Social media is rife with spontaneous combustion; conversations boil up everywhere, and crises erupt when least expected.
Social media shops in businesses and other organizations can't afford to operate in a careless manner. To be effective, they require serious management efforts and a set of concrete objectives.
A recent post at Poynter.org offered suggestions for running social media teams in news organizations, with a focus on details like scheduling shifts and keeping your group small (not a problem for beleaguered, budget-strapped teams at many companies).
So we asked corporate social media experts for their tips on managing a social media team. Here's a sampling of their suggestions:
1. Set your business objectives.
It's well and good to plan employee work shifts and gin up the Google+ site. But first things first, says Christopher Barger, senior vice president of global programs at Voce Connect.
Set and prioritize your objectives, whether they entail revenue generation, message penetration, impact on brand perception, or something else, he says.
"Social in a vacuum or for its own sake is a fun exercise," he says, "but in the end it doesn't necessarily lend itself to meeting business goals unless the program's been built to do so from the beginning."
2. Be prepared to justify your efforts upstairs.
Barger has led social media programs at the top 20 Fortune 500 companies, and he was director of global social media at General Motors, so he understands the thinking of the bosses who want a return on investment.
You must "justify the expenditure of time, resources, and people toward a social media program," says Barger, who is the author of "The Social Media Strategist." "The team will have to go back to business leadership at some point with concrete results against a specified goal."
3. Divide the duties.
At Southwest Airlines, everyone on the social media team has a defined role, says Brooks Thomas, emerging media coordinator. There are three communicators, each of whom handles a separate channel (Facebook, Twitter, and the company blog).
Three more customer relations staffers also cover those channels. And there's a marketing strategist who handles the design and feel, media buys, and fan/follower acquisitions.
"Our customers don't care what department we are in, or where we sit, they just want information, and a quick, accurate response," Thomas says. "We've aligned ourselves behind the scenes to meet this need."
4. Meet weekly.
Southwest's social media team meets every Friday to go over the upcoming calendar, discuss cross-departmental issues, talk through the past week, and organize, Thomas, says.
"The cornerstone of that organization is meeting frequently so we're on the same page," he says.
5. Critique yourself.
Both in the meetings and outside them, learn from what went right and what didn't. Dissect the major events.
"We're going to do a case study on ourselves and see what we did well, what we can add to our checklist in terms of the crisis specifically, what we can do better next time," Thomas says. "And we also gauge sentiment toward how we responded."
6. Observe and learn.
Look both within and beyond your organization for ideas on how to improve, says Angeline Vuong, product strategist at Huge.
"One of the best things that you can do is learn from your term," she says. "So set your best practices standards, and always try to evolve past that."
7. Create detailed weekly analytics reports.
This doesn't just look at the big numbers, but gets down to the microscopic level of what makes a good tweet, says Vuong, who previously worked for Citysearch.com.
"Let's say the Seattle editor had sent out a specific tweet, and it had gotten picked up and retweeted by a bunch of people," Vuong says. "We'd break it down and show what was compelling about that tweet, and how every editor can learn from that."
8. Understand and use the available tools.
Tools like Radian6, Sysomos MAP, and Lithium Technologies enable you to monitor the conversation about your business and your competitors.
9. Have your team advocate companywide—and train others.
Vuong has done social media strategy for an $8 billion B2B company, and managing social media across an enterprise that big is a difficult job that requires coordination, she says. All the employees value their autonomy in their own divisions.
"So the goal is to train everyone in each [area] enough to get them to get to practice social media on their own while sharing their thoughts across the organization," she says.