Lee Odden

What Makes a Successful Social Media Marketing Team?

Lee Odden     Online Marketing, Social Media

social media marketing teamAs companies test and deploy social media marketing efforts, the organizational structures for effective social media teams begin to evolve. On the client side, Public Relations often leads social media but that doesn’t mean other functional areas of the business aren’t involved as well, especially Marketing and Customer Service.

Being more social and by proxy, engaged in social media, is new territory for most organizations and hiring outside expertise is pretty common. There’s a challenge in vendor or consultant selection, because so many consultants and agencies have added “social media expert” to their repertoire without necessarily having that expertise. The whole “social media user is not a social media expert” topic is something I’ll talk about in another blog post.

What skills should an agency have? A consultant? An in-house leader of Social Media or community manager?  The answer to these questions will be slightly different for each organization, especially according to its purpose(s) for social engagement.  Most companies that have full time staff dedicated to Social Media, are slim.  However, as organizations mature, they tend to evolve appreciation for the outcomes of being more social for customer service, marketing, recruiting, advertising and PR purposes. That means allocating budget for more staff, software and any other resources.

The challenge most companies run into when they start is:

  • “Who’s going to be responsible for leading social media and where’s the budget going to come from?”
  • “What are we going to stop or delay doing in place of this social media stuff?”

In the cases I’ve seen, social media is a shared responsibility across departments, often led by Public Relations or Marketing. The first hire is often a Community Manager, which is a position we recommend as soon as possible.

For an agency, there’s usually an Account Manager or Executive that serves to liaise with the client contact. Sometimes Account Mangers are responsible for developing strategy, but most often they’re more of a Project Manager. Social media marketing functions can be distributed between social media content groups that perform a variety of functions including:

  • Copywriting
  • Community management
  • Social media monitoring & analysis
  • Social SEO
  • Blogger and influential outreach
  • Social network development
  • Social content/media development

For companies that are looking for agency help with social media marketing, I think it’s essential to understand what goes into a succcessful social media marketing program and the staff that the agency should have at the various stages of the company’s social media maturity.  Having a few socially active and recognized individuals does not make a successful social media consultancy. There are many more skills and efforts that go into a great program involving the types of skills I’ve mentioned above.

My questions for you, whether you’re a company that has been involved with the social web as a marketing function or an agency are:

  • When you committed to being involved with social media, how did you staff for it?
  • Did you hire outside consulting expertise?
  • Did you share the responsibilities internally?
  • Did you hire full time internal staff?
  • What did you have to show management before being able to hire dedicated resources? (internal staff, agency or consultant)

Please take a stab at any of these questions in the comments or feel free to visit our Facebook Page to discuss.

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Some insight into what I’ve learned being both on the side of a marketing agency (not JUST a social media agency) as well as a marketer for a very rigid network security company.

    First, engaging in social media is an ongoing effort. It’s not something that lasts just a few months. If you create a blog, that blog needs to live forever. If you create a corporate or personal Twitter account, that needs to live forever (because it’s worse to have a stale account than no account at all).

    Second, you need to distribute. Having a corporate account is great, but that’s often the least effective. You want to have people from ALL departments connecting and engaging with both fellow subject-matter experts as well as prospects/clients. As a marketer it was imperative to get our CTO blogging because nobody wants to read about information security from the Communications Manager.

    Third, social media never lives in a silo (hint: be weary of “Social Media Agencies”). Your brand has a story to tell and you should tell that story across multiple touchpoints. Your audience is many places, not just on Twitter/Facebook. Sure, you can get value out of just those channels, but you’re missing a huge opportunity.

    Finally, and most importantly, social media efforts must always be honest and transparent. Having a PR or SM agency tweeting for you is a big no-no. Never lie to your audience.

    At the technology company, we didn’t add any additional staff or budget for social media. We did pay to have a blog designed, but utilized internal staff to create and spread content. We also strongly encouraged and put aside time to teach others within the organization to engage in social media.

    • Great insight Jon, especially about commitment and the need for internal education. Where I see a disconnect is your perception of PR or SM agency being able or maybe not, to be useful across departments in an entire organization and across social channels. True expertise can help a company accelerate and add confidence to making commitments to being more social and how to do so.

      • I do believe they can be useful across departments, though I don’t perceive PR and SM agencies as one in the same. PR usually works exclusively with Marketing, as I did at my former company. If you work closely with an SM agency, I’m sure they’d want to work with a company as a whole (not just marketing), though I haven’t worked with one personally. If I were a Social Media agency, I’d make it imperative to include multiple departments – though I still perceive the value of a Social Media agency in the education and consulting as opposed to campaigns. I think you need more than just a SM agency to effectively market across various channels.

