has to own social media. The company philosophy needs to be present in business sales efforts, operations and client operations – in effect, everywhere.

    I believe social media belongs with the communications department because this is the team that is responsible for communicating the company’s philosophy in the most frequent and proactive manner. Social media also needs to be part of the companies business strategy! This is often conveyed in the communications department.

    Thanks & great read!
    @nlawhead

  • 11 Sean McDonald // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:16 am

    Does HR own the customer? No, they don’t; but they have a responsibility for ensuring the success of the company. HR should participate in the formulation of policy and training for employees to connect with customers via social media. But HR is one participant, not de facto the owner.

  • 12 leanneclc // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Chris,

    I disagree. At my old company, PR was in charge of the way the company was perceived and talked about, even by employees. HR was the enforcer when something went awry.

    Now SM is a communication/networking tool. End of story. And PR/marketing should be the one to steward the company messaging. The simple fact is HR doesn’t get that they are in the “marketing” business – http://www.hrbartender.com/2009/strategic/its-about-marketing/

    I just sat through a very good conference session with Adidas – who wanted HR to own the SM strategy…but the simple fact was, a lot of what HR wanted to do, marketing was already doing and doing successfully. While HR was bumbling around trying to figure it out and reinvent the wheel. I agree with Scott…go with the pros in your organization…not an org. chart.

  • 13 Denis Hancock // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:23 am

    “My belief is that for a company to be truly successful in social media it must be a part of the company philosophy. It should be standard policy for everyone in the company. For that reason the true ownership of Social Media should be in the Human Resources Department”

    By that logic, everything that is part of the company philosophy should be “owned” by Human Resources… which seems like a bit of a stretch.

  • 14 Meg // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:24 am

    The assumption that HR departments could own social media assumes that the HR department is on top of or in charge of setting the outward facing goals of the company on a larger scale than I believe they are.

    HR is concerned with legalities externally (that employees don’t defame the company) and resolution internally (keeping the human side of the place humming.

    However, when it comes to the nuances of interacting with customers, figuring out the right way to carry the company message forward, navigating the rough waters of reputation conflicts online, and communicating about products/services, I don’t think HR is equipped to do the job properly at all.

    They are there to support, equip and monitors employees, but social media efforts by a company should never just be about employees or the company.

    HR, as Scott said, should have a voice, but the range of topics is so much larger than HR can or should address.

    Any rules set up by the company as to SM usage should come from a collaboration between marketing/PR, HR, management and even Legal.

    Then Marketing runs the ship, because they are in charge of the outward facing message of the company.

    HR should only really step in again if an employee breaks from standards and the situation needs resolving.

    HR simply isn’t an external department.

  • 15 Ron Casalotti // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:25 am

    I think that if a company is serious about leveraging social media to its fullest potential, it should be owned by… the Social Media department — with reporting directly to the Chief Strategy Officer (or equivalent). The question you need to ask is, is Social Media here to stay (and grow) or is it just a passing fad? You know my answer.

  • 16 Ryan // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:27 am

    If your social media posts have to go through HR, Legal, or management, you’re doing it wrong.

    The policy should be “make it clear that you’re not the company, and use good judgement”

    Anything more and you’re taking the “personalism” out of social media.

  • 17 Dave Matteson // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:28 am

    If the goal of using SM is to increase sales, create product awareness, etc., then yes HR should be involved to some extent. BUT, if a company is using SM purely to share a company’s culture (see twitter feeds @pyschwrites, @sportscenter, and other behind-the-scenes types) then HR would only muddy the goal, as they are often not in sync with the office culture (sad but often true). It really just depends on the nature of the information being shared.

  • 18 Sagar Jethani // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Here’s a reason: HR tends to suck the life out of a company.

    Far from practicing Jack Welch’s ideal of making people feel passionate about the work they do, HR today is reduced to little more than administering benefits and organizing the company picnic. It is the one department within a company that tends to elicit feelings of fear and mistrust from employees.

    And now you want to entrust it with the mandate of running social media? I don’t think so. One of the few things HR does well is minimize a company’s liability. It’s an important task, but, in practice, this would amount to letting your legal counsel approve your employees’ tweets & Facebook posts. The result would be an anodyne, safe, vanilla social media campaign– something akin to the proliferation of uninspiring corporate blogs.

