Many brands have only scratched the surface of what social media can do for their business. Why? They lack an organizational framework that connects social efforts to their wider company goals.
A social media center of excellence model can unlock the full power of social—including increasing brand awareness, supporting recruitment efforts, refining product development and driving revenue growth. “If significant stakeholders in social sit on other teams, which is often the case at enterprise companies, it’s essential to centralize your social media strategy,” says Kate Winick, former Senior Director of Social Media and Brand Marketing at Peloton. Winick currently consults top brands on their team structure, including centers of excellence, and advises them how to interact with stakeholders from other departments.
In this article we’re sharing more insights from Winick and a comprehensive guide to implementing and maximizing a social media center of excellence. By the end, you’ll be able to determine if this model is right for your company.
What is a social media center of excellence?
A social media center of excellence (CoE) is a council of people from different parts of your organization who provide input on your social strategy and drive collaboration between business units. It can include representatives from teams such as social, PR, employer brand, HR, R&D and more. Ultimately, a CoE is a hub of expertise, guidance and resources that maximizes an organization’s social media impact. It leads to a stronger brand presence, increased audience engagement and ensures alignment between social and business objectives.
What are the functions of a social media center of excellence?
Using a social media CoE model consolidates expertise, which drives consistency and fosters collaboration across an organization. Here are the specific functions CoE teams perform.
These teams develop guidelines and policies to ensure consistency and accountability in social media activities across the org—from content creation to engagement and crisis management. For example, they create social media company policies and brand safety guidelines. This is particularly important for departments that contribute to the social strategy but don’t consider themselves social experts.
Winick explains, “Consider a B2C brand managing their LinkedIn account. It’s still social, but it’s completely different from consumer-facing channels. There are stakeholders from your recruitment and employer brand teams who need to reach candidates and current employees. CoE models allow these stakeholders to manage a channel like LinkedIn strategically, without relying on your social team and stretching their bandwidth too thin.”
Social data is only as powerful as an organization’s ability to use it, and using it proficiently is critical. More than 90% of business leaders agree their company’s success depends on how successfully it can use social data to inform business strategy, according to The 2023 State of Social Media report.
A CoE builds comprehensive training programs and resources that educate team members on social best practices, tools and techniques. This ensures a baseline level of company-wide social expertise and closes knowledge gaps that lead to underutilized social data.
For example, when CoEs invest in company-wide training, social data can be used to regularly fuel the product development feedback loop.
Breaking down silos
By aligning various departments and business units, a CoE breaks down silos. They centralize social strategies and deliver on organizational goals and objectives. This includes zeroing in on ideal target audiences, relevant content themes and key performance indicators (KPIs).
Winick advises that successful CoE teams always keep organization-wide priorities top of mind. She says, “Key social metrics should match the questions being asked by leadership at your company.”
For example, do leaders want to know how people are talking about your company online? Or how you stack up to your competitors?
Assessing tech stack needs
CoE team members are decision-makers who assess and adopt tools for the marketing team’s tech stack. Their goal is to find social media management tools that streamline processes, automate tasks, surface vital social insights and integrate seamlessly with other tools.
Think of a CoE as being a tech buying steering committee of sorts. The team is responsible for defining SMM tool requirements, identifying vendors to assess and reporting back to leadership with a single tool recommendation.
CoE teams establish frameworks for tracking, measuring and reporting social performance insights, and methods for sharing them with the entire organization. But, as Winick explains, CoE reporting is more advanced than simply spitting out raw social data. It’s about telling a compelling data story that combines social insights with other sources.
She says, “Don’t just report the metrics that are easiest to measure. Really dig in to answer the right questions. A CoE model can help you glean metrics from not just social, but also other departments—like business intelligence—that can help you paint a fuller picture of your customer’s journey.”
The CoE is responsible for monitoring industry trends, emerging platforms and new features. They ensure their brand moves at the fast-paced speed of social with frameworks in place to gauge when it’s time to experiment on new networks and with new tools.
For example, some CoEs have a research arm that uses social listening data to keep the rest of the org informed. By staying on top of the tools and trends coming down the pipeline, CoE teams equip their companies to get the most out of the channel.
What are the challenges of a social media center of excellence model?
According to Winick, implementing a social media CoE model doesn’t make sense for every company. Maybe your organization isn’t large enough to warrant it, or all social stakeholders already sit on the same team. Whatever the reason, only move forward with a CoE if it addresses a clear challenge for your business.
Remember, a new model isn’t a magic wand. Even if your team would benefit from using a CoE structure, you might face frustrating challenges as you implement this shift. Here are some of the most common hurdles and ways to combat them.
