Report: Companies Should Organize For Social Media in a “Hub and Spoke” model

I often get asked by brands: “How should we organize our company for social media?” or “Which roles do we need”, or “Which department is in charge”. So for our latest report (clients can access all the details) answers just that, it has data and graphs about spending, brand maturity in the social space, which department ‘owns’ the program, and how companies are organizing.

Companies organize in three distinct models
For this post, let’s focus in on how companies are organizing. There are three basic models that I’ve observed and surveyed brands:

  1. The Tire (Distributed): Where each business unit or group may create its own social media programs without a centralized approach. We call this approach the “tire,” as it originates at the edges of the company.
  2. The Tower (Centralized): We refer to this centralization as the “tower” — a standalone group within a company that’s responsible for social media programs, often within corporate marketing or corporate communicaitons.
  3. The Hub and Spoke (Cross Functional): Like the hub on a bicycle wheel, a cross-functional group that represents multiple stakeholders across the company assembles in the middle of the organization. The hub facilitates resource sharing and cross-functional communications (via the “spokes” in the wheel) to those at the edge of the organization (or the “tire”)


How companies organize for social media
The above graphic shows how brands we surveyed are organized

Which way should companies organize?
We believe the most sophisticated and effecient way is the Hub and Spoke, which provides centralized resources that can support business units.  The business units still have the freedom and flexibility to dialog with the market –and should be in alignment with what other spokes are doing.  Social doesn’t impact one department –but impacts marketing, pr, product, services, support, and development –every customer touchpoint.

Remember: 80% is Strategy only 20% is Technology
On a related note, thanks to heavy collaboration with colleague Zach Hofer-Shall we’ve also published a report for clients on a community launch checklist. This checklist reminds brands that 80% of their success is dependent on understanding their customers, defining an objective, and assembling the right strategy that encompasses: plans, roles, process, budgets, measurement, and training –not a focus on technology.

The faster brands can realize that approaching social marketing and collaboration isn’t about technology, but about process and change management the better off they are. You’ll find simliar thoughts from David Armano –who’s scoping out different models within their framework of social business design.

Love to hear from you: Which way is your brand organized?  In a tire? tower? or hub and spoke. In my experience, I often ask stakeholders in companies to vote by raising their hands on which model they think they are –most often, not everyone agrees –but most want to evolve to hub and spoke. Try polling your internal teams to start a lively discussion.

Update: David Armano responds, and points out there can be multiple hubs and spokes in a single corporation. We’ve found this in large CPG and Tech titans, this model can work well.

  • Thanks Jeremiah, Great research.

  • Great post! Have been waiting for it since you announced it 😉

    Right now, we are in a towering position. This is because our company is undergoing dramatic restructuring.

    Since I am with the company, I am evangalizing the Hub. First, because I believe matrix organizations are generally better, second because our stakeholders are very strong within the company. So having each unit (stakeholder) onboard thru one person, we can actually overcome the need to convince them one by one.

  • You would have to think that in order the effectiveness would be highest for cross-functional then distributed then centralised. That’s not rocket science. Just like centralised strategic planning was not effective you would think then same about social media planning and execution

    But in reality it depends exactly what stage a company is at, what their purpose is for social media, what their plans are for the further development of social media activities in the firm, and how they share their knowledge and expertise within the firm.

    Asking for a “show of hands” is a bit of a meaningless exercise, like asking who likes puppies. Let’s try to understand why companies chose the model they did, after all they all read what we read, what results they have achieved, how the choice of model has contributed, where they plan to go next structurally, and how they manage and disseminate social media skills and knowledge to the places that it needs to get to within the firm, etc.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Social Media Academy (Australia)
    http://www.socialmedia-academy.com.au

  • Danielle Brehmer

    Funny enough when I think about, because as you shared 80% strategy/20% technology, but the hub and spoke model is basically how, in my opinion, IT departments are most effective as well – out in the field, problem-solving, efficiency-gaining for other departments.

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  • Nice post but I must admit, I don’t think the big problem is with how social media sits within a marketing department but rather with how marketing departments are organized. They’re simply not organized for the 21st century in my opinion. You cannot separate out digital from the rest of marketing, research and listening need to be more tightly integrated and PR, Social Media and Research must be more closely tied together. Here’s a post of mine on the topic – http://www.goingsocialnow.com/2009/05/big-ideas-for-social-influence.html

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  • Interesting (but not surprising) how this parallels some discussions of how IT should be organized.

  • It is obvious a ton of businesses need help with the transition. It is easier for individuals to get go. Established businesses? Not that easy.

  • Paramendra, exactly this is a culture change –not a technology change.

    Walter, I think we agree, a show of hands is great for triggering a discussion, the data that I posted backs up what’s really happening.

  • I think we’re trying to be hub-and-spoke but there’s the reality that many little towers can spring up in different areas. I wouldn’t want to see that happen…what’s the key to making sure we avoid it? Perhaps company execs need to mandate hub-and-spoke?

