What Does Data Tell us About the State of Corporate Social Media Programs?

MultitaskingThrough years of working with companies on their social media efforts, it has always been clear that the more human resources an organization puts behind its social channels, the more successful they will be. Typically, the better-run programs have had a person who, rather than multitasking across the communications departments, has the primary job of managing social channels, regardless of whether or not they had agency help. Why does this work? It’s a simple equation (to give all of us who work in social media a respite from some of the needlessly complicated calculations being thrown around): the greater the amount of dedication and focus to a task, the better the result. If social is thrown on the shoulders of an already-overburdened PR manager or marketing manager, then no amount of agency counsel and extra hands, and no amount of “social-savvy” on the part of the manager, is going to help them execute. It’s like trying to pat your head and rub your belly constantly for 40 hours a week.

What brought this to mind was an article I saw at Ragan.com. The author cites a study that Ragan and NASDAQ OMX Corporate Solutions conducted; it showed that 65% of social media pros responding to the study juggle other responsibilities alongside their social media duties. I’m not sure that’s surprising, but it does indicate a long way to go in companies giving these important communications programs the attention they warrant. I would like to see how those numbers compare to last year, as a positive (or negative) trend would tell me more than a static one-year figure. Other downbeat figures from the study included a mere 31% being “satisfied” or better with their social media programs, and only 13% considering their company’s programs “advanced.”

The last figure alarms me a little, as if there is one thing true about social media pros, we tend not to be shy or downplay our accomplishments and affiliations.

One more figure: the study cites these organizations keeping flat budgets from social for the three years through 2013. That directly contradicts other studies indicating an upward trend in spending, such as this one quoted in eMarketer in September.

What are the takeaways? To me, they are:

  • Social Media Specialists Should Be in Demand: Social media has to have its own organizational “owner” – even if you are in good agency hands, an internal champion is key to advocacy and execution. If people try to juggle tasks or hand off execution to interns (or in the case of small businesses, the founder/owner) you could get horrific incidents like this most recent by the restaurant Pigalle in Boston.
  • Social Media Programs Have Room for Improvement: This is an opportunity for both agencies and in-house communicators. While acceptance of social media continues to spread and more companies and communicators become comfortable needing and even implementing programs, there is doubt about the quality of programs, even if these figures are off – and again, I have my doubts about the budget claims.
  • Be Suspicious of Data, Worship Trends: I can’t take these numbers and draw definitive conclusions. It’s one study, and even if you know the biases it is hard to adjust the real conclusions to account for them (for example, the Ragan/NASDAQ survey relied heavily on small businesses). If there is one thing we all learned from the 2012 presidential race (and the FiveThirtyEight blog), it’s that data rules only in aggregate, and even then with a wary eye and knowledge it could be wrong. Data Lies, Trends Don’t. 

Full Ragan/NASDAQ Report Available at: http://web.ragan.com/raganforms/Structuring_A_Social_Media_Team.pdf 

Photo credit: Multitasking by Katy.Tresedder, on Flickr



  1. Great post

    So.. some thoughts here….

    In digital we might communicate cross channel.. and isn’t digital just another channel set.. which of course you’d want integrated with the bigger picture strategy stuff anyway?

    I guess the way I see it is that.. the lines that articulate what roll any person should play.. should be defined by the underlying challenges.. of the group.. and then that in relationship to the distribution of different individual strengths within the group… so that a one sized fit all approach.. doesn’t really make sense..

    In saying this I’m also running with a presumption that what you really want is a kind of management approach that is more organic then the experience I’ve typically had with the way people think about… well.. maybe “management theory” is too strong a word but.. maybe management practice?

    And from the your telling of the survey we have no idea what the distribution of time and energy.. for any of these professionals… looks like.. across digital versus other… So what you’re saying… and this might in part because I’m not really a PR person.. but it’s not on the surface obvious to me.

    It is obvious when.. as a consumer.. I interact with this or that social media effort by this or that group.. or to the extent I follow the goings ons of the industry… well I guess it’s just always seemed like the potential that social offers is one that… requires some kind of a cultural shift inside the organization.. even if that shift is merely to value what social has to offer…

    I’ve always thought there was a kind of systemic darwinian thing.. that is sorta presented by the problems of change management that should lead in more organic directions.. but it seems to me that the schema systems most people have at there disposal for thinking about this stuff.. are still kinda.. .”newtonian based” to put it a certain way.

    To me the latter issue the real root of it..

    lol, but then I am an anarchist so.. I have that bias :)

  2. Agreed, there are a lot of questions here, and of course different styles and needs for each organization- in this case, company size is really important in making that determination. Goals for the program is another thing.

    In advocating for the specialist, something I didn’t always believe in, I am certainly not running against the idea of an integrated program. It’s just that each role, each task, needs to have proper resources and senior attention paid to it. I feel, from this study, that many organizations know what they need but aren’t getting- or giving to- it yet

  3. So true: “data rules only in aggregate.” So often I see reporting on “studies” that are not actual studies (i.e., not done with statistically sound methodology) or measure only one small element and try to make larger conclusions than are really possible out of it.

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