    The great thing about social media is its spontaneity; its ability to help companies put a truly human face on their brand. The companies who exemplify this do so without the handicap of passing everything through HR first.

  • 19 Mark Charmer // Sep 24, 2009 at 11:43 am

    Chris / Scott

    I’m of the view that it’s the researchers, engineers, product designers and customer-facing staff who should ‘own’ social media inside organisations, with new kinds of external groups acting as conduits between these people and the networks of influencers, customers, etc on the ‘outside’.

    HR and “marketing/communications” will dip into this stream of interactions, smoothing any problems that evolve and generally keeping their ear to the ground learning what’s happening in the organisation.

    Of course, that’s not going to be an easy process until comms and HR let go. Which will take a long time. Thats’ because the world is full of comms (and HR) people who get paid a lot of money to say “no” a lot of the time. They’re like Cylons – there are many copies.

    What’ll happen next? Well I think comms will typically remain the conduit through which material is packaged for more traditional media and communication challenges and they’ll grudgingly accept they can’t control all the other flows. Comms and HR will likely often work in concert to coach people around the business to help them all evolve their own communication styles, using the tools (video, Twitter, photos, blogs, etc) that most suit their style. Of these, video is the silver bullet tool for the next 3 years in my view.

    I think we’ll see some interesting structural changes too. Comms people will become more like curators, gathering storylines (and internal to external interactions) and packaging them in original ways, rather than the rather sluggish, tired case study format that dominates right now. But my bet is HR’s traditional role in managing internal communications is likely to diminish.

    The most interesting thing is how internal and external communications will begin to look the same.

    Mark

  • 20 Jon Burg // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    Chris, I love you, but I disagree.

    HR doesn’t set communications policy, they enforce and educate it. HR doesn’t set communications goals, they hire people to do it.

    Your customers define it’s success, but your integrated “taskforce” or team is going to “own” your inputs. After all, communications are two way, and we need two people to have a conversation (both customers and brands are key).

    Increasingly, most brands and agencies look to a thought leader to guide, a but have multi-disciple taskforce working on it.

    HR is part of the game, but claiming that HR should “own” social is like saying that the DMV owns your car.

  • 21 Ed Krebs // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    This seems to presume that HR owns and administers all policy. Not so at all companies. In some corporations, Legal owns many, some which HR may co-administer. And what is the definition of “own”? In some companies, that means it’s the deparment who’s budget must cover the technology as well as the policy. I like Scott’s nomination of distributed ownership and competent stewardship. (Disclaimer: I work for the same company as Scott, but my comments and insight are my own opinion).

  • 22 Jeff Swanson // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:22 pm

    1 good reason is that depending on what social media aspect where talking about, the HR department doesn’t always have the expertise about the industry that other departments might have.

    I like the idea of educating the HR department, but it has to be spread out depending on the social media platform. Customer service might make replies on Twitter, HR might do some PR-related stuff, and the marketers or maybe even engineers (if that is the case) might answer technical questions in a forum setting.

    Eventually, certain parts of social media should be responsibilities of certain positions in the company. Not one department doing it all.

  • 23 Lori Hedrick // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I believe social media will be the catalyst that forces us, whether we’re ready or not, into what it means to operate as truly collaborative organizations. Hopefully people and departments will recognize they must bring their respective expertise to the table and will work together with others without trying to “own” a function like social media. Everyone has their part from HR to marketing to technology.

  • 24 Bayard Saunders // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    Does the HR department create customer service rep manuals? Does the HR department create the brand style guide?

    What all companies need before formal adoption of social media is a “Social Media Style Guide.” This is a cross between the brand style guide that mandates things like restrictions on the use of the company logo, and the customer service rep manual that mandates things like asking a customer if you’ve resolved all the issues before ending a phone call.

    If your HR department does those things (customer service and brand style guides) offline, then they should do it for online social media as well. If not, and most don’t, then HR should not try to manage social media.

