Defining social media relations

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How does your company approach social media? We've looked at how to respond to bloggers and who does blogger relations, and I'm seeing the need for a coordinating role. Rather than blogger relations, let's call it social media relations, because there's more to social media than blogs, and your company needs to be prepared to engage customers wherever they are. In this post, I'll provide a high-level view—for discussion—of the role of social media relations.

Companies can interact with social media in a variety of ways. I've given some examples in the posts on product reviews, Wikipedia, search engine crisis management, and social networks. You could also look at the marketing experiments in MySpace and Second Life and the Social Media Release. There's a lot of activity, and it touches multiple functional groups and multiple vendors to the company.

I view social media relations (SMR) as an interdisciplinary specialty that spans marketing, technology, and Internet culture—three components of any successful strategy for engaging social media. It's probably an internal function, but where it belongs on the org chart and how big it should be is a question for individual companies to consider. Briefly, SMR is the "go-to" person (or group) for the topic of social media as it affects the company. Here's a summary of the responsibilities of the role:

  1. Coordinate the development and implementation of social media engagement strategy and policies, including blogging policy, formal blogger relations programs and social media monitoring programs.

    1. Maintain domain knowledge in social media. Be a resource for others who need to understand new services and their potential impact on the business.

    2. Maintain awareness of company's activities in social media and contacts for the various activities.

    3. Be an advocate for the understanding of social media and how they affect the company's marketing and communications activities.

    4. Engage the company's IT organization to coordinate IT resources and policies with social media strategy.

  2. Train functional groups (such as marketing, communications, and HR) on the technology and culture of social media as it relates to their roles.

  3. Coordinate company's tactical response to social media issues.

    1. Consult with internal groups on appropriate responses to social media issues. Advise on the likely response of online communities to the company's plan.

    2. Coordinate company response to social media crises; track engagement by appropriate groups (internal and external).

  4. Serve as the primary contact for external service providers and vendors who support the monitoring of, and engagement with social media.

This year, when most CEOs don't see the need to interact with bloggers and fear social media (if they understand it at all), this is ahead of the curve. While we're still sorting this out among friends, what do you think?

[Thanks to Mark Harris for his help in reviewing and reorganizing the list. With enough of us on the case, we may just get this figured out.]

Update (27 July 2007): Is this your job, or close to it? I'm looking for social media specialists to interview for an upcoming paper on the role and how real companies have approached it. If you're the social media person in your company, I'd like to talk with you, even—especially—if your description is different from the above. Email me at nathan (at) net-savvy (dot) com.

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13 Comments

I just spoke at the Bulldog Reporter events in NYC and San Francisco on social media. Your points are well taken - while most of the folk in the room now know about blogs and have some blogger policies in mind, social media is still very new to them. But they are interested. Statistics just out from Hitwise show that 1 in 20 web visits are to a social networking site. There is a growing need for training in social media. and although it might take some time before we see in house social media officers, it's certainly a needed post.

PRESSfeed is one good resource for info on content syndication and social media

Nathan - very interesting model that addresses many issues of how corporations *will/should* embrace social media. My 2 cents .. from my perspective .. while I love my pals in IT, social media is not an IT function supported by marketing. Social media is a marketing function that is supported by IT. To be effective, it must be integrated into an organization's master marketing plan and support goals and objects. And as with any other legit, credible strategy be developed with unique goals/objectives for the initiative. If not it's simply a 'me too play toy.'

Sally, thanks for your comments. It's nice to have audiences with some awareness now, isn't it? It's hard to talk to people about social media and their business when you have to start with a definition of blog.

Toby, I agree that social media strategy and the SMR role belong in marketing. IT is a supporting player with an important role: beyond providing the infrastructure, they need to be the experts on the implications of social media within their realm. For example, I just read an article about potential security issues with the use of public social bookmarking services (such as del.icio.us). There are obviously other corporate functions that will have their say on social media (legal and HR come to mind), but IT has a unique ability to support or obstruct the company's efforts.

