Social Media at Scale: Organizing Global Social Media Teams

One of the most fundamental questions in running a social media program at scale is, “how do I organize it”?

How do you scale and structure a global social media program?

There’s some good material out there on this. Jeremiah Owyang, in particular, wrote about this some time back from a functional perspective; this provides a good starting point but didn’t consider the geographic and cultural challenges of a global organization. More recently, he released a more focused look at the tensions facing companies who are looking at scaling their social media.

Owyang also identified six tensions that match nicely with some of the pros and cons I’ve identified below:

  1. Corporate vs Business Unit
  2. Global vs Local
  3. Consistent messaging vs Varied content
  4. Specialized software vs Large suites
  5. Individual disruptors vs Established program managers
  6. Enterprise Deployment vs Organic social growth

I was recently asked about whether I had a preferred model for resourcing social media teams. Here, minus a few confidential specifics, is my answer:


A country-by-country model offers significant flexibility and local customization. Freed from the restrictions of a coordinated program, local markets can respond nimbly to local market conditions.

However, a completely decentralized approach can lead to coordination challenges in terms of things like messaging, global marketing campaigns and announcements, but also from a coordination perspective (for example, how do you hand-off community management assignments between teams if they are on different platforms).

In my view, this is a fairly immature approach to operationalizing a global program, and tends to spring from an organic growth of social within an organization (analogous to Owyang’s ‘organic’ model of social).

One core team

This model eschews local market teams in favour of one centrally-led team.

Pros here include control over global marketing campaigns, coordinated messaging, and efficiency in operation. You don’t have people ‘going rogue’ on announcement, and executing marketing campaigns is easy.

However, it is very, very easy for a central team to become insular and to forget or misunderstand local market concerns. The danger of this shouldn’t be underestimated – if your global footprint extends beyond markets with a similar culture to yours, then that local market context is key. This is especially true in technical fields with a lot of local market regulation.

Centralized teams can also lead to tension with markets. Remember that point about teams not ‘going rogue’? If you don’t consider localized needs, they may do just that.

Core/local hybrid (hub & spoke)

This approach involves coordination of global activities by a strong core team, but local implementation by geographically-focused teams.

The ‘hub and spoke’ model allows localization of programs and content, but permits global activations when needed. It also allows the development of common frameworks such as toolsets, measurement frameworks, common content calendar approaches (while allowing local content to vary), aligned approaches to issues management etc., which can be driven through the common structure and process. These can improve programs, reduce risk, and drive efficiencies through a large social organization.

At the same time, it can be challenging to coordinate across a large number of markets from a single team – the overhead involved centrally is high, and involves a significant head count to do so, but to an extent that’s the reality of running a global-scale always-on program.

Core/region/local hybrid (multiple hub & spoke)

This is the most complex structure, with a global lead, regional leads and local market teams. It is also probably the most difficult model to pull off due to the multiple levels of coordination.

Pros of this include lower overhead at a central level (as some coordination is handled by regions), localization at a market level yet still retaining the ability to activate globally. It also offers the same benefits when it comes to globally aligning tools, processes etc. as the core/local hybrid model. Bringing regional leads together as a core global leadership team is essential to ensure that regional interests are heard by the global lead, and to avoid ‘broken telephone’ games.

On the flip side, this model requires the additional investment of regional staffing, and adds an additional level of oversight and review which could be a pro or a con depending on culture and the legal environment.

Clarity and executive sponsorship of this model is critical for it to be effective (i.e. there is a risk of local markets ignoring global direction if strong executive sponsorship is not present).

Which to choose?

The decision between these various models isn’t a black/white one. It’s going to come down to a combination of resources (including budget), culture, the nature of the business and the scale of the social media operation. This is also by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’s a useful starting point.

If you’ve operated in a global social media team, what have you found in your experience?

Image: Shutterstock

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.