High profile social media failures have been enough to scare many businesses into implementing a social media strategy. However the level at which those strategies sit, and their breadth of focus, is still cause for concern. Allowing the most junior members of the marketing team to manage social media is a risky approach and one which will almost certainly ensure that its full benefits will not be taken advantage of.

But what’s becoming more apparent as the conversation evolves is that the opportunity social media presents stretches far beyond firefighting complaints or sharing news. Much can be learnt from incorporating it into overall business strategy in the same way you would direct mail, your website or an event, and there is an unrealised opportunity for different departments to join forces.

The impact of poorly managed and maintained social media accounts is far reaching within an organisation, affecting many departments and job functions. Rather than regarding social media as the annoying aunt or uncle at a family gathering whom you try to palm off on the most junior member of the family to deal with, it needs to be embraced at all levels. Only those businesses which incorporate social media as part of wider, strategic conversations between members of the C-Suite will be successful.

Marketing and more

Marketing has traditionally held the reins of social media, it undoubtedly forms an important part of their job function in interacting and engaging with consumers. However, the immediacy and directness of social media is what has led to the demand from customers to communicate directly with someone who has all of the information they require.

A single point of contact or customer service team which clearly only has a scripted list of responses is not why customers turn to social media to engage with a brand. Meaningful, useful and personal contact is the name of the game and can only be achieved if accountability for social media is spread across all the relevant departments. Social messages must be filtered automatically to the correct team, or person, to respond in real time.

All of this information then needs to be fed back to the heart of the organisation to help improve processes and flag potential problems. For example, a customer complains over social media that their order hasn’t been dispatched or is unexpectedly out of stock. All the necessary departments work together to deal with the issue, the customer is communicated with appropriately and quickly and a potential disaster is averted whilst internal systems are addressed.

Customer co-innovation

Direct communication between the business and customers to solve an issue or complaint is just one part of social media’s usefulness and shouldn’t be confused as its only function. Encouraging interaction, opinions and ideas in a positive way for information gathering purposes across the business is a way to not only make customers feel valued, but to gain real insight into your target audience, the market and even your competitors.

‘Collaboration Suite’

CIOs are an essential partner in ensuring the systems and processes are in place to make this socialisation of information and ideas possible. Without the infrastructure and technology in place, backed up by the necessary security, a business will never truly make the leap to putting social at the core of its strategy. But IT cannot (and should not) work alone.

It’s well known that no business can operate effectively if departments act as silos, and this is especially true of social media. The CIO and CMO have a fantastic opportunity to join forces and develop the systems and processes needed to create truly fantastic customer experiences that will create competitive advantage and strengthen the brand.

We’ve all talked at length about the reasons why social media is important to businesses, how the management of corporate social media profiles should be a serious consideration and what happens when social media goes wrong – particularly when entrusted with one, often less experienced, individual within the business.

Equally so, passing ownership to one area of the business will only encourage it to sit in silo, reducing its perceived importance across the business. Those organisations where the CMO and CIO join forces around social media, involving it in high level strategic business decisions, will be the winners in 2013 and beyond.