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An enterprise dilemma – who deserves the social media golden apple: Marketing, IT, Business Development?

Who should own Social? I have heard this question asked many times, and though the answers given are nearly always the same “CMO, CIO or COO“, the fact that the question continues to be asked suggests that such responses are not satisfactory.  Most certainly the question is not the right question, after all who can own an adjective?  As soon as you add the noun the dilemma is not as  muddy but it is still far from clear.   Whether its social media, content, information, stream or network we still don’t have obvious answers although some of those nouns give us clues.

The fact is that we do not know what the golden apple of social media really is.  We do know that it is current, topical and massively popular.  Additionally the more we engage the more we realize that “social” is a mindset, a behavior and like the big data that is produced – extreme.  That last word should send a frisson of caution through any CEO or Board of Directors, enough to suggest careful consideration before any “engagement” let alone appointment of “social” responsibility.

“Social”  means different things to different organizations and communities, so before  delineating any bailiwick, the CEO or board must determine what “social” means to their business, their business culture and above all their customers. Customers are most important because the world of social is public, visible, and can act like litmus paper in highlighting public opinion, good or bad.  Like it or not customers are going to be influenced by an enterprise’s “social” reputation.  In turn customers and even the general public are going to influence business strategies and objectives to some degree.  Understanding the risks, opportunities and attendant costs over time is critical input for any plan, and social engagement is no different. However with “social” any implementation is more visible, and feedback is much more immediate and amplified.

The best way to get to grips with the issues is through experience.  The best way to get early experience is to perform Proof of Concepts (PoC).  Notice the plurality, which is extremely relevant to “social”, because it is a behavior and an operational style, not a function or a process.  PoCs allow you to apply “social” behaviors and styles to specific functions or processes within organizations.  At the detailed level that might be Customer Service Problem Management, Sales Force Automation Management or it could be Asset Control Process Improvement.  While these functions might not be the first in line for examination, they do illustrate that there is no division or department that presides over all the possible functions.  Of course Marketing, Finance and IT are going to be involved, as they should,  but the purpose of the PoC is to determine whether “social” behavior is a fit for specific parts of the business.  Further analysis and possibly additional PoCs can then determine the scope and reach of “social” adoption.  Some organizations will be better suited to “social” behavior, others may have to consider major organizational and or cultural changes.  However the decision to adopt, in part or in totality, depends on business need and business commitment at the highest level if anything other than discrete projects are being considered.

The Judgement of Paris is the myth of impossible choices.  In the story Paris, a Trojan prince, was asked to present a prize of great value, a golden apple, to one of three goddesses, Aphrodite/Venus, Minerva/Athena and Hera/Juno.  Paris gave the apple to Aphrodite, the most alluring and beautiful of the three, securing her appreciation and support in the future war with the Greek states.  Alas he also incurred the disdain and wrath of the other two goddesses, who supported the Greek kings and princes, Agamemnon, Ulyses and Achiles in the conflict.  The apple didn’t cause the war, that was Paris committing another poor judgement call by absconding with Helen, Agamemnon’s daughter, and carrying her off to be his bride in Troy.  But the apple did establish  which godly powers belonged in which camp during and immediately after the hostilities.

“Social Media” is a golden apple.  Marketing, Finance, Business Development, Audit, Operations and IT are all potential recipients.  Giving the responsibility or ownership of “social” to one of these functions is fine if the business only wants to operate “social” exclusively within that function.  But here lies the dilemma in which Paris found himself, the business gains on one side but not on others.  For example allowing Marketing to direct and control “social” could require the subordination of IT (I have heard that said many times) which also provides service to all other functions, their processes and their data. Is that a responsibility that Marketing really wants to be accountable for?

Paris didn’t have the option, but he could have approached Zeus, the CEO of Olympus and either given him the apple or asked him to decide.  Social business is larger than any one department, it is likely that most businesses that depend on consumerism will become fully “social” both internally and externally.  It therefor makes sense, once the analysis of early trials has been conducted, to create a change agent at the most senior level, reporting to the CEO or Board of Directors who is charged with developing the “Social” strategic plan and the transformation, if necessary, of the enterprise culture.  Once the transformation is complete the change agent can withdraw and  the functions will run themselves as they did before, they will just do so in a “social” style.   In the “social” business, everyone should have a slice of the apple.

The illustration above is from an 1848 publication of the UK periodical “Punch”.  The cartoon refers to the famous myth and depicts the political dilemma faced by French voters in the 1848 French General Election.  It is easier to compare business departments to politicians than it is to enchanting immortals.

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