Community Management, Convince and Convert, Digital Marketing, Social Business, Integrated Marketing and Media, Social Media Monitoring, Social Media Staffing and Operations, The Now Revolution

3 Key Roles to Make Your Social Team Scalable

One of the continuous discussions and questions surfacing in the social media chatterbox is that of “who owns social media?” Is it marketing? Public relations (PR)? Customer service?

The answer is . . . yes. For the long-term, anyway.

You’re not likely at the point yet where you have social media wired into everything. Right now, you may just be trying to figure out where to get started and deciding who is responsible for managing it and accountable for the results that grow from it. That’s perfectly okay, and it’s where a lot of organizations begin.

As social media adoption expands in an organization, however, you need a model that’s scalable and provides some autonomy within other functions and units but that maintains some central coordination for the purposes of consistency and clear communication. For that, let’s look to the football field for inspiration.

3 Key Roles to Make Your Social Team Scalable

See all graphics from the book at

The Coaching Staff

The coaches are an organized, recognized group that acts as the hub for all things social media within a company. It can be small, with just a few people, or larger, with broad representation from a number of areas. If there’s already a dedicated social media team in your company, they often form the core of this group and are deeply active participants and advisors.

Coaches are responsible for making things happen in their own areas of the business, such as customer service, marketing, or product management. Each department might have one or two coaches who are represented as part of the larger group. Coaches take knowledge and consensus from the group regarding overall social media strategy and apply this information to the day-to-day functions of their team. They also bring back challenges, information, and successes to share with the other members of the coaching staff so that everyone can learn from one another.

They might work on:

Leadership: Championing social media strategies to management and throughout the organization to encourage participation

Intent: Laying out the underlying tenets and purposes for social media participation as an organization

Guidance: Developing social media participation guidelines – not just rules and regulations – that everyone can adopt and get behind

Best Practices: Be the center for subject matter expertise around the world of social media

Coordination: Keeping of the messy bits of internal communication and coordination around social media implementation

The Players

The players are the social media in action throughout the organization. Although the coaching staff is the center for overall social media approach, each coach works with his players to develop goals, strategy, and success metrics for their area of the business. The players are made up of the front line listening and response teams that actively mine social media for information, and they are the ones who act on what they find.

Information gatherers form your centralized listening centers, monitoring the social web and mining it for relevant information, and they make sure that information gets to the people that need it. They might interact on behalf of the company as well, but their chief responsibility is to locate information for others to act. These players are early warning systems, researchers, and the information filters of corporate social media.

Frontline responders will be the faces of your company. They are the ones who work in a public light to either react to the needs and demands of your online community or provide a public-facing persona and presence for your brand. They conduct the proactive engagement and participation online to connect with customers, prospects, and the community as a whole. Social media and community management professionals are frontline responders, as are your communication teams and your customer service teams.

The Booth

Everyone in your company is affected by the speed and scale of social media, even if some corners are affected in a nonpublic way. These are the members of the booth—social media stakeholders whose participation may not be daily but is no less important.

Your writers and creative types might be part of the booth and build communication strategy. Human resources can focus social media efforts externally for employee recruitment or internally for talent retention. Research and development and product management capture insights from customers or the competition. Legal and compliance can focus on managing risk while adapting to an environment with less control. Analysts can derive actionable insights from data and feed those back to teams, and even IT can evolve their operations to support more fluid internal communication networks.

What ties all of these people together is the unifying work of the coaching staff. Departments take the strategic cues from the coaches and apply them downstream to their teams. They build independent, autonomous strategies that integrate with the larger whole, providing a networked but nimble approach to social coordination that can work for any company of any size.

The increasing speed of business calls for a distribution of decision making and authority throughout an organization to make us quicker, more nimble, and more responsive to the demands of immediacy. We need teams that communicate faster, with more fluidity and less friction. And to do that, we simply have to shatter the bottlenecks of process and control that have historically created a sense of security and consistency.

