Bringing marketing and corporate comms together around social media

When the brand and the company share the same name, there are often two groups in the organisation providing its voice to the market. One is corporate communications or corporate affairs and the other is marketing. These voices never seem more opposite to each other than when it comes to social media.

While it can be easy to say they have different functions talking with different audiences, the fact is – in our connected, always-on, information world – it often seems they are speaking not only with two voices but with two faces. Not particularly authentic in a world hungry for authenticity.

When assessing marketing structures against strategy, it is increasingly important to be aware of and account for the marketing functions that sit outside marketing. Or worse still, duplicated within the organisation. Often you will find customer analytics sitting in business operations or sales or even corporate strategy.

Likewise, social media listening and management may reside in corporate communications and not in marketing. This duplication or misalignment is due to the fact that marketing is often mislabeled and in reality is seen as the advertising and promotions department, rather than the marketing function.

A particularly self-aware and insightful director of corporate communications explained to me that there was a fundamental dichotomy between marketing and corporate communications.

“You have to understand that corporate communication is about managing key audiences for the CEO, including shareholders and investors, government and the business media. This is an audience who are risk-averse. Marketing, on the other hand, is driven by embracing the new and exciting, which by their nature, come with risk. The antithesis of our role in Corporate Communications.”

We have seen this in practice many times. The airline CEO taking a stand against trade unions by grounding the fleet or the banking CEO announcing the reduction of 6,000 staff (almost 20% at the time). All very positive for the shareholders and investors as they cut their way to profit. But from a marketing perspective, it means inconvenience, service reduction and decreasing customer experience.

But likewise, to the communications director’s point, marketing activities have also elicited public outrage and condemnation. Think Dolce & Gabbana chopsticks or Pepsi Kylie Jenner. In fact, true to the marketing game plan, there is even a strategy to provoke a response from the critics, termed outrage marketing – of which Gillette and Nike are possibly the most high-profile exponents.

Within organisations, we have witnessed disputes between corporate communications teams and their marketing colleagues, particularly over social media. Corporate communication is often using social media to listen to the chatter, particularly from business journalists, politicians and regulators, and influencing the same. Marketing is using social media to promote activities, build brand engagement and build customer communities, and often there is a third group in operations dealing with customer complaints and feedback.

In the worst-case scenario, these three things are happening independently of each other. Each discipline has its own social media team, working to their individual strategy, without consulting, let alone collaborating with the others. Instead, we have observed the best approach is to have a centralised social media team working to common and shared strategies and guidelines.

Not only does centralising social media offer a more cost-effective solution through the sharing of resources, it also leads to a more consistent presentation and response to the market. But what it cannot overcome is the often-conflicting roles of corporate communications and marketing. This is something that can only be resolved by the person responsible for the reputation of the organisation, the chief reputation officer, more commonly known as the CEO.

The decisions on how much risk is too much risk, and how much risk is acceptable for market growth, cannot sit inside corporate communications or marketing. Each has their own performance objectives, which creates conflict in the first place. One solution is for both to share performance objectives. But in actual fact, it is the CEO who is best placed to strike the balance between the two.

An idealist would believe that both corporate strategy and communications and marketing strategy and communications would be aligned. Often, they are, but in those times where there is a potential conflict, then the level of acceptable risk is in the hands of the chief executive, on the advice and recommendations of their C-suite colleagues.

Getting this right has huge advantages for the organisation. Not just in a more consistent approach to communicating with all segments of the market, but in communicating in a way that feels authentic to all.

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