The Social/Mobile Dilemma: The Buck Stops Where?

Jun 21, 2012

A new survey of 798 senior executives from around the planet finds an Abbott and Costello-like situation when it comes to who within companies is responsible for newer customer communication channels, i.e., social and mobile.

The Getting Closer to the Customer Report written by the Economist Intelligence Unit for Genysys found that 58 percent of c-suite inhabitants believe the CEO is responsible. Twenty-eight percent of middle managers, however, disagree.

Part of the reason for this apparent "Who’s on first" situation with social and mobile is that many companies are still relative rookies when it comes to the channels. The report found that 43 percent of companies have only begun using social media to communicate with customers in the last year while only 11 percent have been doing so for three years or more.

"It is alarming that many companies are late to the party and have not clearly assigned responsibility for these channels," said Paul Segre, president and CEO of Genesys, in a statement. "As companies tackle the demands of delivering a great customer experience across an increasing number of communication channels, their brand is ultimately at stake."

Forty-four percent of executives said that marketing is leading the charge when it comes to communicating via social and mobile. Customer service has not been a priority, with just six percent viewing customer support/service as the main purpose of the new channels of communication.

"Executives still believe that media is something they control, that goes from them to the customer. Deep down, they don’t understand the permanent nature of the new media," said Donna Hoffman, professor of marketing, A. Gary Anderson Graduate School of Management, University of California Riverside. "They need people constantly monitoring, responding, conveying a consistent message, analyzing data. There’s this feeling that you appoint a small team to look after social media, and then the situation is dealt with. It isn’t."

The study found that when it comes to digital customer communications, 90 percent look to their websites to do the job and 88 percent utilize email. By comparison, 48 percent are currently using social media and networking sites while only 20 percent are making use of mobile applications.

Companies that put a single person in charge of the new channels were found to be more successful than those that used teams. One-third of executives at companies that went the team route said there was a disconnect between the groups. Only nine percent that placed a single person in charge held that opinion.

Discussion Questions: Is a marketing-first approach the right way for companies to handle customer communications via social and mobile? How interconnected are social and mobile and what should that mean in terms of companies’ use of the channels to communicate with customers?

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11 Comments on "The Social/Mobile Dilemma: The Buck Stops Where?"

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Frank Riso

While I do believe that everyone in the organization is responsible in some way for the brand, it is the marketing team that should be the primary when it comes to the new social media. As part of the marketing team should be corporate communications and any consumer advocate teams as well. Everyone in the company executive suite should not only have access but should be a constant reader of a company’s social media communications and be on call as needed to assist marketing with input and guidance.

Many retailers will soon realize that the marketing role within the organization must be elevated into the C-suite in this new world of consumer controlled retailing.

Max Goldberg

Social media and mobile, by nature, should be more customer service than marketing focused. The best solution is to put one person in charge of these channels, so that he/she can pull information from multiple areas of the company to meet consumer needs.

Brian Numainville

It seems to me the department is less important than having the right person in place, dedicated to actively monitoring and responding to customers. Certainly marketing is a reasonable spot to have the function located as long as it loops in public relations and other consumer facing functions.

Oh, and as part of having the right person, it is critical to make sure the person really “gets” social media and can help educate others. I remember hearing a comment once by a retailer where the discussion centered around the fact that negative comments might show up on social media. The response was…”Well if that happens we will just delete the comments!” Needless to say, step one was an educational process….

Adrian Weidmann

The most important concept to grasp is the simple fact that shoppers are in control of brand-originated media. Digitally empowered shoppers control who, what, where, when, and how brands of their choosing communicate with them through the channel of their choosing. Brands need to first understand who their customers of choice are and then determine how that customer consumes media through the current mix of channels available to them. Only then can a brand design and implement a communication ‘mix’ that is relevant and appropriate for their choice customers.

The brand’s marketing and communication strategy needs to be an orchestrated balance between being an active participant in a global community as well as providing a relevant and personal dialog at the behest of an individual. This new paradigm calls for a c-level position (with a marketing background) that manages its own P&L based on a hybrid of new metrics that connects marketing and merchandising.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
5 years 3 months ago

Retailers have, until recently, been engaged in a monologue. They advertise (talk) and the customers listen. Today, with the new technologies, it’s a dialogue, retailers talk and customers talk back. This is a new model and retailers are struggling to find out how to operate it effectively. There are some companies that are doing this well. At Sephora, for instance, there is a SVP of Digital, responsible for all digital operations — web, e-mail, social media. Ultimately this is the only way to make this work.

Ken Lonyai

The biggest issue going is the disconnect between how to communicate and what is relevant to communicate. And that’s exacerbated by the fact that upper management is often stuck in the “good old days” of top down marketing where they prognosticated about the virtues of their products and brands and the mice (consumers) were supposed to scurry in whatever direction they said. Although social media and mobile are new platforms that many have yet to get a handle on and make profit centers, one thing is forever: times have changed, consumers feel empowered by the communication tools they control, and they don’t care about the company line. So until the old guard is cleared out or until they wake up, “I don’t know” will still be on third and “I don’t know” will describe many a C-level’s knowledge of consumers.

Verlin Youd

I agree with Frank. It is clear that responsibility for social/mobile needs to be integrated into core business organizations, processes and responsibilities to result in real success. It may be acceptable to have a separate special organization have initial responsibility very early on when in “evaluation” mode, however, both social (Facebook has been around since 2007) and mobile (has been around longer than social) are no longer in “evaluation” mode.

David Biernbaum

What I find is that there are still too many companies, retailers and consumer brands alike, that treat the social media far too casually. For companies that TRULY understand the dynamics and complexities for totally capitalizing on social media, they are assigning people, and outsourcing the right qualified partnerships full time, 24-7, to drive, respond, target, and engage.

Lee Kent

Wherever this function lands in the organization is dependent on the infrastructure. The bottom line is that this function is imperative and must be empowered. It must have the respect and support of the organization in order to be effective and to give the customer the sense that they are being taken care of and they are dealing with someone who has access.

Cathy Hotka

Brands underestimate the power the consumer has with social media. Retailers who rely on a single person to manage communications with millions of consumers are going to be woefully unprepared to attract Millennials.

Ralph Jacobson

Mobile use of social is rising and assigning a single person, be it in marketing or another business function is a start. The challenge with the leader being in marketing is that they may not be as close to the consumer (sadly) as they need to be. Operations/store people tend to have more knowledge at their disposal to contribute to social channels and also address or eliminate negative sentiments being posted about the organization.


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