    Perhaps HR can take the lead in social media and manage a company’s LinkedIn profile (and job postings), and Twitter channels for job postings. Sodexo is a good example of this – their HR does much more with social media than any other part of the company.

    Facebook fan pages and Twitter customer service or sales channels should be managed by marketing, customer service and sales respectively. All departments doing social media should adhere to (and help create and keep updated) the corporate Social Media Style Guide.

  • 25 Tom O'Brien // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm

    Chris:

    I have worked in a lot of companies and I can tell you one thing. Companies with deep, shared understanding of the mission do not get it from HR – they get it from leadership.

    HR does policy & adminstration (mostly) and I think having HR own SM would be the kiss of death in most organizations.

    SM requires Sr. Mgmt commitment, leadership, budgets and support.

    TO’B

  • 26 Kelsi Guidry // Sep 24, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    Here is the basic equasion.
    Social Media = People
    The controlling of people = HR
    therefor…. Social Media = HR

    HR should be the main department in control and teaching about social media. If the social media expert among the company is in the PR department, he now has a bigger say so in the HR department.

    However, each department will use Social Media as a tool just as they use a fax or phone as a tool.

    Kelsi

  • 27 Kurt // Sep 24, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    What’s next, how you can talk with people off campus. How about if people/aka employees take personable responsibility for what comes out of their mouth’s.

  • 28 Sue Anne Reed // Sep 24, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Actually, in most companies that I’ve worked for the policies and procedures that Chris describes (976 calls, etc.) are created by and administered by the IT department – HR doesn’t have a role in them at all.

  • 29 Sue Anne Reed // Sep 24, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    I agree with Justin that it depends on what the goals of the organization are in regards to social media as to who should “steward” (love that Scott Monty) social media implementation and messaging.

    If you look at Comcast, they are largely using social media as a customer service tool and so the “face” of the organization on social media is one of their lead customer service managers.

    As social media expands, different departments are going to take ownership of their niche.

  • 30 Grace // Sep 24, 2009 at 2:45 pm

    It depends to what extent a company is using social media. If it’s merely an afterthought that some employees are pursuing on their own, then HR policies suggesting what is/isn’t permitted (along the lines of general telephone/internet use policies) are fine. But the Communications/Marketing/Development departments should “own” the social media strategy, implementation, metrics, message, and tone for official company social networking accounts. If it’s part of an integrated online communications strategy, it does not belong to HR, though HR can assist in establishing and communicating policies.

    Phones, email, and internet are merely tools, as is social networking, used to convey a message. HR can implement restrictions related to personal use, but should not control the external message a company and its employees are putting out. And with the line between professional/personal use often blurred, the communications department needs to issue the branding and message guidelines. There can be different sides to a company’s social media policy, and one of them can be the HR side, but it should not be exclusively within or primarily administered and managed by HR.

  • 31 Dave Matteson // Sep 24, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Grace,

    My point exactly, but written better. :) Well said.

  • 32 Jeremiah Owyang // Sep 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Social is a topic or trend, not a department :)

    But, who “should” own it vs reality are two different things.

    I actually conducted research, and did a survey, and it was clearly owned by marketing. Hands down at my previous role.

    However in the end, marketing (or whoever owns it) must be a platform to empower the right folks in the company to participate. It’s less about ownership than it is empowering others.

  • 33 Guy Stephens // Sep 25, 2009 at 8:45 am

    I don’t think any one department should own it, as it draws on the different skills that run across a business. What I am finding through the daily use of Twitter (@guyatcarphone) as a customer service channel where I work (The Carphone Warehouse) is that it appears marketing is beginning to provide a topline strategic approach to its use, legal and HR are providing a framework within which our employees can use it responsibly, and areas such as customer service and sales are putting it all into practice on a day to day basis. It requires a multidisciplinary approach where all interested parties come together, contribute and work towards creating what I call an approach of ‘freedom within a framework’.

  • 34 J Ash // Sep 25, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    HR has its strengths, but if you really want to enable your employees to speak on behalf of your company and its products, as your side-job sales force — which they do all the time as they go about their lives — than that should not be constrained through a narrow pipe called HR! HR should probably publish a social media policy to guide employees in their social media interactions e.g. No company secrets! but like the free market economy — to have the system thrive, you must let it be open and it will self-adjust to the right levels.

