An important aspect of setting up a social media marketing strategy is building a team to make the program work, regardless of the scope and goals. Social media is not a free lunch, and you need your internal team of social media experts to make it happen. Note that in this connected digital business reality, social media is not just about channels or even so-called social tasks. We need an integrated approach whereby content marketing, content management, overall business and – yes – technology in general – are also taken into account. Tips and considerations.

Let’s agree on terminology first. An expert is someone with proven expertise in his line of work. Terms such as guru, maven, rock star, pundit or ninja have nothing to do with business, and if you use them to describe yourself, no serious manager will ever hire you.

This post is based on some workshops I organized with Christopher Barger, who just released his book ‘The Social Media Strategist’. Christopher works for Voce Communications and is a social media expert in the true sense of the word.

Previously, Christopher Barger was responsible for social at IBM (back when social meant blogging and podcasting), before moving to General Motors where he was Global Director of Social Media. The tips below are based upon his experience, book and presentations, spiced with my experience.

Christopher Barger at a Fusion Marketing Experience seminar by i-SCOOP - picture J-P De Clerck
Christopher Barger at our event – picture J-P De Clerck

What you need to know about external social media experts

Let me start with a few tips for working with external experts. When starting or improving a social media program, help from an external social media expert might come in handy, until a certain degree.

External experts can help your organization get on track. Their first role is to serve as a sounding board, get the internal debates going, assist in this strategic process and transfer their expertise. It’s your job, as a manager, to decide how far their involvement goes. However, if you hire someone who talks about himself for fifteen minutes, followed by presentations with general data on social media, the added value will probably be low.

Get someone who is well briefed and prepared, has done his homework, understands your needs and business and adapts his approach to your goals and target groups. The better you inform that expert, the better the outcome should be. If you hire an external expert consultant for a longer period, you have to make sure that the mission is clear and well-defined in a contract since he or she will get access to strategic data and information. Without that access, a profound understanding of your business is impossible.

If you want to work as an external social media expert over a longer period (or any other consulting job, for that matter), you should realize that you do not own the success of the strategy, team and program you helped build. If you want to claim fame or ownership, you better look for another job.

The social media team: strategic considerations

Each organization is different and there are many business functions and purposes for which you can use social media. The tips and caveats below are mainly focused on communication (content sharing, blogger outreach, social customer service, etc.) and brand engagement and interaction (monitoring, responding, etc.). In practice, many businesses are concentrating their social media activities in these areas today.

Before you start: consensus and buy-in

A frequently seen mistake is that social media programs are started without a clear goal and/or consensus. Often, one or more divisional heads take the initiative for a (pilot) project. In an international context, it could be a local branch.

Typical examples of such projects are in PR, product marketing, employee engagement and HR. If those programs are properly done, they attract the interest of others within the organization. Obviously, often the social media program is initiated by senior management as well. In both cases, I strongly advice to make sure you have the buy-in of at least two managers and, preferably, a consensus within the board. It happens all too often that social media programs are stopped when a manager leaves the company.

There also needs to be a clear consensus on the goals, the ways to measure them and the resources. As Christopher Barger and Olivier Blanchard often say, normally social media budgets come from other activities. So, you need a clear case and buy-in to get these funds. Agreements should exist on what you want to achieve (be very precise), how success is defined, how it will be measured and over what period this will be done.

The lead of the social media team

Discussions about the ownership of social media at the level of departments are archaic, exhausting and irrelevant. Social media marketing is teamwork.

By definition, there are various stakeholders involved. It is about the consumer and your business objectives, not about turf wars. In practice, however, a social media team will often be more related to a particular division and even be led by it. It depends on the goals and even the background of who takes the lead.

Christopher Barger, for instance, feels that social media is closer to PR, although he is very cautious about it and immediately adds that his own background is PR. I tend to look more at marketing, CRM and customer service. I guess you won’t be surprised that I have a sales, marketing, CRM, lead generation and customer service background. Wherever it is placed within your company (ideally across divisions): a social media team is not an island. It requires a lead but not an exclusive one. Cooperation is crucial in all business functions and most certainly in social media (marketing).

Who is your executive champion?

Christopher pointed out the importance of an “executive champion” in the workshops. No matter how you call them: they are the ones who have credible authority, can resolve disputes can raise the budgets, sell to the C-suite and be the liaison between social and greater strategy.

It is someone who is ranked highly enough in the organization and has the power to make decisions. Remember that social media marketing is about real-time, you do not want hurdles in the form of slow approval and action processes. The executive champion works very closely with the social media team and especially the social media evangelist.

Who is the social media evangelist?

The role of this social media evangelist is diverse. He can show and explain how to successfully use social media to improve specific business functions. He is more than an internal social media expert, who is actively involved in social networks.

He is also more than a community manager. He is a bridge builder and a strategist with a business focus. He knows how to delegate and looks at the interests of the company and brand, instead of at his own. He has proven expertise instead of a visible public ‘status’.

This is where many companies go wrong. They recruit a rock star, who in the eyes of the outside world becomes synonymous with the social media program of the company. This is completely wrong. Some companies think they can solve reputation problems, poor customer service or a failing retention strategy by hiring a rock star or highly visible expert. First of all, remember that quite some ‘rock stars’ have little or no marketing experience and mainly built their status by blogging. Social media marketing is not just blogging and a rock star is certainly not an answer to your business challenges. On the contrary: as Christopher pointed out you do not want to trust your brand to ‘the kids’ and those who call themselves ‘ninjas’.

Beware of the egos: nobody owns the social space

Talking about the danger of rock stars and ego, there is another important consideration when building your social media expert team. Beware of social media evangelists who care more about building their personal brand using the corporate brand than the business itself.

This can be disastrous and is a consequence of the personal branding hype. You do not want a social media guru. You want a team of experts. The role of the internal social media experts is to share their expertise, ensure that the program runs and works and ego cannot stand in the way of this. You can’t afford to tie your brand too closely with one person. Everyone in the social team, including the community managers, should be ‘visible’.

As Christopher said, a social media evangelist does not own the social space, he rents it. The brand comes before the team members or the lead. There are ample examples of businesses where the social reputation, in reality, is the social media manager’s reputation. When they leave, it has an impact. In that regard, I really like what Christopher calls the “immerse and disperse” approach he used at GM. People could join the social media team for a maximum of one year in which they were completely immersed in the social media program and activities. After one year, they went to other departments, and new members joined the team. This way, continuity was guaranteed; rock star situations were avoided, and the social media expertise became available across departments.

You probably know about the different functions that exist within a social media team, such as the community manager(s). Other functions and exact roles depend on the goals and context. Below you see some typical requirements when building your social media team.

In smaller companies, several tasks will undoubtedly be combined within fewer roles.

One thing is clear: you cannot ignore social media anymore, and it’s more than time to build your strategy and team. In this post, you read some tips to get started or do better.

The most important one for me spells t-e-a-m. Beware of the egos.