It’s time to organize our people and communications in a way that allows the elephant to dance much lighter on its feet.

This is the third in a 7-week blog post series covering themes included in The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter, and More Social – my new book with Amber Naslund, debuting February 1 (pre-orders and first chapter for free available now).

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  1. Anonymous says

    Jay, great stuff. I’ve also found, in my experience, that football is probably the sport most analogous to business.

    To that end, whether someone is ready to be [QB] [offensive coordinator] [team owner] might be the most vital set of decisions for a company to make.

    I’ve had discussions with teams, er companies, whose retired QB-turned-GM was obviously in the wrong place, and looking to run a West Coast Offense with a bunch of linebackers. But the team owner was so focused on ego that…

    Gosh, I could go on. Great stuff as always.

  2. says

    This is great stuff Jay.
    In an optimal company I could see this analogy working great. However, I think that where a lot of the world is with social media now doesn’t allow this to happen. As time goes on though and more companies start to adapt more social media in to more of what they do in more departments this model will be a perfect example. For now though, I think a lot of companies, and mine included, have 1-3 people who actually work in social media and so we need to play all these roles at the same time.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos (

  3. says

    Definitely. We’re trying in the book to paint the picture of where
    this is headed. That adoption timetable will of course vary
    considerably. Mostly based on type of company, size, and culture.

  4. says

    Hi Jay-

    Even though I am (gasp) not a football fan I love this post. You put what is really higher level management functions into simple, easy to understand language.

    This very thing was discussed during a December #tweetea event in Metro Detroit.

    I recently completed a SM internship where I addressed this topic as well. I knew I could not do it alone and would need buy-in from management and staff alike.


  5. says

    This analogy is going to work great in Atlanta where we have many NCAA & NFL fans. More importantly it makes sense in so many ways. you nailed this one Jay!

    • says

      Thanks Tom. Credit where it’s due, this metaphor is all Amber Naslund. I was just smart enough to ask her to write a book together. Go Falcons!

  6. says

    This is a great analogy! I’ve never seen a take on it like this, but pretty cool!

    I was just talking with someone the other day about social media and how it has evolved in the past few years. Many say 2010 was the year for social media, but I don’t see it stopping there. I don’t think it’s a fad and will phase out, it’s absolutely the quickest way to get information, and especially on twitter, it’s short quick and to the point.

    We’ve done a few blog posts about social media tips for 2011 and this morning we did a post about the Twitter record that was broken on New Years Day in Japan. Check it out at

    MOS Creative

  7. says

    Well done that you explain your ideas by using the football field. It brings a new perspective to the same topic and describes it very clear. It will certainly help the discussion and the football field will no doubt speak to Management. If you’re interested, I’m in Amsterdam and I’ve written a blog post about the same topic on:

    You new blog looks great!

  8. says

    ‘a company with a marketing department is like a church with a religion department’.

    Helpful analogy. However you make players as listeners and responders as purely reactive. Maybe from the perspective of a customer service and brand ‘monitoring’ team this is an accurate depiction. However, I’d rather call these your defense and then ask who are your offensive players? In this model, who performs the initiative? How, what, when and where are initiatives triggered to strike and how do they coordinate their attacks in the social space vis a vis the coach, the booth and defense?

    For that matter who is the game being played against? The market? The competition? I would rather suggest a strategy that did not focus on ones competition but instead made them irrelevant and likewise I’d try hard to switch any mindset that made customers your adversary.

    The Coaches & The Booth
    As participants and guiders in social media play, your analogy gives the key directors and drivers of strategy a backseat role. Your analogy further advises that top stakeholders can stay out of the game. By withholding their participation (for plausible denial perhaps?) your observers may fail to understand the mechanics, culture and rules for how the game is played and won.