        • I agree that it takes more than just a social media agency to effectively market across channels. We provide SMM services to companies and the most successful relationships in terms of business outcomes achieved are those where our agency works in concert with the client vs. those where much of the activity is outsourced.

  2. Couple ideas to add into the mix. The social media team should be 100% dedicated resources to the goals, objectives, tactics, and metrics to deliver. With that being said the team is made up of everyone of your internal departments. You will have PM’s, BA’s, Testers, Developers, HR, Customer Service, Legal, Recruiting, Product Resources, Service Resources and oh course Marketing, PR, and Comm. This team is fully dedicated to making the whole business work in “social media”

    They have to be fully dedicated, come with expertise from their skill set, domain expertise, and at a minimum be a personal practitioner within the social landscape. You have to personally be aware and have the ability to function in a very fluid, dynamic, and ever changing environment of topics, tools, and measurement. Believe me I have seen people just get thrown into a social media team and told to listen to, analyze, and report out what is going on in facebook for a brand and they don’t even have a facebook account….

    The last one is a key component. Actions must be measured by this team to be able to communicate the wins and loses (yes there will be some of these). People on this social media team must have clear metrics so they gather the right data, analyze, and present findings to make the next step work.

    But you can ignore all of this, if the plan is to push marketing everything in social media! Thanks Lee for bringing this topic up and look forward to the next post on the subject.

    • Great insight Keith, thanks.

      I mentioned this in a previous post about social media measurement (http://tprk.us/dplj0m) before companies can start to properly measure the impact of their coordinated social engagement, there needs to be a common understanding by those involved of how the social web works from a user perspective – bare minimum.

      You’d think that would be assumed, but as you’ve pointed out – plenty of people get “thrown in” to a responsibility and aren’t even aware first-hand, of the channel. It’s like being told to win a Formula 1 race and you haven’t driven a car before.

      The problem is, a lot of companies think showing up is success. ie just having a presence and active monitoring is all you need. That’s not what wins the race, it’s not even close to being competitive. “Playing the game” doesn’t event guarantee a win, it’s strategy, engagement and execution – better than the competition, that wins.

  3. Social media should be a joint venture between departments of a business entity, especially for what regards content creation. There’s a good story behind any department, and those stories can be turned into valuable material for your blog.
    I strongly believe a well thought corporate blog really is the hub of a social media strategy.
    I also believe that people within the company should be trained properly, for two reasons in particular:

    1. not letting your SM strategy be only a “corporate thing”, impersonal business account without a real “engagement”

    2. when you do encourage people to use SM instruments, you better be sure they know how to use the, and how to behave through them, to avoid incidents like those we so often read about

    • You’re speaking my language Gabriele – I am admittedly, biased towards a blog as the hub of a corporate social media effort. Training and performance based feedback are also important. Training to empower the “how to use” and feedback to provide information on how to be better.

  4. Since my first day of class “UCLA_X425” we have been discussing who owns Social Media. As far as I know, everybody in a company should be engaged in Social Media as an individual; however a group of people (previously selected) should be responsible for the Company Social Media’s strategy. Therefore, the group will be focused on creating links throughout the Social Media Channels, engaging conversations strategically planned, posting important information to the customers, etc. As an Advertising professional, I think Social Media should represent the team work of PR professionals, Customer Services and Account Managers.

  5. I didn’t do the hiring at my company, but I was the hired “social media person”, so maybe I can still speak to your questions.
    I was hired as a community manager for Sysomos, but since we deal with social media business I do a lot of work in the social media space. My role is a split between marketing/PR/customer service/technical support. I can say that I wasn’t hired just because I have a facebook page though.
    Before working with Sysomos I spent a year and a half working on my Masters in Professional Communication where I tried to focus my education around combing traditional PR with social media. I think being able to bring that skill set to the table really helped me. On top of that, I was quite active in the social media space because I was trying to learn as much as I could. This included interacting with a lot of bloggers and respected social media types. As well, before I returned to school, I worked for a concert promotions company where I was in charge of their entire US community of bands and fans.
    I didn’t come to the table saying “hey, I like twitter, it’s fun, you should give me a job.” I think that a lot of companies need to look for people like me, and those aspiring to be social media people and/or online community managers should really take seriously knowing the ins and outs of how to use social media effectively. I don’t think that anyone with a facebook and twitter account can do these jobs, but a lot of companies seem to hire those types of people anyways.
    The way I look at it, yes, social media is fun, but I still look at it like a job and I like to bring a level of professionalism to it. I think anyone can be taught to use social media (even my technically unable mother), but it’s what else these people bring to the table is what makes them really qualified to use social media on behalf of a company.
    That’s my two-cents anyways.

