As the newest member of a rapidly growing marketing organization, my mind is on how to structure our team to respond to marketplace demands and navigate the ever-changing behavior of our customers. Our consumers have new expectations for how and when they want to interact with brands. Whether B2B or B2C, social has become the centerpoint of this shift.

From content planning and promotion, to brand health and full-funnel analytics, to customer care and consumer and product insights—I see social as embedded across the organization, just as it’s become embedded across our lives.

So whether it’s run by a few people or a cast of dozens, social media can (and should) be a linchpin not just in the marketing plan, but in the entire business strategy. As we build teams, we need to look beyond our organization to broader trends in social media use.

Sprout Social’s 2018 Index report paints a picture of how organizations can tweak their strategies to align with the shifting realities and attitudes of social media. We started by asking more than 2,000 social marketers how they approach structure, goals and content; then, we surveyed consumers about their activities and preferences.

In the process, we confirmed that social media team members still wear multiple hats, and this still works for some organizations. We also learned that over the next 12 months, about 57% of the companies surveyed have plans to allocate more budget to social media, while only 31% plan to hire more people.

More budget for many, but not necessarily more people. What does this mean for organizations looking to structure for a social-first environment?

First, it’s critical to identify your core social functions and give each its own leader.

That leader reports to a social leader, who reports to your marketing leader. Make social that important. Defined roles, expectations and accountability will benefit your workflows, your engagement with customers and ultimately your top line.

For social, the core roles likely include:

  • The megaphone: Content continues to be a core function and demands a dedicated leader. According to our research, “posts that teach” are the sweet spot in the consideration stage: 59% of consumers want to be educated as they make their decisions. They are three times more likely to engage with posts by a company—not an influencer. So use social to bring your messages into the world through content, curation and paid opportunities.
  • Customer engagement: Devoting resources and expertise to this social function will continue to be important. About 58% of marketers surveyed said they received up to 50 customer messages per week. Meanwhile, 21% of consumers surveyed would prefer to reach out to a company via social versus a traditional customer care platform. Make sure your team is always ready to connect and make the most of those opportunities.
  • Listening: Measuring campaign efforts and general sentiment in real time is the new Net Promoter Score. This function of social is central to both building brand loyalty and acquiring new customers. If you don’t already have someone leading this charge, someone who understands the value and metrics of the listening and monitoring space—now’s the time.
  • Analytics & ROI: Return on investment is the top concern for 55% of social marketers, yet only 14% say they are able to quantify it. It’s critical to to establish clear benchmarks and engage C-level leadership across the organization with reliable, digestible and consistent reporting processes. I say this with one increasingly important caveat: ROI needs to be measured differently, with less of an emphasis on conversion and more of an emphasis on attribution for building awareness and consideration. That’s when social is most used by consumers. Awareness KPIs can include impressions, reach, engagement, audience growth and video views; consideration metrics include engagement, link clicks and, again, video views.
  • Community building: This function puts the social into social media. It is the original, grande dame of functions and got us to where we are today. Building and maintaining connections with existing and prospective customers is the essence of it all—and it is up to your company to uphold this covenant. As influencer marketing wanes, employees are going to be your new third-party advocates. Dedicate someone on your team to building community and camaraderie inside and outside of your walls.

Believe that size matters

The way you construct your team is more about the size of your social communities and less about the size of your company. You might argue a big company should have a big social media team, but revenue and headcount don’t drive social strategy.

A large B2B manufacturing brand might not yet have many followers, while a small organization may have a social-first strategy that delivers a robust audience to manage. That’s a corporate strategy—not just from a marketing perspective, but a business one.

I can argue for all the reasons why we should all be more social-forward, but if you are not there, it might not make sense to staff of for it—yet. Keep in mind, in the next 10 years, digital natives will be the audience for most every brand. How will you connect, and when should you start preparing?

Create squads or committees to execute deliverables

We know that 58% of consumers said they prefer visual-first content, the majority citing a preference for highly produced, short videos that entertain, inspire or educate. That means you need great writers, graphic designers and videographers. If you are social-first, does that mean they should be a part of your social team?

Perhaps. When creatives work in lockstep toward the same goals as the rest of the social team, you get much more work done. And the output is more exciting because you are a team consistently working toward the same goals.

But some of the shared best practices and creative ideation can get lost when you structure a creative team to be siloed in just social. Team members lose the creative outlet of interacting with other designers and writers working on other marketing efforts. I prefer the “squad” approach—assigning creatives to project-based cross-functional teams. Not only do you gain creativity but you also keep the benefits of a team.

Provide tools to make each function successful

If companies intend to allocate more funds to social media activities, but don’t intend to hire more people, then putting the right tools in your staff’s hands is essential. Remove repetitive mundane tasks to free the time people need to execute concepts and strategies and to create great content. And most importantly, free up the mental space for them think holistically about the customer experience.

Look first to analytics tools. Mixing and matching data sources takes a long time. So does manual reporting. Dashboards are more sophisticated and don’t require people to do as much work.

Also, consider how you manage customer questions and responses. While social should be the most authentic channel for your brand, automations, such as suggestions for recommended responses, can save a few minutes per occurrence. Those minutes compound, and that’s a major efficiency for response times.

And don’t forget listening tools. Strategists used to have to spend a lot of time on big awareness studies. Now they’re analyzing instead of aggregating data. The insights they gain can feed into your whole social media strategy.

You may have earmarked your budget increases toward more and better content. But time-saving tools may be a better spend toward efficiency for the team you have today and the one you’re scaling for tomorrow.

Over-communicate the importance of social to your organization

A critical part of becoming a social-first company is making all of your staff part of that process. And that starts with the CEO. If the CEO isn’t sharing content, it’s much, much harder to get your employees to do it. You need them all. So over-communication is the goal, at all levels of the organization.

Those charged with building community should partner with your internal communications team to make it happen. One trend I’ve seen is the social media team leading the C-suite’s communications on social, and sharing how social impacts their business. The more open those dialogues are, the better.

Tools for advocacy and amplification reduce the need for awkward email pleas to coworkers to share your latest content with their colleagues. Start with a journey map. How many touch points do you need before people get the message? And where? Facebook? Instagram? YouTube? It’s the same with stakeholders—it’s a meeting, it’s Slack, it’s an email.

Communicate with your company as you would your community, with consistency and authenticity, always.

Being social-first means knowing your audience and structuring your team to serve it. It means defining the roles of your team according to your social strategies, so you can scale to the needs of both your audience and your business strategies.

But most importantly, it means deciding. Will you build a team who can connect with your next audience—the digital natives beginning to enter the workforce today—right where they are? Or will you wait for someone else to connect first?