Who should own social media?

PR or marketing.

You may think that this debate was put to bed long ago, but a recent episode on Twitter and a study may have raised the question once again.

Here’s the play-by-play. Frustrated riders on the Bay Area Rapid Transit network, better known as BART, were tweeting their displeasure with regular delays. Many, dare I say most organizations, would apologize and perhaps go as far as being empathetic.

But the folks at BART went farther than that, and their responses were refreshingly authentic, empathetic and educational, traits rarely found in an organization’s social media “voice.”

“BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality,” @SFBART tweeted. And that was just the beginning.

By the way, if you’re interested in learning more about BART’s predicament and the state of our nation’s transportation infrastructure you may want to read a Popular Mechanics story authored by the person behind BART’s tweet, the agency’s spokesman Taylor Huckaby. “This Is Our Reality: Why I Couldn’t Hold Back About the Bay Area’s Real Transit Problem” is a good read and, perhaps, an even smarter PR move. For those of you who are a little more Machiavellian, there’s this story from San Francisco Weekly News.

But I digress.

The exchange kicked off a series of stories but I’d like to focus on the implications for social media practitioners and brands.

Huckaby, a.k.a. @iwriterealgood, reminds communicators that they possess skills that are in great demand but sometimes in short supply in the social media era. Authenticity and a desire to educate, both of which outweigh commercial expressions from the era of mass media that have been repackaged for social media. When brands and organizations behave like this, particularly on social media, they reap the benefits.

Huckaby’s spotlight-worthy moment, or truth bombs as one outlet referred to it, also highlights the nature of most social media content. More than 93% of brands’ social content is 1:1 messaging to individuals, according to a recent report by social media marketing platform Spredfast.

Brands usually create content with segments of their audience or the entirety of their audience in mind, but the one-to-one conversations that brands have with members of their audience are plentiful, happen in real time and they should be helpful, writes Chris Kerns in SocialMediaopolis. Those are attributes that are squarely in the wheelhouse of PR, employee communications experts and community managers.

Regardless of who owns the social media channels at our organizations, marketing or PR, we should look to people like @iwriterralgood’s for how it should be done.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Alberto Canal’s story.