Which department should handle day-to-day social media management? PR, marketing, or maybe the CEO? Put away the org chart, we have some answers.

We’ve touched on the convergence of marketing and PR before, but now social media is up for debate. Particularly, which department social media management reports to in the marketing and PR landscape.

What does management think?

A survey released back in November indicated that management thinks PR departments should be the ones to handle social media. A study, conducted by The Creative Group surveyed US-based marketing and advertising executives, indicated that 51% of executives believed PR/Communications department should handle social media, while 28% said marketing should handle it, some 9% believed customer service representatives should be responsible and 5% said it should rest in the hands of the CEO.

What may be even more interesting is that these numbers significantly shifted from 2013. When this survey was conducted in 2013, 39% of executives felt that social media belonged in the hands of the PR department, but marketing was not far behind with 35% of the vote. In two years, sentiment shifted to widen the gap in preference of PR teams handling social media.

Managing crises and public response on social media wins

A recent study by the University of Washington reaffirms this position. The study analyzed the effect of ‘official accounts’ and emergency or crisis response using social media and how they have a profound effect on a fast-moving story.

The results showed that fast and clear response from ‘official accounts’ on Twitter stifled fast-moving rumors. The study analyzed two instances of fast spreading rumors: (1) alleged police raids in a Muslim neighborhood during a hostage situation in Sydney, Australia and (2) the hijacking of a Westjet flight to Mexico. Both stories were successfully subdued by denials from official accounts.

The release regarding the study points out:

“Oftentimes in a crisis, the person operating a social media account is not the person who makes operational decisions or who even decides what should be said,” said senior author and emComp lab director Kate Starbird, a UW assistant professor of human-centered design and engineering.

“But that person still needs to be empowered to take action in the moment because if you wait 20 minutes, it may be a very different kind of crisis than if you can stamp out misinformation early on,” she said.

When faced with a crisis the communications strategy needs to be clear, definitive and quickk, and always include social media responses. There’s no better team to respond this way than the PR team, the team prepared and ready to handle crisis situations as they arise.

One important thing to remember is to always have a crisis situation plan at the ready and make sure all members and levels of your team are in the loop as well, no matter what department they report to.