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Social Media Org Structure

Bob Brock

Institutions of higher education are among the most complex and decentralized organizations in the world. Core and related brands, multiple campuses, various colleges and schools, online and blended operations, athletics, alumni, fundraising, each needing a website and social network presence.

How do you coordinate these many voices? How can you shape the singular voice of your institutional brand? A few savvy universities have successfully answered these questions but many are still struggling to figure it out. It’s complicated, and this post lays out the issues you’ll need to consider in planning for your social media needs.

Social Media as a Marketing Tool
Social networking can be incredibly effective as a marketing tool when your brand content becomes the framework for shaping public conversations and when institutional priorities are consistently reinforced across your social networks. This calls for establishing a strategic organizational structure and process for your overall social networking presence.

The first step is to address the two issues below to help you decide what kind of organizational structure and process will be most effective in organizing your overall social network presence:

  • A comprehensive inventory of all social networking sites – including those that are high profile but may not be “officially” sponsored by your institution – that currently define your brand in the social media space
  • A contact list of the students, staff, alumni, and faculty members who manage these social media sites and either create or monitor the content for their unique audiences

Once you have a good handle on the extent of social networking sites representing your institution, you can identify the best organizational structure to help organize and manage them.

Organizational Model Options
Probably the most often-cited illustration of the options for handling social media is by Jeremiah Owyang of the Altimeter Group, which developed the following organizational models in 2010. We like this approach, since it puts social media structural options in context. While the original blog post containing all the organizational models can be seen here, we’ve included a portion of a slide via Altimeter’s research below summarizing the options:

What Model for Higher Ed?
As illustrated above, the “Hub and Spoke” approach was the most popular (41%) formation in Altimeter Group’s survey of corporations. No one-size-fits-all solution will work equally well for small liberal arts colleges and for large, research-heavy universities, but the Hub-and-Spoke and the Multiple Hub-and-Spoke models below are well-suited for exerting a reasonable level of integration throughout the decentralized higher education environment.


They also allow enough distributed freedom for meaningful and targeted dialog in all of the different areas of audience interest. In addition, these models are cost-efficient in terms of staff, and are easily adaptable for higher ed organizations in which the content managers for many quasi-affiliated social networks are either part-time contributors or engaged volunteers.

In the final analysis, either the Hub-and-Spoke model or the Multiple Hub-and-Spoke model – depending upon the size and complexity of your institution – are likely to provide the best organizational structure for effective social media marketing.

The Lead Role
The very nature of social media dictates that responsibilities should be spread across the university with as many active participants as possible. But if you’re going to get all of these dispersed efforts organized for greater brand impact, someone has to do the organizing.  That should be the Director of Social Media in the central marketing and communications office. For best results, this should be a dedicated full-time position reporting to the brand manager.

Some believe the need for dedicated social media staff may be diminishing (see excerpts from Mark Greefield’s blog on this topic here) as more and more individuals across organizations become more directly involved with social media. Given current staffing workloads and the lack of widespread involvement in social media at the current time, that seems a doubtful scenario to us, at least for the next few years.

So for the foreseeable future, the reality is that the central marketing and communications office needs to set goals, identify what social networks will be utilized, define the campus groups that need a high-profile social media presence, and define how each presence fits into the overall institutional effort. It’s important to come to terms with the fact that social media strategies need a clear objective to drive their purpose, both for internal and for external audiences.

The social media director’s role should be largely focused on helping distributed content managers express the brand identity and messaging through different conversation threads on different sites. The director should provide logos and branded landing page designs for the various social networking sites, and should provide assistance in linking these sites into a larger institutional network. He or she should train content managers on brand guidelines and priorities, and should provide regular ongoing updates and meetings to share institutional news, stories, tips, and brand updates.

Collaboration among all of the social media content managers in your organization will help tremendously in focusing your overall social network presence. The effort should include activities such as:

  • Training social media content managers on the brand platform and key messages
  • Training social media content managers on optimum frequency and appropriate format of posts
  • Linking different sites to create an institutional network of social media
  • Looking for opportunities to merge social networks for greater impact
  • Looking for opportunities to share content among content managers
  • A schedule of quarterly meetings to discuss your social networking strategies and tactics
  • An email network to provide updates, changes, story ideas, news, and tips for content managers

This represents a lot of internal coordination, but it dramatically improves the institution’s ability to present a powerful and consistent brand identity through social media. A social media mash-up page on your website can also help the director manage all of the organization’s social networking sites, and will increase the level of audience conversation, as well.

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