  • 35 Ari Herzog // Sep 26, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    When you consider new employees are hired through HR without senior management knowing about the new hires, HR shouldn’t be in charge of social media. Or, are you implying senior management who leave HR to HR shouldn’t worry about SM?

    …and what of those entities without HR departments?

  • 36 Andrew Thomas // Sep 27, 2009 at 12:56 am

    I think the hypothesis is already a redundant one.

    We recently held a big debate on a similar topic in Communicate magazine with the MD from a PR agency battling it out against a search director from a SEO firm. Whilst it made interesting reading I did slightly get the feeling that it was an arguement already out of date. I’m not sure how big Scott Monty’s team is, but with SAP having a social media team of 35 and Starbucks’ team of 6 being described as small I would say that increasingly the logical department to run social media is the social media department.

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  • 41 Jon Ingham // Oct 5, 2009 at 5:57 am

    Chris, interesting post.

    My perspective is that HR should own social capital, but probably not social media.

    See: http://blog.social-advantage.com/2009/10/hrs-responsibility-for-social-capital.html

    Jon.

  • 42 Ken Wallich // Dec 9, 2009 at 4:43 pm

    A good topic for conversation, and I agree with your premise, Chris, that at some level, there is a corporate communication oversight to social media. Meg eloquently described my take, that HR is not the group that oversees corporate communications/identity.

    The assumption that HR = people, or even the development and behavior of people is certainly not the case in the companies I’ve worked for over the years.

    By and large, HR is there to keep a company from from breaking the law in matters of employee relations. That’s their primary (and important) function. To set policies on how employees work with others that are within the law, and to monitor and enforce that behavior.

    Yes, there there are other functions HR provides, but primarily, it’s education and enforcement of policy. A violation of corporate social media policy, such as an employee talking about confidential information, or publicly fighting with a competitor or customer will usually be _enforced_ by HR. Think of HR as the police, not the legislators.

    Social media is a conversation. A relationship with the individuals in an organization, and everyone else: customers, potential customers, competitors, naysayers. If anyone owns or oversees the social media conversations in a company, it’s the same group that owns external company communication. That is generally marketing or corporate PR.

    Larger companies have internal and external marketing groups, in addition to a corporate communications department. The trick there is to cause the corporate communications groups embrace social media and the conversations it encourages. Traditionally, corporate communications is focused on the executives and the messages they give in the name of the company, and not at all on the rank and file of the company communicating with the public.

    For smaller companies, this is more of a challenge, since any marketing/communications staff will be swamped with just getting the day-to-day work for the company done, much less set guidelines and monitor social media trends, however, that’s a new task that needs to be part of a companies fabric, with dedicated staff to support it.

    So, part of the company philosophy? I totally agree, what group in the company should oversee it? IMHO, the group that writes corporate press releases and develops the CEO’s messaging, whoever that is in your organization.

    -Ken

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  • 44 Stephen Dill // Oct 3, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Holy sheet, Chris! You touched off a bit of a firestorm there, didn’t you!?

    I am late to the party, but skimming the thousands of words I didn’t see too many observations including the words “responsibility” or “CEO.” If ownership implies responsibility in your book as it does mine, then the CEO owns SM. The CEO can delegate authority to conduct SM—and should—to everyone in the company and delegate the authority to manage SM to one department. That department is their choice, though I tend toward Marketing as, when used right, social media is a collection of tools of message integration and communication, which are clearly the lingua franca of marketing.

    But again, if the CEO “owns” SM and conveys their commitment to the proper use of SM tools and methods, then every department head should be taking “how to” direction from the SM authority (Marketing, in my example) and implementing it in their departments. Agree?

    Just so you know, I came looking for your WordPress plugin recco’s, landed off FB on a 404 page, and clicked through to here. Ain’t SM grand?!

  • 45 Chris Kieff // Oct 4, 2010 at 6:32 am

    Thanks for the comment Stephen. You bring up some good points. I’ll revisit this again soon, good idea.

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