I'm unsure that you had me in mind, but I've learned a lot from your post.

I'm the CEO of a start-up mental health clinic. We are different insomuch as we do all of our counseling virtually. We provide other services in person, like methadone and other pharmacological treatments in person (by DEA rules that has to be the case).

I'm struggling to educate my staff to see their audience from a new perspective. I've demanded of them that they create a web presence, including a blog, lens and join groups and social networks.

All in the line of creating the online skill set to demonstrate that they are trustworthy and to promote our corporate brand.

All this to say thanks for spelling it out in the manner you have. I'll direct my staff to visit your site to learn what and how social media works.

Hi Nathan,

I got to your blog through my friend, Jeremiah's blog. You've quite an interesting write-up on social media.

As an avid advocate of corporate blogging, I understand the ideas you're trying to codify.

But my question to you is, do you think podcasts & videocasts are as relevant to an enterprise company as they are to a consumer focused company?

Mario

Thanks, Mario.

I don't have a strong opinion on podcasts—audio or video. I've talked to some executives who value them (from the audience perspective), so there's some B2B audience out there. I personally don't have a lot of time for media I can't skim, but I'd probably be more interested if I had a long commute.

I would think that the key is to produce a quality podcast on a topic that gets people's interest, whether it's consumer- or enterprise-focused. The enterprise audience is probably smaller but high-quality. Whether that works for you depends on your goals.

Interesting write ups here. I think that social media monitoring is neither strictly an IT function or a marketing function--it's a PR function. Your SMR role functions relate directly to PR: monitoring and maintaining awareness for company knowledge, advocating its effects to company heads, these are all public relations functions. PR serves the company by keeping it up to date on stakeholder public opinion and issues (environmental scanning). Social Media is a direct link to that insight.

Brian,

PR is certainly one possible home for the function, and probably the right one for a lot of companies. A key consideration is who (by name) is going to take the lead in any given company. If the natural leader in this role wears a marketing hat (or customer service, or competitive intelligence, or...), then that's where you might consider basing the activity.

But I definitely agree that a lot of the implications of social media impact flow back to PR, so that group should be significantly involved, at least.

We're seeing more real job openings as companies commit their budgets to interacting with social media. It would be interesting to have some actual data of where those jobs are ending up.

Hi Nathan,

What a great post. I just started in this position at Spoke.com and this is a very clear depiction of a lot of the concepts we've been kicking around.

Con

Thanks, Con. I look forward to hearing more about what you're doing.

I'm new to the CM or SMR role in my company and one of the first tasks I have to do is figure out my goals and set them. But I'm having a hard time defining those goals, # of blog posts, traffic to site, trackbacks, internal employee satisfaction, etc. What would see as goals for this role? What do you get up each morning and try and reach for?

An exciting platform could be virtual reality. Already its being used by various organizations to promote their products and services. An interesting option it seems to me.

Andrew,
I had a similar role when I was at yahoo but my role reported into sales so the goals that I had were related to revenue. Which is hard but measurable.

Finding new customers online could be one of your responsibilities.

Link building can be another, since you'll likely be reaching out to bloggers, winning them over and winning links in the processes.

Its not much but I hope it helps. You might also want to go back a year and see how much coverage the company got in the blogs and how much buzz there was whenever they put out press.

Presumably, your effort will win you relationships that you can call on during press time which should translate into your coverage and more buzz for your company. If you can document the number of blog posts mentioning your company last year and then deliver more mentions (ie buzz) this year..thats measurable.

Look into http://www.buzzlogic.com/ as well. Theyve got a great tool for managing blogger outreach.

The success of your blog should also be factored in. I used traffic, pagerank, inbound links, number of speaking engagements, number of mentions of me in other blogs...to make the case for how much of an impact I has having.

Hope it helps.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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