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Social-Media Management: Whose Responsibility Is It Anyway?


by Vijayanta Gupta
Head of Product & Industry Marketing and Industry Strategy
Adobe Systems Europe

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Imagine the following scenario at a popular company that is listed at NASDAQ. One of the employees posts a seemingly innocuous little factoid on Facebook about the company. Then the SEC--the federal agency that, among other activities, is also responsible for protecting investor rights--comes calling.

Not only that, it informs the company that it is going to bring in a civil-action lawsuit because the innocuous factoid contains material, nonpublic information that should have been shared either through a press release or an 8-K filing. Now imagine that the person who did this is the CEO of the company.

Unbelievable? Not at all. That is exactly what happened with Netflix. Netflix started as a DVD-by-post rental company and has morphed into a film and TV show streaming company. The Facebook post in question stated that Netflix subscribers had enjoyed more than 1 billion hours of streaming content in a given month and was shared with 200,000 subscribers of the CEO’s feed, many of whom reposted the update.

On the day of the post, Netflix’s stock price rose. Any co-relation between the two is not yet clear; that is for Netflix and the SEC to work out. What is clear, however, is that if not managed properly, social-media posts by employees can get a company into trouble with the regulators. 

In most organizations, inappropriate or unsuitable social-media posts by any employee usually leads to a disciplinary action by HR. However, in this instance, the post attracted the attention of regulators, who have decided to hold the company responsible for the action of an employee on a social-media platform. Yes, the employee in this case is the CEO, so the post carries a lot more impact. But from the perspective of the regulator, material nonpublic information is exactly that--material nonpublic information--regardless of which employee makes it public without following the recommended protocol. 

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how an orchestrated tango between marketing and IT teams can become a lever for achieving “inimitable competitive differentiation.” However, this incident got me thinking: What about orchestration between marketing and HR as it relates to social-media management for companies? Setting social-media policies is within the purview of HR. Monitoring social-media posts, with agility, using the best-in-class technology, is within the purview of marketing. Encouraging them to work together to ensure that regulators don't come calling is in the purview of the company’s executive leadership. 

I am not suggesting that organizations go overboard and boil the ocean; all I am saying is that organizations should not neglect the fact that it is not only their customers, but also the regulators who are reading the social-media posts about their companies. Taking interest in social-media management is no longer just the responsibility of marketing or HR--it is an executive management responsibility.