    Sheldon, community manager for Sysomos

    • Thanks for that insight Sheldon. I agree that a lot of companies make decisions on hiring based on people being users of social tools vs. their ability to create business outcomes using social tools. There’s a lot of fluff out there getting paid to impact business when the only skills demonstrated are the ability to attract their own fans/friends/followers.

  6. HELP! I am a one person PR Dept for a state tourism agency. I currently handl all PR/Media relations that involves all media involvvement, press releases, press trips, media monitoring, press clippings. I also currently manage two Twitter accounts, Two FB accounts, a blog and Youtube channel. My boss now wants to add another twitter and FB account for me to provide all of the content. We keep creating all these different social media accounts and separate Websites (different URLs) for specific content. I have express my professional opinion and the diffulty in doing a “good” job, but he insists that I handle and provide content for all accounts. ps we do have a four person marketing department. 🙂 What else can I do?

  7. You’re right Lee, being in a social media is a shared responsibility. It would not work especially as a group if one isn’t cooperating.

    • Cooperation and coordination is essential, especially to scale efforts. Also, many companies over-rely on one person to be their “social media guru” which is a risky thing to do. Time and resources should be spent helping the organization to become more social and not rely so much on a handful of savvy users of social tools that may or may not have the requisite business, marketing, PR or customer service skills necessary to represent the company and brand.

  8. I think many businesses still think that social media is free; signup to social networks is. I agree with you that social media is a shared responsibility and founders should be involved as well. To answer your question, I outsource my social media marketing since I’m running a purely virtual office and my staff are thousands of miles away from where I am.

    • Garious, many brick and mortar businesses outsource their social media marketing as well, or at least getting help developing strategy. Most companies aren’t staffed for a full-on social media effort so expertise from an outside agency with ACTUAL experience 🙂 can be a great help.

      • Lee,

        Great response, it does require some labor work to get the job done efficiently and effectively. I’m a true believer in hiring people that are dedicated and motivated about what they do. Rather, you was to outsource, contract, or hire an employee working from home in another state.

  9. Avatar Amy Garland says

    To echo Jon, it must definitely be an ongoing effort. It also needs to be consistent. I think a lot of organizations set up a Twitter account and check it every so often with a random tweet or RT here or there. No matter who “owns” social media at an organization, it’s important for those people to commit themselves to growing a presence on that channel or channels. Try different approaches, see what works and what doesn’t, and always be testing.

    At Blue Sky Factory, the 3-person Marketing team technically “owns” social media, but we expect all employees who are active on social sites to monitor keywords and mentions and to jump in when the conversation is relevant. Not only does that show we’re listening, but the company gains more exposure that way. It is definitely helpful that we have a dedicated director of community who leads the way. He has set up social media guidelines and continues to educate the team on best practices and trends. The Marketing team is lucky enough to have a CEO who champions social media usage and knows its importance. Many organizations aren’t as lucky, but hiring a dedicated director of community was initiated by management.

    We try to pass along the importance of using social media (especially with email marketing) to our clients and encourage them to jump in.

    Amy Garland
    Marketing Manager, Blue Sky Factory

    • Amy, what you describe is a reflection of the idea “being social” vs. “doing social”. Getting staff and clients on board is a great way to scale and essentially, they’re all part of the SMM team.

  10. The biggest issue isn’t the budget – it’s the vision, the goals and the strategic plan. Too many organizations assign social media to a department and it gets lost in the silo. Then, you get an outsider or new employee in the mix and they ask about SM only to hear “That’s handled by the folks over in …”

    • Awareness, education and reporting are part of the issue too. So is approaching social without strategic perspective. Since the c-suite is often too difficult to persuade, depts implement on their own which can lead to the silo effect you mention.

  11. I tend to be open minded as far as hiring goes. We do a lot of telcommunicating as far as our employees / contractors go. The reason being for is because it allows us to capitalize in on certain skills across the US. I have been very successful at doing this and finding the right help. Your only limiting yourself by trying to find local employees. On the other hand, you could always find people across the US then pay for their relocation fees. However, I try to stay focused with individuals that are skilled in particular subjects and topics. I wouldn’t want an avid story writer writing on insurance for me. Especially if she knew nothing about insurance in general or did not like to write on it. Instead, I focus on hiring individuals that are skilled in that particular subject. I feel I am able to find these type of people by being open to the US market vs locals.