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  • Ned Kumar

    Great post Jeremiah and I agree that this is going to be a culture change. Two big “impediments” I see are (a) the politics/bureaucracy in some organizations where ‘Marketing’ or ‘Communications’ want to take total control, and (b) a shift in the mental model of the organization and the executives from the current model to a model able to handle social media. These are interlinked and I think the faster a firm realized the benefit of collaboration, the quicker they will leverage an advantage out of the social media.

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  • George Simpson

    My organization is trying to empower different teams to use social media for their work, and are basically using a hub and spokes model.

    The challenge remains that we have pretty tightly controlled messages and are concerned about quality control.

    I’d be curious about your strategies for managing everyone’s use of social media effectively, without micromanaging.

  • Structurally, I like the hub-and-spoke model. The spokes are tension, which allows for the distribution of stresses throughout the structure. This is a classical example of a manmade tensegrity structure. Dr. Stephen Levin speaks of the dynamics of the hub-and-spoke model in his paper “The mechanics of martial arts” ( http://www.biotensegrity.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=29 ).

    The downside of this kind of structure — and its metaphorical value — is that the tensions in a hub-and-spoke model are cranked so high that it’s essentially a rigid structure. Humans are also a tensegrity; when we crank up our tensions in a “fight or flight” reflex, we also become much more rigid. We become far less energy efficient — “going with the flow” becomes problematic. We also lose the ability to influence and be influenced by others around us. It’s noteworthy that we really don’t have a word for relaxing our tensions to a long-term functional level.

    Earlier today, I was googling on the term “nested tensegrity” and ran across a fascinating paper about tensegrity and social structure: http://www.laetusinpraesens.org/docs/systen2.php . That paper asks the question: “What would tensegrity organizations do?” They call this approach to organizations “blending networks and systems.” This paper was published in 1978 and frequently references Fuller’s commentary on Tensegrity.

    Fuller’s words can be found in the online edition of “Synergetics”. I find the best way to explore Fuller’s words on the topic is to download the PDF of the chapter on tensegrity: http://www.rwgrayprojects.com/synergetics/print/p700.pdf . Fuller’s most brilliant observations about tensegrity are probably in section 740.21 of that text: the struts and tensile components of a tensegrity can be composed of tensegrities themselves. “Synergetics” was published in early 1975 before Mandelbrot’s ideas of fractals were widely discussed. Section 784.00 on Allspace-filling Tensegrity Arrays is also intriguing.

    Fuller’s words are quite dense; they’re written in what’s almost his own dialect of English. One of his students made a very good translation: “A Fuller Explanation”, by Professor Amy C. Edmondson. Her text is available as a print-on-demand book and a downloadable PDF file: http://www.lulu.com/content/664771 . Edmondson is a senior professor at the Harvard Business School; her speciality is research into how organizations function in high-stress environments — hospital emergency rooms, etc.

    Instead of a hub-and-spoke, I suggest modeling an organization as a interdependent network of tensegrity icosahedrons. The obvious tradeoff is that few of us have ever seen these structures and have no idea how they work. Part of that can be addressed by getting a Skwish Toy from a local toy store or your favorite vendor.

    The other downside of the word “tensegrity” is that it was compromised by Carlos Castaneda. From castaneda.com: “Tensegrity is the name given to the modern version of the magical passes: positions and movements of body and breath that were dreamt and stalked by men and women seers who lived in Mexico in ancient times […]” He “borrowed” the word to describe those dances, and he never returned it!

    One other way to view modern functional structures is as a swarm. The NYT had an excellent article on this a while back: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/13/science/13traff.html . The article even mentions how one or two individuals can “influence” in a swarm. Again, the word has a problem: our default connotation of swarms is that they’re some out-of-control structure. Nonsense!

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  • We are defiantly striving for “hub and spoke”, but we are not there yet. Anyway you have once again provided me with tools and insight to be used with both clients and ourselves.

    We are still struggling with at least three major issues when working with clients. First of all the lack of understanding form top management. Second – the traditional view of communication still performed by the communication departments. Third – an unwillingness to involve employees not directly connected to the communication department. The two last points off-course strongly connected!!

    The good thing is that we are seeing a clear positive trend of changes. The reason is that in some (even major) companies a dedicated and enthusiastic employee has taken action by them selves and are starting to create positive response and results. This off course tend to open some eyes and make way for new thinking and action. But still there are examples of this kind of initiatives that just fade away because the company fails to followup and reward the initiative.

    Again Jeremiah, thank you for your highly appreciated work and sharing of knowledge. If you ever should drop by Norway or Scandinavia, give me a heads up!!

  • In Germany, most companies are just now exploring social media. They are far from having an internal structure, mostly they are asking for social media workshops as a part of bigger, overall communication strategy pitches.

    Working in an agency that regularly takes part in these pitches I am wondering how to make them realize that social media is not just another campaign, but that companies really have to invest ressources and commit – without freaking them out!

    Do you have a recommendation for companies that are just carefully starting with lets say, a Twitter account or a Facebook Fanpage, how to manage this internally?

