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Why marketing shouldn’t own social

Social & Digital

Why marketing shouldn’t own social


Roger Christie says the expectations on marketing do not align with the opportunities for social.

I’m about to explain why marketing shouldn’t own social.

…still reading?

To be clear, I absolutely value marketing and its willingness to pursue and build social media marketing capabilities, particularly given my own heritage. But the opportunity for ‘social’ is much broader than social media marketing, and it is this tension that has led to limited returns and frustration with social for many organisations.

When you review industry performance, activities and attitudes, it’s clear functional ownership of social has only hampered organisations’ ability to derive and deliver new sources of value. Siloed ownership is only preventing competitiveness and relevance in today’s digital age – let me explain.


Understanding our fixation on social ‘short-termism’

There’s no doubt the ‘trial and error’ attitude most Australian organisations have towards social today is impacting the ability of social teams to deliver real, sustainable value outside ad hoc campaigns. In the digital age – when channels, consumer loyalties and technologies change daily – experiments are often more alluring than plans. And while trialling and testing new initiatives isn’t itself a problem, continual experimentation without an underlying vision or strategy presents risk, possible wastage and an inconsistent customer experience.

This is where the industry finds itself today with social.

But what does this short-term experiment mindset lead to? Why is this relevant to marketing?


Marketing has always been the first to respond

In the past decade, marketing has been forced to understand and respond to an ever-growing number of channels, tools and technologies as customer behaviour has changed. They have dramatically transformed the way marketing performs and engages different consumer groups, with social media being one of these ‘categories’, if you will.

Marketing has been forced to react, adapt and change its approach as social media has gone from earned to owned to paid.

Marketing took the lead on ‘all things social’ – learning what it was about, how best to leverage these channels and how best to address increasing customer expectations to ensure organisations remained relevant and present in customers’ lives. And as the traditional custodian, driver and innovator for social, it should be credited with much of the ingenuity around the use of social media channels to deliver new sources of value.

Australian organisations have been pre-conditioned to believe social is a marketing responsibility.

And, up to this point, marketing has been best positioned to champion the transition.


The expectations on marketing do not align with the opportunities for social

However, the market has come a long way in ten years. Customers are no longer just looking for tailored, personalised communications delivered on the right channels – they’re looking for tailored, personalised product and service experiences. That’s a bloody big change. It’s also a challenge that requires more than marketing to solve.

Yet, when you look at the way organisations approach social today, it’s fair to suggest senior leaders are expecting marketing to make sense of that challenge. In fact, we did our own research recently and found only two social leads within the ASX50 have a non-marcomms background*.

Only two.

What does this number mean? It means 95% of the leading organisations in Australia have a marketing or Corporate Affairs lens on social. And if the role and value of social extends beyond marketing interests, this means you either have a situation where:

  1. social initiatives and opportunities outside marketing are overlooked or undervalued,
  2. social initiatives and opportunities outside marketing are managed by those without experience in those areas, or (at worst)
  3. social initiatives and opportunities outside marketing are ignored to ensure only those opportunities that deliver value to marketing are pursued.


It’s an interesting dynamic. When marketing is expected to own, authorise, oversee and assess the performance of initiatives that do not align with marketing expertise or KPIs, it’s not surprising impact is limited. Focusing on developing and delivering relevant, targeted, efficient communications is valuable in the context of marketing, but social offers so much more to organisations.

‘Social’ has evolved, and social media marketing is only one piece of the puzzle

‘Social’ is now bigger than marketing. ‘Social’ is also bigger than Service. ‘Social’ is bigger than Sales. Rather than being a thing owned by a functional area, social is in fact a way for all functional areas to improve the way they meet overarching organisational goals and exceed customer expectations.

When you see research that suggests 88% of marketers can’t measure return on investment for social media activities, don’t immediately assume that is because marketers don’t understand or know how to measure social. It simply means marketing is being asked to manage challenges, initiatives and responsibilities aligned with aspects of business that don’t relate to marketing. The issues stem from the very fact that social isn’t a marketing discipline, but ‘it’ has ended up there.

Implications on organisation structures and ownership

So what does this mean for organisations with existing social teams, particularly the 95% led by marketing or corporate affairs? Two things.

Firstly, the opportunity for social extends beyond marketing. Times have changed, the opportunities have changed, and the way organisations leverage the value of social must change. Social has outgrown its stay within marketing, and a whole-of- business approach ensures organisations aren’t just competing on campaigns but creating competitive businesses today.

At Propel, we talk about social capabilities, not channels. We talk about building our clients’ capacity to leverage social data, technologies and understanding of customer behaviours to drive genuine business outcomes. If that happens through social media marketing, fantastic. If that happens through social customer care, fantastic.

Our interests lie in sourcing the right opportunities based on customer evidence and organisation strategy, not functional affiliations.

This means organisations looking to increase the value gleaned from social capabilities need skilled expertise in each functional area, or a capability whose responsibility extends across internal teams.

Build social capabilities in strategy or customer, with a remit to look at social as a whole-of-business opportunity.

Secondly, however – and importantly – marketing should absolutely still ‘own’ and be responsible for social media marketing efforts. It should guide an organisation’s use of channels, tools and technology in the social space as they relate to the customer. And it should be measured on its ability to do so effectively and efficiently as part of the marketing mix.

This frees up responsibility from the aspects of social that marketing isn’t equipped to manage, and allows marketing teams to focus on those areas it understands best. Furthermore, marketing strengthens its value as a manager of marketing-related social capabilities – as do all other parts of the business in their own right – connected through a strategic central capability.

Moving from social media marketing to social capabilities

Look now at your own organisation and consider a few questions:

  1. Who owns social?
  2. How does that influence the development of strategy and the contribution social makes to your business?
  3. Have opportunities outside the owner’s area of interest been identified, encouraged and nurtured?
  4. Have you been able to demonstrate the value of social aligned with organisational goals rather than functional goals?


Assessing the way your organisation approaches social helps you understand the cause behind many of the symptoms that limit performance and restrict business outcomes from social. Own, manage and excel with social media marketing – yes.

Work with the rest of the organisation to uncover new sources of value and opportunity to harness social capabilities. This is where ‘customer-centric intentions’ meet ‘customer-centric actions’, and why social plays a key role for all organisation stakeholders.


Roger Christie is founder and managing director of Propel Group (Australia)

* Research was conducted in July 2016 via LinkedIn, assessing social lead roles for the ASx50. Six businesses did not have a dedicated lead. Of the remaining 44 businesses, 27 came from a marketing background. 15 from corporate affairs, one from HR and one from sales.


Image copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo


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