Even with a CoE model, cross-functional collaboration can be challenging. Social media adds another layer of complexity, as it can be difficult to get stakeholders from the entire company invested and on board. Even if you do have stakeholder buy-in, knowledge gaps and a too narrow focus on business unit or sub-brand-specific initiatives can cause confusion and frustration.
As Winick warns, when “too many people who don’t have social expertise have control over social” it can end up hurting your overall output.
Solution: Establish clear communication channels, foster a culture of collaboration and promote knowledge sharing to help overcome these sticking points and level-up your brand’s social media maturity. Regular meetings, training sessions and shared documentation are important regular rituals to promote visibility. Winick also advises teams to align on the purpose of their social media presence and sort out ownership of creative development before moving forward with the model.
Having sufficient budget, staff and technology are ongoing challenges for most brands, especially in the face of an unstable economy. Using the resources companies do have wisely is a consistent challenge for CoE teams. With so many stakeholders involved, deciding whose initiatives are the most important can be daunting.
Solution: Prioritization is critical for long-term success. This might mean cutting back on some networks or strategies to make way for those with the highest ROI. It also means intentionally building your CoE team to create efficiency, and choosing processes and tools that enable meaningful collaboration, Winick suggests. Finding the right team members is essential for maximizing your resources and charting a clear path forward.
Winick adds, “A CoE is a great model to make sure you have all the talent you need to round out your team. Ask yourself: If we have a missing piece, where can we get it in the organization? Unless you’re growing your social media team into a huge department, it makes a lot more sense to have representatives across your company working in alignment with social to co-create your brand experience.”
Social media crises can pop up quickly, meaning your team must spring into action immediately. With so many decision-makers involved, it might be harder to gain approval on your proposed response and act rapidly.
Solution: Having a clear crisis management plan in place—including pre-approved response protocol and designated spokespeople—can help you respond as quickly as needed. Determine which CoE stakeholders need to grant approvals in your plan. Winick suggests, “Figure out when post-by-post oversight is needed and when you just need to keep people informed.”
Staying on the pulse of trending conversations through social listening can also help identify potential issues before they escalate, providing valuable foresight.
Tools for managing an effective center of excellence
Using the right tools for your social media CoE creates efficiency, boosts collaboration and improves social performance—which enables teams involved to reach their goals. Here’s a roundup of some of the most important tools you should have in your toolbelt.
Publishing, collaboration and approval workflows
Publishing, collaboration and approval tools empower the CoE team to work in a more organized and efficient manner. For instance, a central social media management platform like Sprout Social streamlines content creation, scheduling and approvals.
In Sprout, you can visualize posts from all your networks and profiles within a single, shared calendar. These publishing tools reinforce team governance by granting permissions based on a team member’s role, and ensure content is always approved and on-brand with internal and external approval features. No more emailing spreadsheets back and forth to collaborate.
Analytics and reporting
Analytics and reporting tools that integrate with customer relationship management (CRM) systems allow the CoE team to leverage data from various sources and have a holistic view of their brand’s operations. With Sprout’s analytics tools, you can speed up and automate data collection so your team can focus more energy monitoring important KPIs, informing strategy and proving ROI.
Through Sprout’s integration with Salesforce, companies can enrich customer CRM profiles with social data to provide a holistic view of customer interactions. Sprout’s Tableau Business Intelligence (BI) Connector takes it a step further by combining social data in an omnichannel view, customized with the visuals and aggregated metrics leadership teams need. This delivers customizable visualizations that give users a complete view of their customers, without requiring time-consuming work.
Social listening tools empower the CoE team to monitor social conversations in real time, allowing them to stay updated on trends related to their brand or industry. This helps them proactively identify emerging issues, stay informed about relevant topics, manage brand reputation and keep a pulse on customer insights and feedback.
Sprout’s enterprise-ready social listening solution is built on intuitive workflows and proprietary AI technology that harness global conversations. The tools automatically sift through billions of data points to zero in on the trends, insights and key learnings you need to guide your future strategy—in seconds. Gain business-critical learnings from thousands of unfiltered thoughts, opinions and feedback to enhance your current strategy and guide future action.
Achieve social media excellence
By establishing a dedicated social media center of excellence, you can connect your social strategies to broad company goals and harness the complete potential of social. While there might be hiccups along the way, you can overcome them with intentional collaboration, detailed planning and the right social media management tools.
Want to learn more about how you can fortify your brand’s approach to social? Check out our guide to delivering social listening insights org-wide.
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