    And this brings me to the biggest hole in the football analogy. Football focuses on one ball in play at any one time on one field. An accomplished social media play will be handling 100’s if not 1,000’s of balls in play on 100’s of fields at any one time. Achieving ROI in social media is partly directing this en-masse with automated and reusable resources able to re-tasked on the fly. Perhaps more like being the Football League rather than one team.

    I wonder how much this analogy will trick managers into a false sense of security and encourage them to stay out of the game, thinking they can direct from the boothes and unable to directly appreciate the wider strategic advantages and disadvantages direct and public 1-on-1 engagement brings to the game.

    Taking this football analogy forward, I foresee pitying your poor players who get kicked around in your reactive scenarios trying to advocate to their stressed bosses in the booth via their thankless coaches that they need offensive initiatives and entirely new product and service development and delivery strategies for listening, responding and co-creating new product lines with entirely new distribution channels. By staying out of the game, as we see happening today in many social media nightmare stories, the big boys in the booth risk becoming more defensive feeling the bruises and the knocks without appreciating how this ‘side game’ is the new game going forward.

    Other workable candidate analogies could include a Yachting Team – helpful in demonstrating the synchronised requirement of responding to environmental factors, with a skipper, navigation and all the crew with an ‘all hands on deck’ attitude. This analogy at least empowers leadership.

    Hell, if you really want to talk social seriously then look at it like an olympic team where you build a capability with all disciplines. Your team is fighting for your organisations glory and only gets this one chance. This ‘tiger team’ covers all disciplines from local office reps, creative media communication specialists, designers, product development, strategists, finance, accountants, logistics, developers and quality engineers. This team is again supported by coaches (departmental stakeholders with KPIs) and the presidents office all the way but are empowered to do what they do best. Triathlons and relays being the closest analogous sports to what really happens in digital teams engaging online.

    I’m sure there are holes in this analogy as much as your football analogy all the same, so thank you for the piece Jay. Very thought provoking.

    • says

      I like the Olympic team analogy, as social does (or will) encompass a broad variety of departments and disciplines.

      I take your point on the initially defensive nature of the football metaphor. However, as we detail later in the book, almost all social programs begin as reactions to customer commentary. Using social primary as an attack mechanism is a recipe for failure in many cases, as the social communication modalities are almost entirely opt-in. Thus, you are preaching to the choir in most circumstances. That’s not to say that social can’t acquire new customers. It clearly can. However, focusing on that at the expense of the customer loyalty and satisfaction aspects is a mistake.

      In terms of coaches (even the booth) being out of the game, it really depends on the size of the company and the team. At the mid-sized and enterprise level, the coaches rarely engage in social in a proactive way, unless they have a robust personal interest. They have too many other duties, thus executives aren’t social practitioners any more than they are SEO or radio advertisement practitioners. I wish it wasn’t so, because you are dead-on that social participation is the key to understanding the dynamics of the medium.

      In smaller organizations, coaches and the booth often play – and that’s a good thing. But, we’re trying to provide models that meet the needs and realities of most companies. Clearly, social is utilized and integrated in countless ways, so there is no analogy that will suit all circumstances.

  9. says

    A great read! A social media team would greatly benefit large businesses. Concentrating on one task like social media will yield better, more organized results. For the smaller guys, however, multi-tasking is the best and most cost-effective way to run a business and its social life, IMHO.

  10. says

    Though I can’t argue with the details of what you propose, Jay and Amber, the ideas are limited by your external focus on the applications of social media. As I discuss in Part 2 of the Social Media Primer (see, for example, and, external applications are just the tip of the iceberg. Considering the internal applications and implications of social media significantly impacts the “who owns” question, as well as the details of how social media initiatives should be led and managed.

    Social media experts and thought leaders need to start approaching social media from a much broader perspective.

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) Community

    • says

      You’re absolutely right Courtney. Social is perhaps more important internally, than externally. In fact, we have a major section of the book devoted to that exact situation. We of course couldn’t reference it in this specific book excerpt, but indeed we’ve got it covered.

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