Trends: Corporate Adoption of Social Media: Tire, Tower, and the Hub and Spoke

Spending time with large corporations and getting to understand how they adopt social media is fascinating, recently, I’ve noticed a trend, not on public use, but on internal organization.

Unlikes Advertising (which is often controlled by a single group) Social Media is being adopted by many business groups across the enterprise, from marketing, product teams, sales, to support. While not uncommon, social media tends to be a grassroots movement that comes from the edges (where customers are) of the company, where individual users, vertical marketers, and client facing teams exist.

At least three models of social media orginization within a large corporation, which loosely resemble a tire, a tower, or a spoke model.

The Tire
Common to grassroots movements within corporations, adoption happens at the lowest levels at the company, rather than from a centralized group. You’ll see individual business units define their own strategy, pick their own tools, engage their own vendors, and communicate with the market on their own terms.

Common to companies that haven’t put a strategy in place, depending on culture, this could be detrimental as resources are not used efficiently, data is spread on multiple systems, and the right hand doesn’t know what the left is doing.

The Tower
Common in organizations where power is centralized, we may see a central team formed to organize social media. This team defines the policy, best practices, vendors, and tools. This team which will commonly found in corporate communications and supported by PR will often dictate the direction of social media. Expect a dedicated role or sub-group to appear either experiential marketing, new media, or interactive media to eventually be born out of the group, where social media is centralized.

Social media is a grassroots movement, so common dangers can be gagging the natural voice of conversations of product experts with customers using these tools, so a centralized team needs to be more of a support organization to the enterprise, not a controller.

The Hub and Spoke
This coordinated model has a central organizational unit that provides best practices, sets policy, supports infrastructure but encourages conversations at the edges of the company. More about empowering business groups to partake in natural social media discussions without hindering, this group will be more of a coordinator, and less of a controller. Expect to see this model to occur as social media infiltrates every nook and cranny of a business, and at a certain point, a company as an enterprise can’t ignore the raging groundswell.

Cautions to this model, as overly coordinated programs will be difficult to achieve, and may be ineffective to different unique markets that a large company may have. Like the tower, having a centralized group at a large enterprise is always going to slow down natural conversations so focus on empowerment, rather than control.

What styles of adoption are you noticing from large companies?

  • http://www.deswalsh.com Des Walsh

    The concepts make sense. The imagery doesn’t quite work for me. If you start with the tyre and finish with the wheel, wouldn’t you put a hub in there, instead of a towere? Metaphors are always, by definition, limited pictures of what we are trying to explain, but I find it helps to have some “visual coherence” which the Tower doesn’t do for me and I could not use as an explainer, with any confidence.

  • http://contentcontent.blogspot.com kenobi

    Just to indulge this increasingly surreal thread, I like the wheel and spoke image. The Daily Telegraph uses this same name for its newsroom, which sources / gathers news centrally, then feeds it out to the various spokes ie print newspaper, website, webTV, podcast etc.

    Looks like the Guardian might go this way soon too. Notice how the website’s no longer called Guardian Unlimited?

    I personally favour the wheel approach in my organisation (a digital web agency) when it comes to social media. But I have a sneaking suspicion that there are those who still feel social media is a little faddy because it doesn’t have any accountable imapct on our bottom line.

  • http://www.tapio.com Alex

    The reason the tower stands out like a sore thumb in the imagery is that it really isn’t a good model for social media. As you’ve pointed out, it smacks of control, censure and lack of transparency, three surefire ways to kill a grassroots movement (see “Worst Ten Social Media Campaigns of 2007″ panel at this year’s SXSW Interactive Festival http://www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=3628705 )

    The tire and wheel models are useful metaphors, though, thanks.

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Alex

    That’s the point, the tower has many challenges for a grassroots movement.

  • http://mpccorpmarketing.wordpress.com Jen Harris

    Metaphors aside, the descriptios are accurate as to what corporations are going through.
    I believe a lot of companies think they can step into social media w/more control than they are actually going to have and really don’t understand that the project will fail unless they are educated w/the “psyche” of the online consumer. What I have found is that it is all about educating on what new media, social media is, how it works & relate it to their experiences.
    I have had HUGE buy-in the past week w/my “upper crust” :) after educating in small groups where I can explain how “it” works. -jen

  • VK

    When personal computers were first introduced into corporations they were an underground tool acquired to bypass the IT shops and address the mainframe backlog. In fact this all really started almost 25 years to the day with the introduction of the IBM XT. Eventually, IT shops created the role of the PC coordinator and that eventually became the hub of end user computing. I began my career enabling the end user but I also helped create a new problem (eventually addressed by networks) called Islands of Automation – used to describe the problems relating to stand alone systems. I propose a new version of that problem revealed by this discussion: Islands of Conversation: the problem relating to disconnected social networking systems.

  • http://mikespataro.typepad.com/ Mike Spataro

    Another Car Reference – “The Shotgun” – unfortunately, letting agencies or other outside partners drive the “car” for them.

  • http://blog.mattiaskindell.com Mattias

    Thanks for the Metaphors/descriptions, interesting and relevant. Recently worked with a global corp. whom where quite eager and “somewhat” ready to jump into the social waters. Two problems jumped out at the start of this – adopted “The Tower” model (with a weak policy) and had a very low internal understanding/education ratio. One has to admire the decision to do, but the road ahead looks questionable as is. Now, whatever approach a large corp. decides to take when adapting I believe that the fundamental starting point is, as Jen touched on, education. Not just in the center (good starting point thought) but all the way out to the edges. Even thought this is grassroots people who can be the best contributors might be unaware. Also a good way to inspire and tie in the business aspect. /M

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Shotgun, sounds dangerously, esp when authenticity form the inside is expected.

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  • http://www.tapio.com/ Alex

    The reason the tower stands out like a sore thumb in the imagery is that it really isn't a good model for social media. As you've pointed out, it smacks of control, censure and lack of transparency, three surefire ways to kill a grassroots movement (see “Worst Ten Social Media Campaigns of 2007″ panel at this year's SXSW Interactive Festival http://www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=3628705 )

    The tire and wheel models are useful metaphors, though, thanks.

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  • http://www.easthailand.com/ work permit

    Another Car Reference – “The Shotgun” – unfortunately, letting agencies or other outside partners drive the “car” for them.

  • http://www.easthailand.com/ work permit

    Another Car Reference – “The Shotgun” – unfortunately, letting agencies or other outside partners drive the “car” for them.

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