What role should comms play in the use of social networking tools by other business functions?

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The battle royale over who ‘owned’ social media used to be a cage match between marketing, communications, PR agencies and their advertising counterparts. But now things have shifted. Internal functions such as HR, sales, R&D, customer support are all realizing that social media has changed the way their communities want to interact with them.

A recent GlobalWebIndex report found that B2B decision makers were highly socially engaged and rated conversations with brands on social networks as more influential than webinars, sales presentations, conferences or corporate entertainment. The more complex the decision, the greater the need to ask questions of experts in online communities.

While this is great news, in many cases, they’re jumping straight in, frequently without a safety net.

But a responsible communications function shouldn’t let them speak just because they can. It is easy to create an online profile. And even easier to damage your own – and your brand’s – reputation through careless or thoughtless online behavior. Caution should be part of the decision to engage. While statistics are telling us that our customers want to engage with us in social media channels, the decision to open the social media floodgates should be a considered one.

Knowing how to interact is critical. We should speak as human beings and not in the language of hyperbole, press release or brochure. Just because you can publish, doesn’t mean you should – and folks who understand how people communicate should play a guiding role in helping their business units engage online.

In some cases, the comms department acts as social media spokespeople but this really is missing the point. The marcom function should not be the sole driver of social media – but it should play a critical support role. We should act as facilitators and ensure our subject matter experts take center stage.

Our new mission in communications is to create a seamless experience across a range of historically disparate social media, digital and offline properties. We do this by arming the right people with the skills to manage online discussions. Wishful thinking? For many, perhaps. But in the social consumer’s mind, the change has happened. Better interaction across business functions isn’t just management dreaming, it’s social consumer demand.

We’ll ultimately help people from all business functions play expanded roles in support of their own objectives. This is a logical next step for those companies that have developed owned media properties across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn. Based on our experience, it’s best to start with one business function, division or product and build a program around someone with a greater aptitude for social media.

Getting business functions engaged is great in theory, but someone has to get them in the car and make sure the oil’s changed, tires are roadworthy and the destination is mapped out. PR folks have always built one-to-one relationships; we’ve done this with journalists for more than a century. We’ve built community relations programs, managed employee communications and driven discussions with industry analysts.

Strategy is critical and those most familiar with the tools of the trade should help ensure the job is done well.

Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on the PR Week Global Thinktank, as part of Text 100’s partnership with the site.