How I Built an Internal Social Media Team (Part 1)

by Ryon Harms on April 2, 2014

Something about creating alone appeals to me. It feels good to be praised for work that I know came directly from my own blood, sweat and tears. It’s how I felt after my first year as the Director of Social Media for a big, well-known brand. On day one, I was the only person within the company that truly understood social. I have to admit that it was a lot of fun to be left alone with plenty of space to innovate and explore.

Eventually though, the programs that I started took on a life of their own and grew bigger than one person. I had to figure out a way to scale, or risk having my programs be crushed under the weight of their own success. I needed help.

The first member of a social media team is the executive that oversees the function. In my case, I reported to the VP of Digital. Without the proper air cover social media programs can wither on the vine, never fully realizing their potential. It’s a shame to watch this self-defeating cycle within so many companies, but it’s understandable, given all of the competing priorities within an enterprise.

After all, there are dozens of other efforts that dwarf social media in terms of revenue generation. Even today, as advanced and complex as social media programs have become, it remains in the realm of innovation. And while most executives are measured against the bottom line, it takes a special kind of executive to have the patience and vision to incubate an initiative that isn’t making much of a dent in meeting quarterly metrics. Rewards for the executive must initially come from a drive to be different, to take a risk, and, frankly, to have a little fun along the way.

Next comes the social media team’s nucleus – the Director or VP of Social Media. As a member of socialmedia.org, I was lucky enough to meet dozens of these early innovators. We came from different states, different brands and disparate industries, but I found that there were certain personality traits that most of us had. One way to describe us is “geeks with personality.” It’s a combination of social skills, risk taking, and an inclination towards technology innovation. Many of us risked our careers on a belief that social media would change the world. I can always tell when I’m in the presence of one of these kindred spirits.

So it turned out that social media actually did have a rightful place in the business world. What place exactly seems to change depending on your business. The blessing and the curse of social media is that it has a seemingly infinite number of applications in marketing, customer service, HR, PR, and nearly every part of a business. So where do you begin? How do you take a technology nearly as ubiquitous as your smartphone, create a strategy out of it and then build a team to support it?

Continued in Part 2

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