Who Owns Social Media?

As social media matures, campuses are now moving beyond the hobbyist stage to thinking about social media as a strategic asset.  The days of the social media playground are over. Social media is now squarely on the radar of senior administrators who are looking for a more formal approach and the conversation about who should be responsible for social media on campus has begun.

In the past when I’ve been asked  who should own social media, my answer has been “no one”.  But the more I’ve thought about this, the correct answer is actually “everyone”.  One of my favorite quotes is “Social Media is the dialtone of the 21st century” (I’m not sure who originally said it.)  Having someone in charge of social media makes as much sense as having someone in charge of the telephone.  Social media needs to become part of the campus DNA. Social media can’t be one person’s job. It needs to be a part of everyone’s job. And the campuses that become social are the ones that will thrive.

Last November, Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group published the excellent white paper  “The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk”.  While focused on business, this report is still a must read for anyone involved with social media in higher education. One thing  I was particularly interested in was what people thought about the future of  social media programs and the role of the social media strategist. Most of the people interviewed felt that moving forward, social media would span the “entire customer journey”, or in the case of higher ed – “the entire student journey”.  Here are some excerpts on the subject:

Social media will fade into the background as social technologies become a ubiquitous communications channel.

The need for a dedicated staff will diminish, social will be a part of the fabric – marketing, PR, IT.  All functions, from sales, support, product development and beyond, will undertake social activities – making a separate social media program redundant.

The Social Strategist role as we know it today will become obsolete. As other business units weave social technologies into their strategy and operations, leadership from a Social Strategist may become unnecessary.

Some Strategists said that success would mean being out of a job in the coming years. One Strategist said: “In five years, this role doesn’t exist. The role will be subsumed into every part of the company.” Another agency executive said: “We don’t have a ‘verbal communication strategist’ or an ‘email planner’ now.”

As I look five years down the road,  I do think that social media will become ubiquitous and the role of a social media strategist will fade. Everyone will be utilizing social media in some capacity.  While there is a lot of work to do to make campus culture open and help everyone understand how to use the tools.  In the end,  this is the only way social media will scale.

Your thoughts?



  1. Great post, Mark! Interesting too – I want to believe that social content will still pump through our Marketing/PR departments in 5 years, but the fact is non-print comms already bypass us, so why wouldn’t social do the same? (And it is). It feels like I’m constantly finding a new twitter account related to our brand, and having to dm the owner to let them know about the assets and best practices we have available.

    One thing is for sure: internal understanding and buy-in on the brand are going to be more important. If staff and advocates from all corners are going to be speaking for the brand, we should probably let them in on what it is. Or is our brand the consensus of public opinion?


  2. I agree with you, Mark. Having been in the branding business for all my career, I know the biggest obstacle to letting go is to actually letting go.

    A few of us brand experts have been working so hard to control brand perception in the customer, and it is almost unthinkable at the moment to relinquish this control. Just imagine the legal, financial, ethical implications…

    But Melissa is right, the public isn’t waiting for us, the train has already left the station.

    Or as John legend put it in his song “If you’re out there”: The future started yesterday, and we’re already late.

  3. I strongly suspect the “social media specialist” sector is packed with fast-talking scam artists. Right now in higher ed, if your social media “specialist” is not ALSO on some specific team (admissions, student relations, IT…), you’re probably throwing your money away.

  4. Thanks for this post! Im writing a paper on the role of social media (not even an original topic these days :)) and thsi helped me find a good angle!

  5. You make a good point! These “newfangled” social media tools will soon become as obligatory and ubiquitous as Outlook and Gmail.

    But to me the metaphor just further emphasizes the importance of strategists and communications experts in helping all the new users of these technologies. Large organizations will always need someone thinking about the amount and quality of all the communication coming out of its departments. But you’re certainly right that it will be increasingly less possible to micro-manage. I imagine there will need to be senior strategists who think about the whole organization and then junior strategists embedded in each department, just as there often is for email campaigns now.


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