Marketing and IT – Need to develop stronger partnerships for social success

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Recently, I have picked a topic and am creating a view point on Social Media with an objective to addressing today’s challenging business environment, and how the emerging technologies (i.e. social media/social initiatives) can help enterprises overcome those challenges. In my initial research, I found a significant gap between “marketing and IT functions” for successful […]

Recently, I have picked a topic and am creating a view point on Social Media with an objective to addressing today’s challenging business environment, and how the emerging technologies (i.e. social media/social initiatives) can help enterprises overcome those challenges. In my initial research, I found a significant gap between “marketing and IT functions” for successful social collaboration because both the departments are unable to team up together in social media usage and customer engagement.

Traditionally, the marketing department has been centered on getting out the message via advertising or promotions. But in the current market environment, customers have total control over the corporate brands; therefore, marketing executives, have no choice but to adopt interactive marketing and plan to invest further in online tactics to deliver timelier, measurable communications to increase the quality of buyer responses. The changing role of marketing is moving its investment from media technology—marketing will shift more funds to their customer experience platforms to listen, monitor and manage customer traits.  Like marketing, IT is shifting to a primary or at least peer role in business. We all have seen many write-ups telling of the demise of the traditional IT department—transform now and be more aligned to business to stay ahead. So what are the current business demands, and to what extent do IT department needs to change?

In the digital era, consumers, equipped with their smart devices are used to having instant access to information and services, resulting in thousands of conversations happening everyday on the web that are sufficient to impact any corporate brands. In short, we have entered the age where customers are most empowered and have industry dominance. Now the question arises: are today’s CIOs/CMOs able to build stronger partnerships to move toward greater customer centricity?

Let’s look back into the early 2011, where business leaders/executives across the globe started talking about one common objective—“Team up with social media”. There are several write-ups, talking about the common objective of being more socially aware and engaged with social media.  Enterprises can accomplish strategic organizational goals, but some business leaders are still skeptical to explore the opportunities that might benefit their enterprises.

So which department should lead social projects implementation, Marketing or IT? Many believe these two functions would not be more extreme in their differences, and to understand that I recently put this as a question to our enterprise social networking site “Yammer”. Thanks to all our colleagues for their quick responses. Some of the opinions suggest that marketing leads the social implementation (flag bearer) and IT plays a role of a facilitator; however on the contrary, a few suggested that such projects also depend on the company’s intent towards social implementation (i.e. improve customer service, increase margins, profits, and new lead generation), and hence the department will lead such initiatives. What matters the most is each of these departments (i.e. marketing, IT, PR, R&D, legal or HR) needs to leverage it to achieve their own objectives without negatively impacting what other companies are doing in the social space.

But in general, we could say that both the marketing and IT departments operate separately while deciding points for improving an organization’s marketing effectiveness. In most scenarios, IT has focus on improving customer service and managing the social media platforms for online listening and collaboration with customers; meanwhile marketing department want IT to improve associations with marketing campaigns, sales and other channel groups, and they have unrealistic expectations regarding the timing of projects and a lack of lead time.

One of the few concerns from the IT leaders is the frequency of last minute change requests from the marketing teams in the midst of technology projects, while marketing complains of the rigid nature of the IT process.

The trend has been noticed that most business leaders involved in social initiatives do not even realize how widely these projects have spread within their companies, and often the marketing department doesn’t even realize when business units implement social initiatives. It is a fact  that social media will surely impact every activity performed by an organization, and leaders involved with social initiatives must enable mass collaboration for avoiding the path of social media failure. Gartner analysis says, by 2015, 20% of enterprises that employ social media “beyond marketing” will lead their industries in revenue growth. There are a few examples where social initiatives have added efficiencies in various areas within the enterprises: 1) Sales—Usage of communities to drive direct sales, 2) Customer Service—Building a community of customers to truly listen and engage in customer conversations, 3) Marketing—Identifying influencers to get the word out about new products/services/brands, 4) Public relations—working with communities to know what customers talk/think about the enterprise, 5) Human resources (HR) —Leverage communities to hire new resources, 6) Business process management—Leveraging inputs from communities to continuously improve existing processes, 7) Context aware computing—Acquiring inputs from the user’s context to provide better information and service.

However, enterprises need to understand when departments and business units undertake their own social initiatives, it may hurt the overall business objectives. For instance: Marketing, Customer-service, and Public relations might reach out to the same customer base with different social approaches in their isolation. The marketing team may start a new community for gathering customer inputs for their new product, but such kinds of discussion could lead to a customer disconnect. The marketing team should take inputs from existing customer communities, run by public relation, IT and customer-service departments that generate detailed feedback in terms of what customers talk about your products (what works or what doesn’t work) or take inputs for social co-creation. On the other side, IT leaders may needlessly duplicate efforts for implementing the same social software or aim at the similar business goals which will result in extra cost, and opening an existing community for new members.

To optimize the investments for social initiatives, enterprises must establish a shared understanding of social technologies and trends, and align objectives to the overall strategy. Partnering for social success, both marketing and IT executives should bring to light common problems and opportunities for working together as there is a significant opportunity to have better collaboration between the two groups.

Social media will affect almost every system, process, and role within the enterprise, and therefore, both marketing and IT teams need to speed up a cultural integration and overcome past stereotypes.

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