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How to organize your company to engage with Social Media

June 20, 2009

How often do you get a panic call from somebody in your organization who has just discovered a blog post, a tweet or some other piece of social media content that paints your organization in less than favorable light? “That goes my afternoon” you think as you track the source, deliver oxygen to your legal department and/or HR and bring everybody together to craft the appropriate response. It takes time and effort. You are lucky if you have presence in social media to post your well crafted response, but what if you don’t? Do you post a comment on someone else’s blog or community page instead hoping that the comment will make it live? Or worse yet do you tackle social media by issuing an all mighty press release? Now imagine getting 10 calls like that in one afternoon. TIME OUT. You need a process to tackle responding to and engaging with social media that gets out of this reactionary mode, utilizes your precious resources in the most responsible way and keeps you sanity intact along the way. Nirvana, right? Well, not exactly. Different companies are tackling the issue of social media engagement in their own ways, but there are some models emerging that are worth taking a closer look.

The fragmented model

Well, better something than nothing, I guess. This model is often employed by large companies not buy choice, but by chance. It includes loosely structured self-governing social media outreach group(s) of individuals that are scattered throughout the organization and which might or might not know one another not to mention coordinating their activities. There is often no overarching social media strategy. Internal policies with regards to social media engagement are not developed or if developed they are not properly communicated across the organization. Depending on the sophistication and effectiveness of some of these outreach groups the overall picture of the organization across various Social Media channels is incomplete and often skewed. Finally, the distributed model seldom has an effective social media monitoring and response mechanism and if it does only limited number of individuals are exposed to its findings. If this is your company’s model, do not despair. There is hope 🙂 How? by working on:

  1. Overarching social media strategy which includes identifying your company’s social media evangelist(s) and strategist(s) with access to upper management for visibility and buy-in.
  2. Social media policies including 1) internal policies: general employee guidelines, blogging policy, outbound commenting policy and 2) public policies: comment policy and engagement policy. (see Dave Fleet’s post and comments for more info. )
  3. Tools to enable real time Social Media monitoring that are accessible to all who want to view the stream of activity discovered though that process.
  4. A previously-agreed to process in place to respond to and engage in social media which includes empowered employees who can address issues after hours.

The centralized model

This model is often employed in organizations that maintain tight controls over their brand and messaging either by choice or in compliance with external regulatory bodies (e.g. pharma). The central hub of activity of a centralized model is often placed in the corporate communication department or the PR department. In my opinion, there are two major issues with maintaining this approach.

  1. The outreach is often very sanitized because it is controlled by PR professionals who often do not understand or are not used to dealing with Social Media rather than mainstream media.
  2. The centralized model is prone to be a bottleneck for activities that are outside of the previously agreed to set of outreach. Why? because the group handling outreach is overwhelmed as it is. Why is that such a big issue? because when dealing with social media you need to be flexible and prepared to change approaches and strategies and to adapt to make the most out of the interaction.
  3. If your company is employing a centralized model your attention should be focused on how to enable others to take advantage of Social Media in a responsible way. Focus on training others and developing methodology to allow others to get a piece of the Social Media pie even if it is performed under the watchful eye of the central hub.

The distributed model

Congratulations! You are in a very good company along with many large enterprises (IBM, Dell, Microsoft) who truly understand the value of collaboration in a controlled yet effective way. The distributed model employs the hub and spoke architecture where the hub is a group of social media enthusiasts across the corporation who communicate regularly and set the course for the social media outreach and interaction across the enterprise. These bodies are often called Social Media Councils (for description of IBM’s model see C.B. Whittemore’s post) and are comprised of social media practitioners and strategists instead of just upper management, HR and lawyers whose knowledge of social media is minimal and who remain focused on social media crisis management and prevention rather than outreach and dialog.
The spokes of the distributed model are groups or single individuals scattered across the organizations’ business units and corporate disciplines and who are very knowledgeable about not only social media tools, but 1) about the social media strategy for the company, 2) the company’s social media channels and who continue to stay in very close communication with the hub as well as the remaining spokes. In additions, the spokes are free to pursue their own social media projects as long as they fit within the overall social media strategy. This way the company is able to maintain the richness of conversations and respond to increases in volume of interactions.

The strong points of the distributed model include

  1. Well articulated and multi-dimensional social media strategy
  2. The presence of an executive sponsor – a senior leader who acts as the Social Media evangelist and who communicates the importance of the Social Media outreach
  3. A visible and vocal group of social media strategists and practitioners who are empowered to set the course for the company in Social Media (e. g. Social Media Council).
  4. Very well designed and executed social media training program including on-demand e-modules as well as pier-to-pier mentoring.
  5. Centralized social media monitoring group that frees others from having to be on the lookout for issues. The monitoring group should have ways to reach out to others (subject matter experts) for answers to specific questions and is empowered to resolve customer service issues after hours or on weekends.
  6. Clearly identified Social Media measurements with emphasis on measuring engagement and impact rather than traffic.

If you are lucky enough to be part of the distributed model celebrate, but keep your eyes on the prize which is to continue educating others on how to take part in Social Media for the benefit of the company.

What’s your company’s social media model?

Photos courtesy of  Jim Linwood, Lickso, Nanoprobe67

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 29, 2009 3:10 pm

    Aneta, I love how you have broken down the different approaches for engaging in social media. Your post is an excellent resource and I appreciate the link to my post about Sandy Carter/IBM. Many thanks! CB

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