The Coming "Scale" Challenges for Social Business

As my colleague Dan Doman discussed last week, social business is most certainly moving into a new phase of development. The simplest way to summarize this coming phase is that companies are “scaling up” their social operations.

But what does “scaling up” mean? We work every day with some of the largest companies, best known brands and leading edge agencies – all of which are expanding their investment in social. When we talk about scale with these companies, here are five of the recurring conversation points:

1. There is no single organizational model for social

While most companies have a standard organization structure in place (typically represented by the “org chart”), a single structure is not flexible enough to model the relationships within and across the teams that will manage multiple, independent social initiatives.   A scalable social media management platform must be elastic and support the definition and execution of multiple, independent social organizations that will vary in composition across business objectives, but will need to work in parallel with each other.  

Jeremiah Owyang from the Altimeter Group does a great job of describing the myriad of social organization permutations in detail in this article.

2. A rich, configurable user administration and access control is essential

With hundreds (and soon thousands) of users, the scalable social media management platform must have a distributed, hierarchically delegable user administration capability.  Administrators will exist within each business initiative, franchised property, or geographic location (depending on your social organization structure) and must be able to independently add new users or further sub-divide user administration responsibilities.

Once user administration responsibility has been assigned across the social organization structure, each administrator can now add employees and assign them the requisite permissions to access each desired social channel.  The permissions within a social media management system can include activities such as allowing certain users to create and approve content, publish to or moderate a specific social channel and define and execute custom reports that are then exported into other corporate repositories.

3. Today’s manual “conversation moderation” needs a smart overhaul

Today’s incoming social activity needs to be “sorted out” to determine what person or team in the organization might best be able to act upon the incoming Facebook comment, tweet, etc. The composition and granularity of your social channels will determine the level of sophistication needed for the “sorting out” process of incoming social activity. Choose to only have a few channels? You will spend a ton of time sorting the inbound traffic. Choose to have a social channel for every product, geography and function? You are still going to spend a lot of time routing questions and messages that come in on one channel, but are best answered by another channel.  Envision the HR team routing product complaints sent to their @Jobs Twitter account to the right group.  Today’s manual, human “sorting” of content must be replaced, or at the very least augmented, by smarter categorization and routing if conversations are going to be moderated at scale.

4. Publishing on social networks needs to move to a team game

Planned, outbound publishing of messages on social is moving from the domain of the individual to the domain of teams and groups. Social messages are increasingly part of long lasting campaigns, touch multiple platforms and have an end goal in mind. This shift brings a whole host of new capabilities from nice to have to essential – workflow across groups, a centralized content library to preserve brand consistency, a shared calendar that provides visibility to the complete campaign and an ability to evaluate the effectiveness of every message, as well as the aggregate impact of an overall campaign.   

5. Reporting and analytics need context built-in

While there are hundreds of other reports and analytics we might discuss, there are two key points for analytics and reporting necessary to execute at scale. First, the reporting and analytics views must be integrated and controlled within the overall social structure so that an organization can aggregate and view operational effectiveness across the different groups. Second, the social media management system must automatically record the business context (e.g., which campaign you are working on) across all social activity and not require employees across the globe to coordinate and tag all of this activity manually.  As we’ve learned from past product markets (e.g., document management), manual tagging of information within a corporation will not scale.   The integrity of this business context is paramount as this context is the key to rationalizing, understanding and measuring the overall effectiveness of our social activity.  

Each of these five areas is a challenge in itself. Taken together, it is clear that companies with significant social plans will need a powerful software platform to support them. That’s what my team gets up every day to build. We can’t wait for 2012.

Keith Zoellner's picture

Keith Zoellner

Keith is responsible for product direction and delivery at Spredfast. Keith has over 20 years experience building and managing high caliber software development organizations in the delivery of business critical technology platforms. Prior to Spredfast, Keith was the CTO and VP of Engineering at StoredIQ where he guided the design and delivery of a petabyte scalable information management platform. Prior to StoredIQ, Keith has served as CTO at various other organizations including, Ambac Connect, and Commerce Direct International. Keith has also held senior leadership positions directing large engineering teams at Andersen Consulting and Electronic Data Systems. Keith holds a B.S. in Management Information Sciences from the University of Missouri at St. Louis.