From One to a Million: Managing Social Media at Scale

What if you had to re-examine your assumptions around social media? What if, instead of thinking about conversations in ones and twos, you had to think about them in thousands and tens of thousands? What if you had to manage dozens or hundreds of properties, and millions of fans? What would change?

Last weekend I presented a session at PodCamp Toronto entitled “From One to a Million: Managing Social Media at Scale.” The goal of the session was to prompt people to question some of the norms espoused by many ‘experts’, who have never had to manage social media programs at anything beyond a small scale. Norms such as the idea that you “need” to talk to every person who engages with you – something that is feasible at small scale, but infeasible when you get into the tens of thousands of replies weekly.

This is not to say that those norms are completely incorrect, but that there is a practical reality for brands operating at scale – structure changes, processes change and the norms have to change.

Key points from the presentation:

1. Structure: How do you structure to handle social media at scale?

Brands need to grapple with structural decisions at a global scale:

  • How much do you centralize vs decentralize control?
  • Do you house social within the corporate HQ or at the business unit level?
  • Do you aim for consistency and economies of scale or responsiveness at a local market level?
  • Do you impose social media on the enterprise or allow it to grow organically?

There’s no right or wrong answer; the decision depends on objectives, on your broader business structure, on the scale of your social media activities, on your business’ culture and on the resources you have to hand, among other things.

2. Community Management: How do you go from 1:1 to 1:1,000,000?

Community management at scale requires brands to reassess the norms they hear espoused daily. I offered seven pointers for scaling community management practices:

  1. Moderate to deal with trolls (with an affectionate prod in the slide at Scott Stratten) – if you operate a social media program at scale without moderation, you’ll spend your life dealing with trolls and spammers
  2. Embrace proactiveness – don’t wait for people to come to you; use analytics and insights to drive proactive content to answer questions ahead of time
  3. Recognize you can’t talk to everyone – at some point you need to prioritize or you will drown
  4. Respond publicly when possible (and when appropriate) – answering publicly lets other people (a) see you being responsive and (b) see your answers and possibly answer their own questions
  5. Help customers to help customers – successful companies in the social support space leverage customer forums to help customers answer each others’ questions, and step in when questions go unanswered at first
  6. Build an army of advocates – educate, empower and reward your biggest fans for engaging for you
  7. Know your customer – know who they are, what they want and how they want it to serve information most appropriately for them

(Check out my related post on tips for scaling customer service)

3. Content Strategy: How do you stay engaging while driving business results at scale?

Content strategy is a shiny object right now (in a stroke of amazing timing, Edelman appointed Steve Rubel to the new post of Chief Content Strategist yesterday – congrats Steve). I offered three broad categories of ways to resist the myriad pressures that face social media teams within corporations, and to stay on strategy:

  1. Know your objectives, and use them as a decision making framework.
  2. Know your channels, your audiences and the difference between them.
  3. Execute with rigor and optimize relentlessly.

4. Measurement: Turning a challenge to a competitive advantage

Measurement has historically been a pain point for many PR practitioners, but it’s a point of passion for me – I truly believe that effective measurement can be a differentiator for companies’ social media programs. When you begin to activate social at large scale, statistical analysis of content and program performance can yield invaluable insights.

I’ve in the past on ways companies can improve their social media measurement; this time around I offered another five tips:

  1. Focus on the right things – measure the right things for the right audience to meet their objectives.
  2. Connect your metrics with your objectives – don’t measure share of voice if you’re looking to improve the responsiveness of your customer support, for example.
  3. Know what the numbers mean – do your research and don’t let companies lead you down the garden path with made-up numbers and meaningless multipliers.
  4. Generate and drive insights throughout your program – look at your foundational always-on activities (your program is always-on, right?), at point-in-time campaigns and at the broader conversation ecosystem for insights.
  5. Use full-program measurement – set measurable objectives, use insights from past programs to fuel program development, course-correct throughout and measure results to drive insights for future work.

This was the first time I had presented this deck. I would have loved to have another 15 minutes longer to incorporate more practical pointers, but this provides a solid high-level overview of how to leverage these four elements of a program both at scale and more broadly. I’d love to know what you think, though – let me know in the comments below.

  • Knowing what the numbers mean is important so that businesses aren’t overtly reliant on researchers and external parties to make sense of the data for them, as well as to put these to practical use.

  • Melissa Coetzee

    As a new business, this information was very useful ! Thanks for sharing !

  • Knowing what the numbers mean is important so that businesses aren’t overtly reliant on researchers and external parties to make sense of the data for them, as well as to put these to practical use.

  • marjorey56

    I think social networking is a terrific way to quick start a company, club, or venture that requires lift off. Excellent strategy for finding yourself submerged inside a community with compatible people. Great on the individual scale, to satisfy and reunite.
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