Social Media has evolved from its beginnings as a recreational pastime into a tool for communication, social activism -- and of course, business. While even the most conservative organizations are incorporating social components into their operations and strategy, many continue to struggle with exactly how to get started. An almost infinite number of consultants, books and articles offer guidance on strategy, but many fail to answer a key question: who will actually do the work? In the first installment in our six-part series, we take a look at building a social media team.

First Things First

Organizations of all sizes and types are embracing social media. But just as there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all marketing strategy, social media goals vary as well -- by business type, budget, philosophy and industry. Some view social as a marketing channel to reach new customers; others leverage it more for customer service purposes. Still others only participate as a defensive mechanism to avoid reputation damage. Before building a team, it is critical to have a social strategy. 

This guidance isn’t limited to social media. But given the age of social and urgency of social initiatives in many businesses, some leaders choose to believe social media teams can figure everything out along the way.

They won’t.

Throwing people together and assuming they will find a common goal -- one that will be compatible with the company's business strategy -- is a recipe for disaster. In extreme cases, it can lead to a very public and expensive disaster.

This doesn’t mean every organization must engage in endless strategy discussions. Small businesses may be able to define goals in a meeting or two. After establishing a strategy, prioritize goals and needs before moving forward. Identifying goals will help provide direction and clarify the scope of activities the team might perform such as:

  • Listening and following up
  • Content creation
  • Monitoring and analytics
  • Setting internal social media policy

In addition to the strategy, it is important to have strong, engaged leadership (somebody had to set those goals, right?). The leadership function could be described as a team role, however, that person (or leaders' group) is often external to the team performing day to day activities. The leader is typically responsible for getting buy-in with other executives, and becomes the “face” of the initiative to encourage adoption (and the intersection of social with other corporate programs). Although we don’t explore the leadership role, it is very critical for ensuring the long-term success of social efforts.

The Community Manager

The Altimeter Group conducted a survey of 144 social business program managers at corporations with more than 1,000 employees. The firm used the data from this survey and a few other studies to create the report, "Social Business Readiness: How Advanced Companies Prepare Internally" detailing the ways in which companies prepare to engage in social media. The guidance was helpful, but not all companies are enterprise class, nor do all organizations want to engage -- at least initially -- in activities as comprehensive as those described by the firm.

There are a few roles which we will explore in the series, that are essential for any social effort. Keep in mind that these are roles, not positions. It is possible for a single individual to serve multiple roles as long as the individual is able to address all of the responsibilities.

The first role organizations should consider establishing is the external liaison -- or as it’s more commonly known, the Community Manager. This person performs a vital function -- even for companies not attempting to create throngs of enamored fans on social networks -- because social inherently requires interacting with the public. The community manager is the point of contact between the organization and the public. Before social media, this role might have been handled by corporate communications. But it has become clear that traditional corporate communications strategies aren’t adequate in an environment where 140-characters can travel the world -- and handicap a business -- in seconds.

Gartner’s Six Core Principles to Tap the Power of Social Media stated,

Many organizations miss the participation principle and look at social media as another channel for corporate communications rather than an opportunity for mass collaboration.”

Both community managers and corporate communications professionals need excellent communication skills and deep knowledge of the company and its brand -- but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Corporate communication is typically a one-way conversation. It’s brand focused. It requires countless reviews and revisions. Corporate communications is about the big, mass message. These are things social media is not.

The Community Manager focuses on interacting with individuals, building trust, collecting feedback and hopefully transforming customers into advocates. They may respond to users’ comments, promote initiatives or identify opportunities to better engage with the public. They can engage at Internet speed, even it’s just to say, “We heard you, and will get back to you soon.”

When you begin building your social media team, you'll find that there are plenty of roles that need to be filled. While the community manager role doesn't have to be the first one filled, it is always a solid bet. If you are unsure of exactly what skills a community manager requires, search for the role on job boards to get an idea of what other firms are seeking.

The Community Manager is just one of the important positions on a social media team. Next, we'll take a look at the role of the social media strategist.