Should PR Own Social Media?

If you ask 10 different people within an organization, you’re likely to get 10 different answers to the question “Who should own social media in your organization?” I think that’s the wrong question to ask. A better approach might be to look at each area of your organization to determine how social media can open lines of communication, improve efficiencies, reduce costs or help to generate more revenue.

That said, PR leads digital communications at 51% of organizations, while Marketing leads 40.5% of the time, according to the 2009 Digital Readiness Report. The report was produced by iPressroom, Korn/Ferry International and PRSA.It makes sense that PR would lead social media in most organizations, since most social media activities revolve around communicating with audiences and producing content – responsibilities that have fallen squarely on PR for some time. I think we’ll see more departments take ownership for their social media programs, independent from PR or marketing in the future. For example, your Support organization might use Twitter to respond to common support issues or Product Management may use a Facebook Group to gather feedback on a new product beta. Of course PR or Marketing will have some involvement (as will Legal) in the process.

If your social media programs call for audience targeting, message strategy and a regular flow of content and interaction with external audiences, PR is best equipped to deal with these programs. On the other hand, if your social media program includes customer testimonial videos, customer communities or user forums, there may be other departments in your organization with the skills necessary to lead these initiatives.

According to the study, the most common areas PR leads digital communication are blogging, microblogging and social networking. The marketing team is more likely to lead email marketing, search engine marketing and online advertising programs. With most of the organizations I’ve worked with, marketing would assume ownership of all these areas, with PR serving in a subordinate role to marketing. Each organization knows best which people and departments are most likely to find success leading social media programs, so I think the structure will vary drastically depending on what types of organizations or programs you’re talking about.

Regardless of who you put in charge of your social media programs, you need to remember who the real boss is; your target audiences. If you’re building social media programs to target consumers, they are in charge. You need to listen more than you have with traditional marketing initiatives. Give customers more control in the process and you’re likely to be rewarded for your efforts, in terms of customer loyalty, strong brand awareness, and more return on marketing investment.

One thing is for sure in reviewing this report, social media skills are in high-demand at most organizations today. The more social media experience you have, the more likely you will be to find new opportunities in what appears to be a slow job market. The report found that social networking skills are important for PR job candidates, with 80% of respondents saying knowledge of social networking is important or very important, compared to 82% that said traditional media relations skills are important. A good mix of both will give you the best opportunities for your first job, next job or advancement within your current organization.

The 2009 Digital Readiness Report surveyed 278 PR, marketing, and HR professionals over six weeks in this past spring.

Who do you think should own the social media process? Is PR best-equipped to manage all areas of social media?

(Image Credit: 50 Social Media Icons by Ivan Walsh)

About Jeremy Porter 214 Articles
Jeremy Porter has been passionate about the intersection of public relations and journalism since studying both Public Relations and Journalism at Utica College of Syracuse University in the late 90s. Porter launched Journalistics in 2009 to share his ideas and insights around both professions and how trends and developments in modern day marketing, communications, and technology impact those working in these fields. Porter also values the traditions and history of both professions and regularly shares his perspective in these areas - and related topics geared toward the next generation of journalism and public relations professionals.


  1. I hope so… I understand what is going on and still looking to land a full tie opportunity. I think there is so many new ways to market things today many people just don’t have the time or the understanding to do it right.

  2. Thought provoking post that most CxO’s need to read, especially the person owning Marketing. As social media gains its value and stands on its capabilities, organizations need to assess their needs and integrate their marketing plans to incorporate. My personal thoughts are, it does matter who owns social media, but it’s a higher priority for a plan that incorporates the goals, needs and expectations to drive this. Also, the survival rate of social media is predicated on a social media knowledgeable person who cares and “gets it” to own it.

  3. Interesting post Jeremy, it’s given me much to think about. A related question I struggle with is rather than who “owns” social media, it’s who “leads” social media. As you’ve rightly pointed out, businesses will need a cross functional team to adequately meet the demands of social media — support, product management and PR — will all have to work together. One gap that’s left in the battle for ownership is a sense for process and team work. If multiple departments are monitoring Twitter for example, who takes the lead and then directs it to the appropriate resource? It’s inefficient to have several people spun up on the same issue. Twitter is an especially good example because communication in 140 characters are not always clearly understandable. For example one Tweet might look like a product management issue is in fact a support issue, or perhaps even a training issue better referred to professional services. I think we’ll begin to see the next wave of stories center around the theme of organizational best practices for approaching, communicating and responding over social media.

  4. Jeremy, interesting article.

    However, I have to say that PR is probably the least well-suited to “own” or “manage” many aspects of social media. Social platforms are far-flung and not really the domain of corporations, their marketing departments, or public relations practitioners: they are the domain of individuals, many of whom are in the company. Marketers and PR professionals have based the majority of their professions on helping companies speak outwardly, which is not what social architectures were ever intended to support (except for the individual). Remember, we have PR to blame for corporate “flogs” of recent years, resulting in a lot of damaging publicity actively caused by publicists.

    That said, PR and Marketing can “own” the guidelines by which individuals within the company can follow if they are speaking on behalf of or otherwise representing the company. I think several companies are doing pretty well with this. Intel has a really comprehensive guideline for internal blogging. Sun Microsystems does a great job of aggregating their social media as company thought leadership in their portal. Zappos’ CEO is hugely followed on Twitter. The list goes on.

    As far as any one department owning social media? Nurtz. You might as well try to own the air. And I’m saying this as a former PR practitioner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.