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Scaling Social Media Intelligence Part 3: Global Organisation Design

This final article in our Managing Director Sam Flemming’s 3-part series on scaling social media intelligence will cover the organisation design challenges of a global social media intelligence capability. This topic builds on part 1, which addressed questions around how to extend the impact of social media intelligence to different functions and teams, and part 2, which assessed how to best extend the impact to global markets.

In 2010, tech strategist Jeremiah Owyang wrote about social business organisation design. Although developed over a decade ago, Owyang’s framework is something I continue to reference when working with clients on issues concerning scaling social media-related work, including social media intelligence.

Four ways to organise for social business
Taken from “Social Strategy, Getting Your Company Ready” by Jeremiah Owyang.

The Four Types of Organisations

As Owyang suggests, when considering these different types detailed above, keep in mind that they represent organisation culture more than an organisation chart.

  • Organic

For an organic organisation, different functions and/or regions execute social media intelligence work without any real coordination, communication or standards and may very well use different social listening platforms or partners. Unsurprisingly, this often happens at the early stages of social media intelligence capability development in organisations where the insights or the PR/communications team typically take the lead in each, charting their own path.

  • Centralised

For the centralised organisation, one group does all the social media intelligence work for all functions and geographies. It’s not unusual to see this in companies that are growing in terms of size and/or geographies. This organisation works best when the social media intelligence group has analysts who are sufficiently knowledgeable about the function and the region they are supporting. For example, if the social media intelligence group is doing crisis monitoring in China, it is best that the person or persons leading the work possess a deep understanding of and familiarity with the Chinese language, culture and social media landscape. While this might sound obvious, I have seen plenty of organisations that have failed to realise the importance of native-level expertise, which has led to disastrous outcomes.

  • Coordinated

A coordinated organisation acts more as a Centre of Excellence for social across functions and/or geographies. While unlikely as hands-on with the execution, they can provide guidance and training to ensure consistency across stakeholders. They will also establish standards and take lead in choosing the right social listening platforms. As Owyang recommends, the coordinated organisation should look to offer enablement, not policing. With this in mind, perhaps the biggest challenge in this organisation type is finding a balance between the need for autonomy to address specific needs or nuances of functions or geographies and the need for consistency of approach and output from a global perspective.

It’s important to note that more and more, we see this Centre of Excellence as the one that looks to find ways to integrate and find synergy for social media intelligence with other types of data, intelligence or insights. For example, they may spearhead the charge to find connections between social data and sales or search data. Social media data cannot and should not sit in a silo – and it is the coordinated organisation where we see much of the innovation with other data happening.

  • Hub and Spoke

The hub and spoke organisation is most often seen in large multinational companies, especially ‘group companies,’ with multiple brand organisations across the world. Usually trying in vain to keep to the same social listening platform and establish global standards, they struggle due to the different brand organisations appealing to very different audiences, or different products leading to very different ways of doing business. 

How to apply the framework

As per Owyan’s approach, a good first step in applying this framework is to understand which organisation type best represents your company. Bear in mind there’s probably no quick and easy answer to this since real, live organisations rarely fit neatly into clean-cut frameworks. Nevertheless, there will be opportunities to learn from the discussion itself, and from the alignment on what could be optimised in the current state and what could be gained by considering alternative organisation types.

Change, and ultimately the change management that should come with it, requires buy-in from senior stakeholders across multiple functions and is seldom easy. But with the ultimate goal of increasing the influence and impact of social media intelligence on the performance of the company, such efforts can be well worth investing in in the long run.