What department should oversee your social media strategy?


I do social media for a living. My position lies in the Marketing Department of my association, though associations handle this in different ways. I’ve compiled some pros & cons for the three major departments of associations that I see social media specialists in.

Remember that each department looks for a certain skill set, and that skill set will affect your social media strategy. Please note that these are potential pros & cons for general departments and are in no way reflective of actual people I know. πŸ™‚

Web Department

Pros: They understand these tools and the functionality of these tools, having someone with a web background will let you push these tools to their limits, easy integration with your website and you might be able to save some coin by having an internal web developer.

Cons: They can get too technical and focus more on the functionality than the usability, then there is always the stereotype of your web/IT people being anti-social (in most cases I find it’s just a stereotype, but sometimes it’s true), do they have enough content to send out or do they focus on what your members & potential members want?

Marketing Department

Pros: They understand the potential reach of these tools, they constantly are looking for how to provide what their members need, they understand the ramifications of what ideas they put out there, they driven to experiment, they will think about how to measure their success.

Cons: Push, push, push marketing, “traditional” marketing people can tend to talk at people instead of with people, they are constantly looking for a hard ROI, it can be more about then message than the connection.

Communications Department

Pros: They have access to content! They understand what words to use when to capture a certain tone, they are concerned with the content they put out, the accuracy of what they say (we hope everyone has this concern though!), they want to make things engaging.

Cons: They can be a little too “traditional” in their ways of engaging, sometimes that can equal being long-winded or overly formal, sometimes they don’t think about how to integrate with the digital options or on the flip side they want to do too much so it can lose the value of integrating.

So these are just a few things I thought about. Remember that each association has it’s own culture and therefore housing your social media in a single department is the based in the culture. Just remember that social media will affect all of these departments and beyond. As I heard at the ASAE Healthcare Association conference (I believe it was Frank Fortin or Jeff DeCagna who said it), social media isn’t just a bolt on piece, it must be a part of the whole system.

Do you think there are any other pros or cons? Which department in your association do you think should house your social media “expert”?



8 Responses to “What department should oversee your social media strategy?”

  1. 1 Jason

    Excellent points made here, Lynn. This article should prove to be a good conversation starter within any company that’s beginning to embark on a journey in social media.

  2. Hey Lynn!

    If we get creative and believe social media is all about relationships, what about being in the membership department or wherever the component relations professionals are?

    Communities can develop around different SM tools – which would then make them a component of sorts.

    Just playing with the idea.


  3. Jason – I agree with you. Each association has to ask itself questions to figure out the answers that are right for them.

    Cynthia – What’s interesting about your comment is that if associations are just dabbling in, it seems to be coming out of the membership department, especially in smaller associations. Maybe this has something to do with the inherent collaboration when it comes to Membership & Marketing? I also think Components can play a role in it as well, especially when one of your components dives in before you do.

    So what do you think the pros & cons are of these two groups? I’ll add it into the post! (this is open to all who comment)

  4. Lynn, if you define a component as a subgroup of the association, the community around each SM outreach tool could be called a component.

    And as you mentioned, there’s also the challenge of helping components themselves deal with social media.

    I think a lot of fit will depend upon your POV re social media. Is it a tool? Or are you community building and doing member engagement simply using another tool in your kit of many?

    Are you using the telephone or making sure it works?

  5. 5 Maggie

    Um, are you a fly on the wall at my association? πŸ˜‰ This post is spot-on–you are SO right about the pros and cons of each choice.

    Beth Kanter wrote a really awesome post about silo culture and nonprofits; it’s not the exact same thing, but what your post and hers have to do with each other is the issue of internal collaboration being an integral part of social media.

    I can’t speak for every association, but I think that social media is sort of a super-charged issue as far as territorialism goes; everyone thinks they should have ownership over it and, at least at my association, there is a lot of animosity (sp?) about “how come they get to be in charge of it?” and “how come they get to tell us what we can and can’t do?”

    I am the social media specialist for ASHA and I work in the web dept, the dept that was chosen by the exec director to lead the assn’s social media efforts. I don’t mean this in a back-patting way, but I think the reason it works is that even though I work in the web dept here, I am primarily a writer and have prior experience in marketing and communications, so I think I have a good understanding of all the different viewpoints. Not to mention I’m obsessed with social media and see all the great ways it can be used and just want everyone to “get” it. πŸ˜‰

    I also am an extrovert and make a concerted effort to approach other departments with ideas about how they can use social media and offer to help them in whatever way they need. I agree with your point about the stereotype of not-so-social web/techie types; that can be a very definite barrier to success because the one thing social media is most certainly about is communication, which means you have to be willing and able to COMMUNICATE with both coworkers and members. You have to care not just about the tools but about how you can best meet members’ needs.

  6. Maggie has the right angle on this (and so does Ms. Kanter). A social media strategy can’t be the sole domain of one particular department, but a collaborative venture by the entire organization.

    Maybe a different way of thinking about how to implement strategy is this: Think about what you’re trying to accomplish through social media. It could be improving communications, developing relationships, encouraging new ideas. Now, think of how your internal structure needs to be aligned to serve these objectives. If you’re hoping to break down barriers to your different audiences while still playing within the thick walls of the territorial, siloed organization any efforts will likely come off as contrived. There will be an organizational dissonance that only gets amplified through social media channels.

    I would suggest that your aim could be to help multiple individuals within your org become “experts” and be inclusive to all departments. That’s where the real potential for success lies.

  7. Maggie – I think you’re touching on something here, the personality of your social media expert can also affect the overall strategy, though in this post I embodied those personality traits into departments. Having a good mix of the pros from all in your social media “expert” seems to be a good way to insure that your org has the best person for the job.

    Chris – Integration through all departments is key when implementing a social media strategy, but the person in charge, or your resident “expert” has to live in some department. Which department that person is a part of I think will affect the overall strategy.

    The way we handle this in my office is that I’m charge of the social media initiatives at the Academy, but we have what we call a “Tech Council” that helps back me up. It’s made up of members from communications and marketing at this point b/c those are the two departments that are moving forward the quickest. As social media expands within our org, different people in those departments will be responsible for implementation, though the overall strategy is part of my job. If we let everyone just run with whatever they wanted (as great as that excitement is) they would end up diluting each others efforts. The goal is to empower the different departments with guidance and support from myself & the Tech Council. I think as an advanced social media strategy starts to form and integrate into the org, complete integration is key. But I find you have to start somewhere, and as I’ve heard Clay Shirky say “Start small, made it good, then make it bigger”, finding the “homebase” of the social media strategy can be very important.

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