Social Media and the Need for New Business Models

Who owns social media? Is it marketing, customer service, public relations?

Looking at a recent study conducted by the Pivot Conference, the top four departments where social media is currently run are as follows:

1. Marketing
2. Public Relations
3. Sales
4. Customer Service

Perhaps, it’s the wrong question to ask however. It’s not unlike asking who owns email. But, here’s another question and as we think about it, let’s broaden our perspective as the answer may not appear immediately.

Who owns the customer relationship?

The short answer is everyone.

If that is the case, then examining how social media is run today is not at all how businesses should think about it tomorrow. A not so long answer to the original question is “any person or department affected by outside activity where public interaction impacts decisions.”

Businesses tend to have a single or narrow view of the customer and as we’re learning, they’re connecting with one another and sharing experiences that transform their roles from prospect to advocate to adversary to influencer and everything in between.

Social media is not about conversations on Twitter and Facebook nor check-ins on Foursquare or Places, or flipped videos on YouTube. It’s about using this opportunity to build bridges to a new genre of customers and the people who influence their decisions. Our mission now is to pave paths to future relevance. The reality is that we are as much competing for the future as we are for the moment. And as a result, we are perpetually competing for relevance.

We can blame it on process, hierarchy, ignorance, lack of budget and anything and everything standing in our way. Or, we can own the acts of socializing the company using social media as a banner for customer centricity across the organization. Maybe we could all follow the advice from my dear friend Hugh MacLeod (@GapingVoid) and create our own #Evilplan for change. Then grab a pair of self-sharpening industrial scissors and run through the hallways to begin the long and arduous process of cutting red tape to free people to collaborate internally and externally.

Someone has to do it.

Without you, even though we’re operating with the best of intentions in social media, we are still operating from silos. The customer however, does not see silos, they sees the company as one. It’s time for an integrated approach to create an adaptive business, a collaborative business, an aspirational business….a business of one.

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  • http://www.itsmyurls.com/BeckyCortino Becky Cortino

    Strength and on-target through integration…

  • http://invisibleinkdigital.com Invisibleinkdigital

    I think ultimately the role of the digital strategist is to act as the connector between the often silo’d areas of corporations. It’s by providing a platform, for others to articulate their departmental goals and tie into a broader corporate strategy that will be the key driver of value going forward

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Yes…well said. The path from here to there is what requires paving today.

  • http://brasstackthinking.com Amber Naslund

    Yes…and here’s the hard part:

    The leader, strategist, whomever or combination of several of those that stewards this change has got to be brave, patient, and strong. The shape of a new social business also needs the shape of a new kind of leader, one who relishes the sometimes gutwrenching challenge of organizational alignment first and foremost. Someone willing to be the bridge, not the person front and center to every decision, but the coach and the moderator and the facilitator.

    It’s risky and scary because it means pissing people off. Questioning redundant roles or obsolete processes that give people a false sense of security and purpose (or at the very least predictable expectations for performance among familiar precedent). Asking audacious questions, the answers to which likely cost in terms of people, money, or both in order to shift directions.

    The role of the changemaker is a difficult one on the best of days and in the most favorable of circumstances. And in the swirling vortex of too much information and not enough context, that person that can rethink organizational alignment through the lens of what it means to be social? They are the ones that are going to thrive.

    Amber

    • Steve McAllister

      I think you’re dead on, Amber. I’ve been giving it a lot of thought about how this new business model could be designed. It seems to me that with the ability we have for micro-transactions an automated payment, we could feasibly do away with much of the excesses brought on by our governments.

  • amanda g

    GREAT article as a new entrepreneur specializing in social for my public relation and management company valid points have been made.

  • http://twitter.com/martin451 fourfiveone

    “Marketing is too important to be left to marketers…”

    The same goes for social media.

    The best way to destroy any hope of engaging with your audience (or building trust through social media participation) is to treat it as just another marketing exercise.

    In my experience the last place you will find any vestiges of innovation, initiative and creativity (or people who are willing to question and confront the status quo) is the marketing department.

    Ideally, everyone in your organisation should be an advocate for your brand… not just the marketers.

    And everyone in your organisation should have ownership of social media. But it’s going to take a great deal of time and effort to change the prevailing hierarchical and silo-based mentality that is endemic within most modern day institutions.

