Monday, February 11, 2013

What Makes a Good Social Media Team?

Nike’s announcement last month that it was bringing “all” social media activity in-house stimulated a flurry of speculation, some of it off-base. “In-house” does not necessarily equal “all”.

I participated in the attempt to integrate direct marketing into traditional marketing in the late 80s and early 90s. History is being repeated in the social media era. The direct marketing agencies I first knew were entrepreneurial. Many were subsequently acquired by general agencies as a quick way to gain direct expertise because their brand marketer clients were demanding it. As brand marketers acquired direct marketing skills many established in-house direct marketing departments. This was especially true of telephone marketing where it became an axiom that brand marketers hired service bureaus to learn the business, then brought telephone marketing in-house.

Do you see any place in that paragraph where “social” could not be substituted for “direct?” I think not, but even that covers up an important issue. Sarah Hofsterrer, CEO of digital agency 360i closes the loop. She says:

some brands will move in the direction of taking social media management in-house, but that does still leave room for the agency to consult a brand in a strategic context, even though the activation is in-house.

That mirrors perfectly what happened in direct-response marketing. Brands with in-house departments often sought the strategic advice of agencies, especially when they were launching new initiatives. Brands also recognized that agencies are mostly a variable cost while in-house units are fixed costs.  Smaller companies need to be especially aware of the cost issue, but all need to strike the correct balance. Digiday has some cost estimates and other good observations from large brand marketers.

Marketing Charts quotes a survey of companies of 100+ employees that found that while 27% have a team that works exclusively on social media (most others assign SMM along with other work) only 3% outsource SMM completely which suggests that the in-house trend is in its infancy.

So if history repeats itself--as it seems to be doing--more brands will be developing substantial in-house social media marketing expertise. I recently highlighted a video from one social media team, the Mars Curiosity Rover, doing an excellent job. The three social media marketers sat around a table and had an interesting conversation. What about requirements when the social media team gets larger?
There are many lists of do’s and don’t’s but Jeremiah Owyang has a post that details not only the makeup of a social media team but gives job descriptions for each category and takes a look at social media teams by level of corporate social media maturity. You should read the entire post.

He defines the social media team as follows:

The Corporate Social Media team is business program lead by a corporate social strategist that achieves business goals using social tools by coordinating with multiple business units across the enterprise.
In that definition he gives the basic answer to my question. What makes a good social media team is not specific skills, it is strategic focus.

Are you ready for complete control over SMM? Can you demonstrate ROI and thereby justify the costs involved? Can you locate employees with the needed skills, including the ability to orchestrate social media content and response across the enterprise? And finally, is your SSMM at a level that qualifies it as a strategic activity?

The best advice is to go slow. Don’t dump your agency quickly or rudely. You are probably going to need them to help build a strategic SMM team and to back it up from time to time in the future.

In-house social media teams simply aren’t an either/or proposition!


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