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Summary:

Who should handle your company’s social media accounts? Should the job be assigned to a single person, or spread among a number of individuals? Both the centralized and decentralized approaches have their pros and cons — and a place in an evolving social media strategy.

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Who should handle your company’s social media accounts? Should the job be assigned to a single person, or should it be spread among a number of individuals? Brian Solis’s recent article on The State of Corporate Social Media prompts these questions.

Once, there would have been no question: public-facing communications were handled by marketing and PR departments. But social media has changed the playing field. While Solis’s article points out that “Almost 50% of participating companies in this study house social media in marketing. Another 30-40% place social in corporate communications,” your marketers may be the last people you want making posts to your social media accounts.

A couple of the teams I work with are currently facing this dilemma as they endeavor to broaden their social media presences, and to get greater value from these engagements. Of course, both the centralized and decentralized approaches have their pros and cons — and a place in an evolving social media strategy.

Centralized Control

Having a single person manage an organization’s social media presence is common in organizations that have little social media experience and are looking to build their brands from scratch within the social media sphere. It’s also the norm in organizations that aren’t entirely convinced of the value of social media and/or don’t allow all staff access to social networks in the workplace.

Using a single individual to control a Twitter account works to establish a strong voice, but that voice can seem one-dimensional if competitors use a decentralized approach to social media. Centralized control can also curtail the conversations that your organization winds up engaging in through social media. If your social media person is a PR expert, for example, they’re unlikely to be able to join in technical or discipline-specific conversations, and that can be a major hurdle if you’re looking to build eminence in a certain area of expertise.

The one-person social media department can make shaping and managing your message — and the mechanics of posting updates — easy. It makes one person responsible for the public relations implications of social network activity, which saves organizations from having to give every staff member PR training so they don’t go off half-cocked (even unwittingly) in the time-critical, ultimately personal realm of the social network.

On the other hand, a centralized social media strategy may be untenable for an organization whose audiences span national borders and timezones: it may make engaging in real-time with followers and friends on the other side of the world very difficult.

Decentralized Control

Decentralized control over social media accounts is more common in tech- and media-savvy organizations. Usually a small, close-knit team is given free rein over the accounts, making updates, and responding to followers and friends as they see fit — and their schedules allow. In such cases, the team might be given broad guidelines as to the frequency and scope of updates, but they’re usually allowed the freedom to engage with the organization’s social media audiences as they feel is appropriate.

The strength of a company’s culture is likely to be a big factor in the success of a decentralized approach to social media. A strong sense of unity and culture will automatically preclude certain interactions, and  support others. It can also innately encourage communication in a reasonably standardized voice that, while it’s maintained by many people, is coherent and strong.

It’s true that decentralizing control over your social media accounts can make for peaks and troughs in communications. However, if the staff members who have access to the accounts keep an eye on the activity within those accounts, saturation (or, from followers’ perspectives, spamming) should be fairly easy to avoid. On the other hand, in an organization whose staff don’t understand or value social media, the accounts could quickly become virtual ghost towns if no one takes responsibility for making updates.

The greatest benefit of a decentralized, multidisciplinary engagement strategy is the increased opportunity to engage with audiences at different levels of your organization. Technical experts can engage intelligently with others in their discipline, helping to position the organization as a technical leader. Call center, sales and service staff can build evolving relationships with customers. HR team members can use the media to build the employer’s profile among pools of quality talent. The list goes on.

Give these different individuals access to corporate social media accounts, and you’ll likely see the richness of your brand’s social media interaction soar, and the value — and professional relationships — you gain from these forums skyrocket.

Which Is Best?

You guessed it: there’s no right answer to that question. The option you choose may end up somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum: a hybrid version may help organizations looking to try making the shift from the centralized model to a more decentralized one. Perhaps one individual manages the accounts, for example, but approves updates (or, perhaps more effectively, engagements) by others who also have access.

Rather than throwing the social media accounts open to everyone, the organization might try involving team members from certain disciplines that reflect areas in which the company wants to lead the market. So a business seeking to be an employer of choice might extend social media account access to HR staff and/or employee group representatives, for example.

The way your organization handles its social media presence will ultimately reflect the nature and culture of the company itself. But an organization that trusts its team members to manage the corporate social media presence potentially has more scope to gain value from the exercise.

Does your company use a centralized or decentralized approach to social media?

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  1. Thought-provoking!
    Like any resource, social media investment should be used wisely in order to be effective and add value to relationship building.
    Surprisingly few organisations start with an understanding of their objectives for social or any other type of media. So they look for a text-book answer. And, as we all should know, one size does not fit all.

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  2. A route that many companies don’t really explore is outsourcing their efforts to an expert. This doesn’t fit true for all companies but I have come across more than a handful who have setup a Facebook page and it needed to be completely redone.

    We have a single person who manages all of our social media efforts who is in house but if you want to have it done right, you may want to outsource.

    I have also found that some companies out there have different engagement policies; some consult, some maintain and others just do everything for you. There are plenty of ways to go about managing your social media campaign, you just need to evaluate which category your business falls into and weather you have time to maintain profiles daily.

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    1. That’s a good point, Simon. I guess some companies feel that social media is not something they should be paying for when they can do it all internally (even if that’s not necessarily the best option). We actually have a post up today about when to outsource your social media: http://gigaom.com/collaboration/when-should-you-outsource-your-social-media/

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