Studying How Companies Organize Social

Organizing SocialThe Altimeter Group recently published an insightful report called "Scaling Social Business - How Brands Manage Complex, Distributed Programs". The full report is embedded at the bottom of this post. If you are a follower of Altimeter, you will recognize many of the themes in this paper carry over from previous research. In particular, the report dives into how social is permeating the enterprise "“ across every brand, every function, and every geography. At Spredfast, we call this the inevitable pressure of "more, more, more" social at companies. Our Social Engagement Index report published in Q2 of 2012 showed large companies managing hundreds of social accounts on average with some topping out at several thousand accounts under management. Most brands no longer ask whether they should be on social - they ask how to efficiently manage its proliferation to allow teams and contributors to focus on driving meaningful engagement and business outcomes.

There are four case studies in this report that provide several answers to this question. Spredfast customer Whole Foods leads off the report with an overview of how they are organizing to manage social across 345 different store locations. The scope of the Whole Foods strategy is most certainly a picture of what most large brands will be doing in time - orchestrating a centrally managed social presence while empowering local teams that best understand their markets to drive daily engagement. Additional case studies from General Motors, Amway, and Puma provide specifics about the decisions brands are making as they organize expanding social presences and engagement.

Altimeter aimed to show how brands today manage a complex social environment and effectively engage with customers. Authors Jeremiah Owyang and Andrew Jones met their mark with this report.  These case studies provide nuanced insight for companies actively working through these organizational challenges.

Some companies, though, are still working to get out of the gate. Here are three tips for you if you fall in that group:

Treat getting organized as step one; driving outcomes will be step two.

Most every organization we talk to is trying to get organized with social. This typically means cataloging  accounts, establishing collaboration flows for publishing messages, and determining a common set of metrics to use for reporting social activity across different groups and brands. "Just getting organized" is a real reason to deploy a SMMS. It helps companies fundamentally manage risk and establish a reliable engagement model. You cannot skip this work if you hope to build a predictable social business.

However, expansion of social budgets and teams is only going to happen as companies get better at connecting social activity to business outcomes that matter for the business. According to a 2012 CMO Survey, spending on social is going to triple over the next five years - approaching 20% of the overall marketing budget. Given a pass for a few years now, social is going to get more scrutiny as its share of spend grows. It will do this by demonstrating how social provides new, cost effective approaches to driving consideration, positive word of mouth, leads, revenue, and customer issue resolution.

Don't over think your initial organization - you will change it again in six months

Quite a bit has been written about how enterprises organize social media efforts. Altimeter's research on social organization structures has become something of an industry de facto standard. We know from this paper that most organizations use a "hub and spoke" model. While that is helpful conceptually, most every company struggles at the outset to identify an organization structure that they are confident will work in all cases.

The short answer is: assume you will change. Start with the reporting structure you use today and with the groups that are most ready to get started with social. Organize according to what you know today and get started. In our experience, you will likely need to alter this organization within six months once you have an understanding for how your communities are engaging. Plan for change - and be sure to pick a SMMS flexible enough to support the changes you will want to make down the road.

Focus planning on content and engagement, do the rest by the book

It may seem like there are too many different things to figure out before getting started with social - how to organize, how to coordinate, where and when to publish, what to measure. The good news is that, by now, the basics of getting started on the right foot have all been well documented. In fact, Spredfast has published the definitive Social Business Textbook that gives you explicit recommendations on organizing and operating every aspect of your social business. You do not need to guess - just follow the textbook.

This frees you up to focus on what your community really wants from you - identifying your key communities and defining the unique content, insight, and experiences your company can provide to engage these audiences.

As Jeremiah and Andrew rightly conclude, "until social business reaches maturity within the organization "¦brands will remain unable to fully address their customers"™ expectations."

Jim Rudden's picture

Jim Rudden

Jim is responsible for worldwide brand, product and revenue marketing at Spredfast. Prior to Spredfast, Jim was VP of Global Marketing at Lombardi Software (acquired by IBM) where he was responsible for brand and product marketing, as well as demand generation. He has more than 20 years experience in technology marketing and implementation in the areas of enterprise software. He has held positions in product management, marketing, consulting, and sales at Lombardi Software, BetweenMarkets Software (acquired by Innovis), and Trilogy Software. Jim holds a B.A. in American Studies from Stanford University.