Duck! Rabbit! Duck! Seeing Beyond the Social Ownership Illusion

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Who owns social, anyway? It’s the question Pete Blackshaw asks in his insightful 4/12/2010 Ad Age article.

Blackshaw does a wonderful job highlighting the dualities and absurdities (not to mention clichés) that emerge in any discussion of social ownership. I think these dualities emerge because what we have in social is one of those “duck/rabbit” or “vase/face” optical illusions which delight and frustrate us because, although we can see both things easily, our brains won’t allow us to see both at the same time. “It’s a duck! It’s a rabbit! It’s a duck!”

It’s the same with social.

Looked at one way, the “duck” way, social is the sum of social promotions – the games, viral videos and contests designed to trigger sharing. Ownership of the “duck” is a pretty easy call … it’s the marketing department plus the marketing department’s professional service partners (its “digital agencies” or whatever).

Looked at another way, the “rabbit” way, social is something entirely different. It is not a set of channels or promotions. It is a toolset, completely under individual user control, that allows us to connect selectively with the people, news and information sources and assistive technologies (like search) that we trust. We – both individuals and businesses – customize and use this toolset to make sense of, and fully exploit, the fire hose of information that pours into our lives and our businesses.

Questions of ownership of the “rabbit” generally spiral into infinities. It’s everyone. It’s no one.

But maybe it is not about ownership, exactly, but more the path of least resistance, or better yet: path of greatest value.

Blackshaw writes, “In my experience, the leader who gets the best (and most inclusive) listening dashboard or radar in place quickly accrues the most organizational legitimacy. Listening pipes, after all, feed many mouths and can drive unity around a common purpose.”

Our experience with Zeitgeist & Coffee shows us that while the marketing department cannot “own” the social “rabbit” (any more than it can own the telephone or people’s private conversations); it can rather quickly become kind of a super-smart “switchboard operator.” Using Z&C, marketing departments, in partnership with us, can confidently and productively connect all the departments within their organization to their respective “networks of trust” – key stakeholders, influencers, customers, and, of course friends and fans (both current and future).

And it gets better yet.

We have found that deploying Z&C toward the goal of creating content for social channels quickly leads to the development of “silo-piercing” circles of collaboration. These circles of collaboration then become entities of independent value, that empower marketing departments to become central to corporate strategy through the process of rationalizing, managing and extracting full value from the direct daily conversations that now take place between organizations and their customers.