Social Media: Who Makes the Rules, Who Does the Work, and What Does It Look Like?

Last week, I listened to an interesting webinar with Jeremiah Owyang and Charlene Li from Altimeter Group. The topic was getting companies ready for social media. You can download the slides from Jeremiah’s blog here if you’re interested, but below are three key tips that stuck out for me.

1) Policies: Companies and individuals often ask us what kinds of policies they need, what best practices for engagement we can share and how to prevent the kind of social media nightmare that everyone dreads. Jeremiah and Charline outlined 3 types of policies that companies should create:

a) Disclosure/ethics policies

b) Social media guide outlining how to engage and best practices

c) Community policy

They said the community policy is the one that's most often overlooked. It's external-facing and something along the lines of "we want your participation, but here are the rules..." It should set the foundation for a crisis response - e.g. being clear from the beginning that a blog won't allow inappropriate comments. They used the example of Nestle, which made up the rules for its community in real time as it tried to respond to an issue.

2) Resources: “Well I know we should be doing social media, but who’s actually going to spend the time on it?”  That’s another question we face in client engagements. The webinar outlined two primary roles "social strategist" and "community manager." There may be multiple people in these roles for different parts of the business. The former is responsible for program, ROI, etc, while the latter is a customer-facing role that should be a trusted voice/participant in that community.

3) Organizational Models: In their presentation, Jeremiah and Charlene outlined a number of different organizational structures for social media programs. Jeremiah also blogged about these models and the advantages and disadvantages of each in a separate post, “Framework and Matrix: The Five Ways Companies Organize for Social Business.” I definitely encourage you to read his descriptions and examples of each model.

This was particularly interesting to me because, in working with a few different clients now to implement social media programs from the ground up, one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that before you can use social media to reach people outside the company, there’s a lot of work to do inside the organization.  A company’s internal culture can easily be its biggest hurdle to social media success.

Jeremiah’s attempt to categorize organizations into five structural types for social media led me to a discussion with a few fellow Greenough-ites about whether of not there is a single “best” structure. Is there a desired model that every company should aim for? Do we have enough historical perspective to choose the best model? We also asked: Are these models really distinct or are they merely different stages of a cultural/organizational transformation? For example, one could envision an organization evolving from “Centralized” to “Coordinated” to “Dandelion”?

What do you think? In the end, I sometimes think that with something as evolving and elusive as a “social media ideal,” it doesn’t make sense to focus exclusively on trying to replicate a particular diagram or case study. I bet that those companies we think of as the poster children of corporate social media use could probably rattle off a long list of areas where they need to improve. That fits in with the idea that perhaps some of these models exist on an evolutionary continuum. Perhaps there will be more tomorrow. Our own work with clients seems to mirror this. Our clients have been most successful when we’ve focused on slowly transforming the culture and organizational structure one small part of the business at a time, setting short term goals and continually expanding social media programs throughout the business. As cheesy as it sounds, maybe it is more about the journey than the destination.

Contributed by Catherine Morgan. Follow her @c_morgan