Social departments still exploring, evolving

The point of social media is building relationships, not marketing, said Alex Wheeler, VP of global digital marketing at Starbucks, last week.

The point of social media is building relationships, not marketing, said Alex Wheeler, VP of global digital marketing at Starbucks, last week. She also said at the “Building a Social Brand” panel at the 2012 Edelman Academic Summit that her company will soon transition management of social to the public affairs department.

Starbucks has 50 million Facebook fans, but it does not typically use a traditional marketing and advertising strategy to build its brand. Instead the company puts a large focus on PR, digital engagement, its stores and employees, and the Starbucks Card and other loyalty programs.

Fifty percent of its social media is handled by the company's PR team, with help from marketing and other departments. Starbucks' brand marketing department originally handled social media, and the company will soon shift jurisdiction to the public affairs department, Wheeler said.  

“Public affairs and social really drives earned media together,” Wheeler said.

Research in Motion marketing director Angela LoSasso said social media is handled by her company's integrated communications team, which reports to the CMO. Previously, the department reported to the CEO, and social was handled by RIM's digital marketing team.

She added that the company counts on content, timeliness, authenticity, and trust to drive its social engagement.

Charlie Taylor, GM of digital marketing at Volkswagen, said social media is key for building the brand's presence in the US. The company tracks nearly 4,800 engagements each day on its social channels, and works to be scrappy and innovative.

“We can't keep up with the spends of the Toyotas and the Fords, but we don't need to,” Taylor said. “We get really excited about what social is specifically doing for our brand.”

The marketing department handles Volkswagen's social media, but it is a cross-functional team that involves PR, legal, and customer care.

Taylor contended that companies should handle social media like an editorial department, where an editor-in-chief manages content.

“We are not there yet, but I think the ultimate solution is in the structure of the department,” Taylor said.

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