In the next phase of social business, internal and external social media teams will need to align more tightly.
It probably doesn't come as news that most organizations today have staff assigned in some way to manage their social media. While many have formally assigned part-time resources or existing employees that do the work unofficially, the situation they face is the same: A growing percentage of total corporate communications is steadily shifting to social channels. As it reaches critical mass, as it has for marketing and customer care, this has been forcing organizations to go beyond makeshift staffing for their various social media efforts.
For its part, this global communications shift is briskly picking up pace. For example, recent data published by eMarketer shows that 72% of all firms globally now engage in some form of customer service over social media. On the leading edge, about a fifth of them handle a quarter or more of all their customer inquiries this way. This year's new Nielsen report on social media shows that 47% of all social media users have engaged in such customer service, and that a third of them prefer it. Despite seeming saturation, social media usage itself has increased a whopping 24% over the last year, and it is now the top online activity, period. These are high-water marks that will only climb higher, and soon.
Urged on by the behavior shifts indicated by this data and their own research into their customers' behavior, which shows broad changes in how people prefer to engage in the customer journey, we see that businesses are actively in the midst of scrambling to acquire skilled staff and create social media teams that can operate effectively in these channels.
This column continues the discussion from Social Business By Design (2012, John Wiley and Sons), the book I recently co-authored with Peter Kim on the methods that organizations can use to better prepare strategically for social business.
The sheer scale of social media is different now, as well, and the writing is on the wall: The part-time and volunteer efforts of years past have surely morphed into the continuously staffed NASA-style command centers and full-time social media departments we find in large organizations today.
But as we've seen in recent data, the social teams of marketing, customer care and workforce are often fragmented, unconnected and hampered by inconsistent policies, processes, tools and ecosystems. The same data also shows that the value (and the ROI, for those who need that acronym) of social business is often diluted by this parochial and narrow focus. A coherent social team can help with this.
The Function of the Social Media Team
Given the degree to which social media is exerting pressure to ramp up and scale today, there's not been time for industries to assess how to best organize their staff for current realities. It could even be said it's not entirely clear what a properly staffed social team should look like, and what sort of activities it should own. Or even how it should achieve its objectives. Fortunately, we do have baseline data to start from: A few months back, well-known social media analyst Jeremiah Owyang pegged the size of the average social team at 11 people, while citing a provisional organization structure containing community managers, analysts and management staff. This gives us a picture of what organizations are doing, if not where they are headed.
Deriving a near-future vision for social teams is still a bit tricky, but perhaps possible. First, we can look at the function itself. It could be said that the ultimate purpose of social media staff is to provide those capabilities across the organization for its various functions. If we then examine the detailed operations of a more fully realized social business, it can help us see how all the moving parts fit together. From there, it's certainly possible to look at what organizations are doing today and plot a trajectory where social media will be more at the core of how we do business.
Social Media Teams, Divided
From my research, I've seen time and again how two groups tend to form around social media. One is the group that's charged with enabling social media internally to the organization, for collaboration, communication and other workforce purposes. The other, which focuses on external social media, is composed of at least one major group, although there are often other people responsible for external engagement in the social world. Typically, there is also an often fuzzy and poorly defined set of shared resources for these groups. While this includes HR and legal for periodic oversight, it also includes social architects, data analysts, project managers, line-of-business liaisons and others who are closely involved, yet often not officially part of the two social media groups in most organizations.
As I explored in a previous column, this bifurcation actively hampers social media ROI in the vast majority of organizations. But I'm also not naive enough to believe that by simply recognizing the problem, it will be easily solved. While it's true that social business initiatives now need a unified effort that can create a seamless social ecosystem across and beyond the company, the deeply ingrained political, structural and organizational boundaries that are likely to resist this will pose a rather significant headwind. As has been famously said about large-scale change, "culture eats strategy for lunch."