  • Nikolaus Bremerich

    Unfortunately the question “who owns the customer contact” applies not only for social media but for all kinds of customer contacts. Many companies suffer from dividing customer contacts into several type (e.g. “sales contacts”; “commercial service contacts”, “PR Contacts”, “technical service contacts” and so on). Each type is managed seperately with different goals. Some of these contacts are even considered to be a burden (service contacts). This sometimes leads to totally different customer experiences depending on the type of contact which does’nt necessarily improve customer satisfaction. I think, customer contacts (incl. social media) are to important to be divided into several departments. I think it’s high time for a Chief Contact Officer who “owns” all customer contacts in the board.

  • Nikolaus Bremerich

    Unfortunately the question “who owns the customer contact” applies not only for social media but for all kinds of customer contacts. Many companies suffer from dividing customer contacts into several type (e.g. “sales contacts”; “commercial service contacts”, “PR Contacts”, “technical service contacts” and so on). Each type is managed seperately with different goals. Some of these contacts are even considered to be a burden (service contacts). This sometimes leads to totally different customer experiences depending on the type of contact which does’nt necessarily improve customer satisfaction. I think, customer contacts (incl. social media) are to important to be divided into several departments. I think it’s high time for a Chief Contact Officer who “owns” all customer contacts in the board.ype your comment here.

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  • http://www.all-themeparks.com Jenny Esponda

    its very difficult to tell who own customer’s contacts out of these:
    1. Marketing
    2. Public Relations
    3. Sales
    4. Customer Service

    but, true part is everyone needs customers for business and so everyone needs customer’s contacts in their own way. So, I think let them use it in their own way to make their business.

  • http://www.constructionmarketinguk.co.uk Peter L Masters MCIM

    Who owns social media? Is it marketing, customer service, public relations? Good question and personally I think everyone owns it is the right answer and departments must be crazy if they don’t share their Social Media ups and downs. Just as everyone in any company, whether they know it or not, is involved in marketing. I should add, that as a marketing professional, I think it’s grossly unfair to generalize and say you’ll never see any innovation, initiative or creativity in a marketing department, but I’m not here to find an argument or dictate who’s right and who’s wrong and I’ll get back to the subject at hand. Despite many (short sighted) companies banning Twitter and Facebook connectivity during working hours, I agree that anyone interested and responsible enough should be entitled to engage via Social Media. Why not? As Amber quite rightly says, it’s not easy and there are a lot of new challenges. I prefer to embrace new challenges rather than be scared of them, but sadly, not everyone thinks the same and this is why Blogs such as this are such a big help. Thanks Brian. Regards Peter

  • http://Themelis-Cuiper.com Themelis_Cuiper

    Social Media Social Media yea ye yea
    I keep telling people Social Media is not social,
    people are.

    Give your plants water, it would be cruel not to do.
    Why would that be different with your “Friends”

    Peoples have great create ideas online and this energy
    flows over the boards, free positive energy to water the
    thirsty who want some inspiration, some ‘how to’ or some
    structure to work and shape their creativity.

    Yes, people live and think in boxes, company departments in silo’s
    and red tape is automated chaos prevention.

    Chaos and freedom are difficult to control,
    from chaos new inventions arise from ideas not carved in stone.

    connectivity we have, where are the connectors ?
    are ‘WE’ the social media experts not the ones assigned
    implicitly to that job to connect people ?

    Ok Ok you did not got paid to do so, but that answer is worse
    then a gardener not watering his plants after 5.

    Most businesses in Europe are small compared to the states
    and there is the strength for European companies (together 170 billion) not to
    copy Silicon Valley business models but use the power to be small
    and connect to outsource giving business business.
    Internet got no borders and no man is an island right.. hmmm ?

    Social Media Experts go water your plants.

    Themelis Cuiper
    Social Media Marketing Expert
    Amsterdam

  • http://Themelis-Cuiper.com Themelis_Cuiper

    I like the working of your blog it feels natural to write to you and send comments, thank You

  • http://websuccessdiva.com Maria Reyes-McDavis

    Love the insight behind this post… it is time for businesses to redesign themselves to fit into the new way, rather than trying to fit a square peg into a circle–beginning with the leaders in the organization (as noted by Amber).

