LONDON: Brands should question the need to run separate social media teams as the channel becomes increasingly mainstream, a senior Google executive has warned.

Benjamin Faes, head of YouTube and Google Display EMEA, described "segregating" social media from other communications as a risk, given the rapid rise of Facebook, Twitter and other similar platforms.

Faes told the Social Media Influence 2011 conference: "Segregating social media is a big danger. If a story is worth sharing, that is a social media campaign."

He pointed to the rapid rise of Twitter from 7m users in 2009 to more than 200m in early 2011, adding that the microblogging platform now generated more searches than Google's own YouTube.

"It's just amazing how this space has evolved in a short period of time," Faes added.

He also argued that social media was used across a swathe of marketing activity by consumer products brands like Old Spice, business-to-business groups such as Salesforce, which provides training videos on YouTube, and by local start-ups.

Another speaker, Alex Pearmain, head of social media at O2, the UK telecommunications operator, agreed social media should be integrated across brand teams from marketing to operations and customer management.

Pearmain said: "Should we get rid of social media teams? By and large, yes."

As evidence of the spread of social media through O2, he cited a recent case where the network's engineers had worked to keep customers informed about a recent signal outage via Twitter.

However, Matt McAlister, director of digital strategy at the Guardian Media Group, the UK media owner, warned that some companies would find it difficult to make their organisations social media-friendly.

McAlister told delegates: "Changing the way you operate is hard. That is when the winners and losers will start to be apparent, based on how much companies are changing internally to accommodate this."

On a different note, Kirsi Stewart, communications manager for Sony Europe, added that the consumer electronics group thought it could avoid using a specialist social media agency when it launched its Open Ideas Planet, a social media project to encourage ideas for new sustainable technologies.

In fact, it had ended up bringing in a specialist when its other agencies could not deliver all the elements of the campaign. 

Read more about Social Media Influence 2011 here and will publish more detailed reports from the SMI event shortly.

Data sourced from Warc