From Community Management to Command Centers

In early 2007, Chris Heuer, Shel Israel, Deb Schultz, Giovanni Rodriguez, and I explored the evolution of social media within the enterprise at an intimate business event in Palo Alto. One of the more memorable discussions focused on the rise of an official role within business to listen to social discourse and channel inbound questions and comments as well as official responses. The question eventually arose, how do we classify this new role within the organization? The designation of “Community Manager” earned the greatest support that day, but it did so with a caveat, “communities, by organic design, could not be managed.”

Fast forward several years, the community manager has evolved into an industry standard position within the social media value chain; it is also the beneficiary of its own appreciation day.

If a conversation takes place online and we’re not there to hear it, did it really happen?

Community management is indeed a critical role in any fledgling social or adaptive business. Monitoring keywords provides us with invaluable insights that reveal the sentiment, volume and reach of activity within our markets. Identifying, tracking, and engaging customers and stakeholders helps us cultivate rewarding communities measured by loyalty and advocacy. Listening to conversations provides us with an opportunity to feel what people are saying and the experiences they’re sharing. If we pay attention, we can surface the ideas and touchpoints that gives us purpose and provide us with opportunities to earn relevance.

Over the years, the role of the community manager has evolved. What started as a gateway to surfacing the conversations related to brands in the emerging conversational landscape, evolved into something far more sophisticated. And, we’re just getting started.

Houston, We Have a Problem

When I think about those famous words, “Houston, we have a problem,” I immediately envision scores of individuals seated in rows, each facing desktop terminals, while collectively positioned in front of a series of large screens. This was after all, mission control, and the fate of the astronauts in Apollo 13 rested in the hands of the technicians and scientists overseeing the operation.

In the realm of social media, community management usually entailed one person tracking keyword mentions as they appeared and reacted accordingly, hosted dialogue with customers, prospects, ensured that channels between information and representatives were seamless, and identify opportunities for improvement across the board. As conversations amplified and social graphs propagated, brands affected the most by never-ending activity in social networks and blogs required a more advanced solution for tracking, measuring, and potentially engaging stakeholders, influencers, and detractors. This new obligation only intensified as social media moved from digital outliers to the mainstream. Now, some of the socially vulnerable brands in the world require a mission control not unlike what we envision when we hear those two words, “mission control.” The difference is that this new infrastructure is designed to ensure positive brand experiences as well as the impact of real-time brand democracy.

In some cases, brands receive thousands to tens of thousands of mentions per day. In reality, it was too much for any one person to command. And like that, the importance of listening and monitoring intensified and rapidly demanded a new support infrastructure. We are now moving from the era of community management to fully fledged command centers.

Several months ago, Gatorade debuted its version of a social media command center. Spawned within Gatorade’s marketing team, Mission Control allows employees to track and visualize conversations, sentiment, and also the performance of existing campaigns.

Mission Control is manned by as many as six individuals that track various activity and in some cases, feed insights back into the organization for response and also introduce shifts in current strategies. Additionally, the team is monitoring clickpaths and reactions to improve landing pages, content, and digital bridges to optimize efficacy and outcomes.

Carla Hassan, Gatorade’s senior director of consumer and shopper engagement, is not content with simply monitoring and adapting. In an interview with Mashable, Hassan intends to “take the largest sports brand in the world and turn it into the largest participatory brand in the world.”

Gatorade’s move is bold and admirable. It sets the tone for brands around the world to listen, engage and also adapt. As a result, the company is already fostering increased interaction between customers and athletes and scientists. The goal of any participatory brand is to introduce mutual benefits at the point of engagement as well as throughout all possible touchpoints online and in the real world. The reality is that in order for Gatorade’s mission control to prove its value beyond yet another corporate cost center, it will have to yield revelations, barriers and opportunities to ultimately justify its existence across all of PepsiCo.

The Dellwether of Customer Sentiment

In social media, Dell is one of the most oft cited best practices in the hallmarks of social media.  The Dell Hell days were nothing short of historical for any business. Consider it a baptism by fire if you will. Dell was forced to listen, engage, and adapt in order to weather the social storm. And, over the years, Dell has perfected the art and science of linking listening to relevance. While you may grow tired of hearing about Dell’s successes in Social Media, the truth is that their social endeavors have affected the entire organization, opening doors between departments and collaboration and ultimately eliminating the walls that once siloed critical business functions. In many ways, Dell is years into designing both a social and adaptive business. With the recent launch of its Social Media Listening Command Center, customers officially become part of Dell’s value proposition.

In December 2010, CEO Michael Dell and CMO Karen Quintos officially launched the company’s Command Center as the operational hub for listening and engagement across all social media, globally. Dell made its name in social media by responding to customer problems. But, this is bigger than customer service or marketing. Dell is embedding social media across the fabric of the company, connecting with customers to listen, engage and act on every facet of business. The Web is now a point of convergence to build stronger customer connections and improve products, service, and business overall.

According to Dell, the Social Media Listening Command Center tracks on average more than 22,000 daily topic posts related to Dell, as well as the mentions of Dell on Twitter that have a reach greater than the circulation of the top 12 daily newspapers in the United States.

Tracking surfaces:
- topics and subject of conversations
- sentiment
- share of voice
- geography
- trending across topics, sentiment, geographies

The reality is that conversations on the social Web touch every aspect of Dell’s business. As a result, Dell’s efforts in social media and community are focused on hearing everything to ensure that the relevant people in Dell’s businesses receive feedback and connect with customers directly. More importantly, it’s about learning and changing based on repeat feedback.

With more than 5000 Dell employees now trained in social media, many are actively listening across the Web as part of their jobs.

Operator Please: Creating a Social Switchboard

When I talk about the idea of the social or adaptive business, it is to the extent that social media impacts the entire organization. Responding to problems is only one facet of listening and engaging. The intelligence rife within the always-on focus group yields insights that can inspire new products, services, and improvements across the entire organization. For example, Dell monitors keyword clouds to see if certain negative words represent emerging trouble spots. If a hardware or software issue gains momentum, the company can hone in on the root cause and issue a fix before the problem reaches a boiling point. Diffusing the problem before it’s everyone’s problem greatly diminished the likelihood of earning attention from influencers, bloggers, and press.

The truth is that no amount of social media brilliance or creativity will save you. This must be more than a dazzling show because the world expects you to have a presence on Facebook, Twitter and other relevant networks.  Gone are the days of operating in a vacuum.

Before we can collaborate externally, we have to collaborate within. This is also about efficiency and cooperation where it hasn’t really existed before. We are now creating feedback loops wherever touchpoints and intelligence are active and brewing.

Listening and responding only gets us so far. The goal of any adaptive business is to sense empathy along with opportunities for real-time and right-time engagement. Community management is now more important than ever before and it is only gaining in prominence. It was never just about listening, monitoring and responding. No matter how sophisticated these processes become, this is still and always will be about building a community where communities are active and emerging. This is about investing in a community through inspired action and engagement. And, this is about creating an adaptive business to not only compete for the future, but compete for relevance.

Rich Karlgaard and Brian Solis on the Forbes Video Network discussing Dell

Connect with Brian Solis on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook


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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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