  • http://waynemcevilly.com Wayne McEvilly

    Brian – This post seemed to me quite simply to be a bit (and that’s understating the case) “convoluted”. Perhaps I have not sufficiently learned your language and the basic rhetorical gestures with which you communicate. But a few points spoke to me directly. From your post this stuck out: “Who owns the customer relationship? The short answer is everyone.” and I connect the dots from that to the word “hierarchy” – I run a simple business as an individual – a pianist-indepently contracting my work to an agency which then presents it to the public. At the top of the “hierarchy” is the marketing department. For the most part these folk take a very dim view of my doing my own press and allowing others (word of mouth) to then carry my work on into their communities. Control is the issue. What the marketing people do not realize is that if I weren’t doing their job for them, there wold be much less press, tv, radio – all the stuff that connects my event (concert) to the public. It is frustrating at times, but I continue to act as my own marketer and the hall is usually full. On the few times I have left it up to the marketing department, the audience size dwindles.
    So finally I make some applicable sense from your post- It is indeed EVERYONE who owns the customer relationship. I am speaking from experience.
    Thank you. “Got me to thinkin’!”
    Wayne

  • Agi

    You hit the nail on the head Brian, and you are right . . . we are perpetually competing for relevance.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      perpetually

  • http://twitter.com/rosiemedia Rosie Taylor

    Funny that I read this today as I’m finishing the chapter in New Revolution where Amber and Jay talk about using social media internally as a way to shift the culture within the organization across all levels, not just keeping it in marketing and PR. I totally agree with you, Brian. You hit it at the source. This is about being relevant and staying relevant. I especially like that your analogy of silos. Customers only see the brand as one all-encompassing entity. They don’t see that customer service department failed or the a subcontractor tracked dirt on the carpet when installing the cable. People see Apple or Comcast. I think most organizations don’t realize how much the customer relationship matters. They’re still thinking about how many eyeballs they need for good ROI and one-way communications.

  • http://smartempowered.com/dealerintro.htm Woodendart

    I think it is the average user if we stopped posting our status or sending out a tibbit of our life or rating this or that it would all grind to a halt but with that said I think as long as “they” make it easy for us to “connect” the average user will not quit.

  • http://rachelkoppes.wordpress.com Rachel K.

    As a PR student, I’m constantly looking for ways to engage with PR and social media. I love this post because you present a very interesting – and relevant – idea of the way that social media needs to be used. As a collegian, I know that my busy schedule doesn’t leave me very much time to really sit down and read the newspaper or watch the evening news. I get most of my information about what is going on in the world through social media. I learn about new companies, new products, even the earthquake in New Zealand through 140 character conversations on Twitter. It’s important to me that the companies, brands, and public figures that I look to will participate in the conversation.

    I like your point about businesses looking at consumers through a narrow lens – the time is definitely upon us where all of us as consumers want to talk to your company. We want a response, we want participation, and we want to know why we had a terrible experience in your store (and an apology would be nice!).

    I agree with your idea of everyone in each organization being responsible for advocating the brand. You have to do what you have to do to stay “perpetually” relevant – as you said!

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  • Crystal Barce

    Social media has become a key communication channel for businesses reaching out to their existing customers and potential customers. By using social media, it has allowed more people to contribute their opinions about practices of various businesses and those companies are able to respond and connect with the public. I feel social media is becoming the new tool to reach out to customers and build relationships with potential clients.

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  • http://blogs.catapultsystems.com/rnellis Robert Nellis

    2011 is introducing a focus on ROI-based Social Media. As this focus continues, you’ll see a morph to strategy as well.

  • Daniel M

    This was a great post that really speaks about an evolution in customer relationship. As a student studying marketing, advertising, and public relations I often see teachers trying to convey the difficult task of nurturing a customer relationship and social media has definitely created an opportunity for better corporate interaction. Inversely social media has also hindered business relations as a single misconstrued tweet can derail the lengthy process of building great customer relations.

  • http://MerlinUWard.com Merlin U Ward

    This is a great point, Brian. Companies need to truly believe they own the consumer relationship and empower their employees to manage those relationships. It’s brings us back to the Zappos company culture example. Are we willing to trust every employee to manage a customer relationship? Can they? And to what extent?

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research firm focused on disruptive technology. A digital analyst, anthropologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging technology on business, marketing, and culture. Solis is also globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. His new book, What's the Future of Business (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold and flourish in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. Prior to End of Business, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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