Should there be social media marketing and communication experts within your enterprise or should "social" be spread out across the business within existing job functions? This is a false question. Or at the least it is a question whose answer will predictably change over time.
Ultimately, business will identify and adopt best practices in the disciplines of social media and embed those in pre-existing job functions. "Social" will be a way of doing things and found everywhere across the business.
Media relations professionals have already largely made blogger outreach a part of their job. For all the criticsm of the public relations discipline, their early involvment in social media has led to this integration. Customer care professionals are adopting "social customer care" most obvious in the use of Twitter handles as an initial outreach and triage platform.
For the next 5 years, at least, brands will need experts who focus on making social media work and they do it 24/7/365. We need experts pushing what's next or pushing a disciplined approach (read: metrics-driven).
The question for organizations is how to have it both ways. How can you train and empower staff across marcom, customer care, legal, and product development to use social as part of their job and maintain a tribe of experts in social at the center?
Jeremiah Owyang floated a deck of 4 Social Media Trends in 2010. Two of the four touched on this question:
"2. Live the 80% rule. This is a movement: get your company ready. 80% of success is getting the right organizational model, roles, processes, stakeholders, and teams assembled –only 20% should be focused on technology.
3. Customers don’t care what department you’re in. Customers just want their problem fixed, they don’t care what department you’re in. Yet, now, nearly every department can have a direct relationship with your customers using social tools. As a result, provide customers with a holistic experience Start to investigate how brand monitoring, community tools and CRM systems are merging."
He used a slide to portray 3 organizational models: Distributed, Centralized or Coordinated. I would argue that these are academic distinctions that rarely manifest themselves in a neat and static way in real life. Unless you are in a regulated industry like pharma or finance with a culture attuned to the restrictions of communication and marketing laws, your organization likely started in social media via some uncoordinated enthusiasts using social media on some campaign or corp comms funtion - the comms team for a consumer brand, the marketers on a new product launch, a B2B brand manager starting a community.
You may have then hired the 1-2 social media guys/gals to help drive adoption and best-practice use of the discipline. The task quickly outstripped the capacity of the two sharpshooters to do the work themselves. After some discussions of hiring more social media experts, you then resolved to empower different business units and personnel to make social part of their jobs.
Then the "Center of Excellence" or "Social Media Council" was born inside the brand. This created a federation of social media "handraisers" from PR, marketing, customer care and elsewhere to come together to share guidelines and cases to intsitutionalize best practices and protect the brands reputation.
The magic isn't whether the brand chose this path - social media experts plus social media capacity-building - but how they did it. What was the knowledgebase solution that awarded entrepeneurial experiements but codified learning? How were people trained? How did they adopt workable and "pretty good" metrics models to inform their practices?
So, it's less about an organizational model and more about a process and path towards injecting social into the organization at a pace that makes sense for that business. Note: Ford is cited as a centralized model. I have the great opportuntiy to work with Ford and I can tell you that it is not centralized. There are great social media programs and initiatives spread throughout he organization. The one element that is centralized in some respects is strategy. Ford has more epxerience than most brands in social media and realizes that a metrics-driven strategic apporach is the key to programs with the best impact and return on reputation(ROR).