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  • I just took a very intensive 8-week course at the Social Media Academy – hearing from people who had been there / done that and have tried to pull Social Media into some organizing principles. It is a work in progress, but my takeaway is that the hub-and-spoke model works best. However, I would add a caveat to that. Just as tech support is vital in every company, Social Media support is as well.

    Within each department that is engaging in Social Media, there should be one person who becomes part of the company-wide Social Media team. A Social Media Manager / Director can be plucked from the ranks and hold this new position that coordinates and informs this team. This allows for more people in various departments to contribute to the Social Media efforts without having to constantly keep on top of new technologies, best practices, etc. Also, since – as you have stated- success is 80% Strategy and only 20% Technology – this team can help create a Strategy that works in each department but also ties into a company-wide Strategy. They can also jump in and help when some of the assumptions that underlie that Strategy or the Implementation Plans that come out of that Strategy falter. As anyone who has done Strategic Planning knows, what you decide is just your best thinking on one particular day, and humility about the mistakes you make is the best avenue to success.

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  • In terms of the 20% technology, it makes life considerably easier if all those spokes are feeding into one centralized hub, technologically speaking. Social-smart allows multiple moderators to work through one convenient dashboard. Some larger companies have several departments involved in various branding, research, marketing or sales aspects of the social media engagement funnel, and many of those departments are reluctant of lose control over what they perceive as ‘their’ territory. There are also the concerns of the legal staff who want to maintain some control of the messages being put out. Social-smart makes all this possible based on the hub and spoke model, even the messaging. Frequently used message snippets can be pre-approved and dropped into out-bound messaging as needed with just a click, giving the company some measure of the control they are so afraid of losing. Social media is complex and fragmented enough without enshrining it into a similarly fractured corporate structure. Where the technology is available, let it help you streamline that process so you can make the hub & spoke model work for you efficiently and productively.

  • Jasper

    Agreed, a central group that understands the technology standpoint is key –but they can’t act like traditional ‘bogged down’ IT departments. There needs to be a sandbox to allow for experimentation –but the ability and empowerment to purchase enterprise class tools like listening and community software.

    What happens when a central technology group doesn’t be flexible? The business units will bypass them with ning, socialtext, yammer, and facebook.

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  • Great discussion.

    I have noticed how organizations are increasingly turning to in-house teams for building social strategies that are authentic to customers, and that can more directly deliver the insights and results for meeting their business goals and missions. We wanted the Social-smart dashboard to be a convenient web-based tool for organizations to manage and monitor their social media campaigns in-house. It addresses the fragmented experience of managing today’s multi-channel campaigns with a more flexible distributed workflow (multiple dashboard logins). Depending on the type of campaign, organizations can choose to manage them with:

    – an individual “Power-User”
    – a Director with multiple Moderators
    – a Director/Moderator with multiple external experts
    – a Director/Moderator with an external Agency support team

    Besides using the Hub-and-Spoke model for organizational efficiency, Social-smart is also excited about testing it as a way to raise a company’s social participation and their network-effect for conversions. Social-smart Link-boxes are the spokes, and the company’s landing page is the Hub.

    We would appreciate your feedback http://www.social-smart.com/media/Social-Smart_One-sheet.pdf BTW, we’re releasing a new video-demo next week.

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  • Great Post!

    In our business, we work with clients that often do not have the internal experience to be either hubs or spokes. So, we operate on a “Educate, Inspire and Release (with training wheels)” approach. We prefer to educate the key stakeholders so that they can spread the information down the various business chains. A bit like the hub and spoke model you’ve outlined above. What I’ve seen most often is that in the face of confusion, many of the spokes simply stop spinning. The old adage that “it’s better to appear stupid than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt” seems to be the biggest enemy to getting a good social effort rolling.

  • Actually, I’d challenge your math a bit. I think that 50% is Strategy. 30% is Execution and Experimentation. And 20% is Technology.

    For years I continue to find myself coming in and cleaning up after “strategists” who didn’t have any idea how to actually get a vision executed — to say nothing of staffed, managed, maintained and iterated against. I understand that you are rolling up Execution and Experimentation into Strategy, but I think that does them all a tremendous disservice.

    Being a “strategist” always sounds really sexy, but for those of us who make a living cleaning up after them, it’s very frustrating to hear the conversation about “strategy” devoid of tactical context.

    The strategy is important and you have to execute against it to be successful, but there are too many strategists who make a very nice living outlining grand plans in a vacuum. And (aside from giving us all a bad name), “strategy” by itself doesn’t get the job done.

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  • It seems that the effort is on the structure rather than where to put it. We have invited food, wine and travel companies to include their stories in our hub and spoke platform. Let me know what you think?

    http://nocookiecutterwines.wordpress.com/add-your-wine-food-or-destination/

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  • I’ve been thinking about this post for the better part of the last month. While I didn’t see the original research or read the complete report, I found a strong justification for the Hub & Spoke recommendation in systems theory. I hope you all find the response worthwhile, especially in getting CMOs and COOs to understand Hub & Spoke.

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