In the next phase of social business, internal and external social media teams will need to align more tightly.

Dion Hinchcliffe, Contributor

December 11, 2012

5 Min Read

Given that companies are now moving well beyond the experimentation stage, what should their social media teams look like? How big should they be and what should they consist of?

At this point, we can indeed get a high-level sense of what it will look like for most organizations over the next few years. Unification of social business capability, especially for the two primary groups (internal and external), certainly isn't going to happen overnight. But they will become much closer and more integrated than they are today. The resulting group will also tap into a wider variety of existing resources, combining or even co-opting them as necessary. In fact, when all the types of social silos are included, the virtual org chart of enterprise social media quickly becomes fairly complex. Complexity, however, is something that needs to be actively managed, since social media usually works best when it's kept as simple as possible.

[ Related: How Smart Businesses Reorganize For Social.]

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all, however, is that the social media team cannot do everything when it comes to getting the company to perform as a social business. It cannot do most of it, or even much more than a little bit. Getting each part of the organization to to do so effectively must be enabled across the organization by carefully and deftly applying process change, tool change and culture enablement.

For some organizations the transition to social business will be accomplished by incrementally tweaking existing functions such as customer care or marketing. To others, such as product development or collaboration, the transition might be done more quickly and comprehensively. Either way, the social media team is the prime enabler, educator, change champion, exemplar and cheerleader, all rolled into one. Over time, the social media team will almost exclusively empower others to engage in activities that will achieve their goals to become a social business. As we've seen in so many case studies, they will do surprisingly little of the actual work of engagement themselves. Instead, they enlist, involve and immerse customers, workers and business partners in directed conversations in the requisite social venues to achieve overall business objectives. In short, effective social teams use the high leverage of social media to drive change in scale.

So that's a lot of responsibility along with many new skills. What does this look like in terms of staffing? It probably looks a little like what your organization is doing already, but much more pushed together, made formal, and given broader resources to work with and authority to drive the necessary changes.

Breaking Down Today's Social Media Team

The visual on the first page of this column depicts a social team with the three areas discussed above: Internal, external and shared. While some organizations will combine these groups together in a single social business unit or social media center of excellence, many will just keep them separate but tightly integrated, often by assigning them a common senior executive that they report into.

In terms of actual numbers, many of the groups in the visual consist of just one to five people (such as big data analyst, social architect, Web team, program & project managers and line-of-business liaisons), depending on the size of the organization, while others may be quite a bit larger, such as community managers (one or two dozen for a large company typically) and social customer service reps (hundreds for a large company). It's extremely important to note that work should be assigned not only to company workers but also to external advocates, partners and other co-creators. To reiterate, one of the central lessons of the last several years is that companies cannot and should not try to scale social by doing all the work themselves.

While many of the roles in a modern social team are well known, here are some of the highlights of a mature organization that you may not have been expecting:

-- Social Customer Service Representatives: One of the fastest growing parts of the social team, these customer service representatives (CSRs) directly handle inbound requests. It's critical to note that they may be full-time employees, or they may be external advocates. Internal social CSRs are often adopted from a customer care group's dedicated staff, but this should be avoided unless necessary. Typically your social ecosystem can handle a large percentage of CSR work, sometimes a majority of it.

-- Big Data Analysts: These people make sense of the wealth of knowledge and insights in social media, much of which must be acted on quickly, and ensure information is dispatched to the right part of the organization. They typically work in close conjunction with community managers.

-- Social Architect/Strategist: This role is assuming more importance as the need grows to make social media efforts consistent across initiatives, projects, tools and channels. The proliferation, overlap and duplication of social identities, graphs, apps, benchmarks and data is one of the next big obstacles as social media usage matures in our enterprises. This role will be key to creating a more unified vision.

Unfortunately, this breakdown doesn't and shouldn't give a concrete answer about the optimal size of a social team. But it does give you a useful heuristic. In the typical large company, you'll have one or two dozen staff managing and supporting social business across various functions, with many more merged into the effort, even just via ad hoc social participation. There is no upper bound for shared resources, but the best measure of success is that your group is as large a percentage of your ecosystem as possible.

In other words, a social business is a far more decentralized and externally engaged place than your existing organization. Thus the very best measure of social business success we have now is to understand how large our active ecosystem is. This, then, is the ultimate and true measure of your social team.

Social media make the customer more powerful than ever. Here's how to listen and react. Also in the digital The Customer Really Comes First issue of The BrainYard: The right tools can help smooth over the rough edges in your social business architecture. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Dion Hinchcliffe


Dion Hinchcliffe is a business strategist, enterprise architect, frequent keynote speaker, book author, blogger, and industry analyst who works with business and technical leaders in large companies to apply emerging technology to drive digital transformation and growth. He is most recently co-author of Social Business By Design from John Wiley & Sons (2012) and has personally led large-scale social business and smart mobility strategy initiatives for Fortune 500 and Global 2000 firms on three continents.

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