The Five Ways Companies Organize for Social Business

Source: Social Media Today - Posted September 30, 2011 by Christophe Mallet

This is a good article that does not just talk about Social Media Strategy and organisations – it actually covers different ways to do Social Media and then shows how to incorporate this into your business in a flexible and pragmatic way that is more likely for success.

You might have heard of Jeremiah Owyang’s model, “The Five Ways Companies Organize for Social Business”. His framework presents and details 5 organisational models illustrating how companies structure their social media activity across the organisation. Summing it up broadly, here’s how it goes:

The Organic model is where companies usually start from: multiple, uncoordinated and decentralized initiatives. In terms of content & resource synergies, brand control, not to mention reputational risk and reporting…this model is far from optimal.

In the Centralized model, one department manages the overall company’s social media activity, distributing content across various business area-specific channels. While ensuring greater control over the message and maximisation of resources’ use, this model seriously limits business-area autonomy and might be less reactive than the following ones due to its “process-heavy” nature.

In the Coordinated model, the central team provides resources to various nodes to empower them to become fully autonomous (yet consistent across the organisation) when managing their social media activity.

The Dandelion is probably the most advanced structure. In this model, the central node only serves for central reporting and resources, with each hub acting as a fully autonomous Coordinated-type structure. This particularly fits multinational organisations that have very diverse “companies within companies”.

In the Honeycomb, every individual plays a role in customer facing interactions. It requires an advanced and open social media culture, and only fits B2C organisations. As Jeremiah Owyang concludes, “very few companies will actually achieve this”.

Overall, this is a powerful framework which can help organisations figure out where they are and what they’re aiming to achieve. Significantly, Owyang doesn’t present any model as being the ideal one, acknowledging that different organisations have different needs/objectives in social networks.

However, this framework is static and doesn’t really draw a roadmap explaining how to go from, for example, Organic to the Dandelion / Hub & Spoke. Implementing a successful social media strategy – on top of the necessary skills, policy, training and so on – requires a massive cultural change. Putting it simply, taking a multinational organisation’s disorganised social media presence with myriads of poorly-managed and barely controlled/monitored channels, and turning it into an efficient, flexible, global Dandelion model delivering clear ROI is not going to be achieved in a day, a week, or a month.

The real question when trying to socialise your organisation – and realise the benefits therein – is therefore not “What’s the right model for us?” but “How do we implement company-wide change”.

From an organisational point of view, turning your company social represents a behaviour-disrupting innovation. In a nutshell, every approach taken to tackle the latter question stands somewhere between the “Blitzkieg approach” and the “Guerrilla approach”.

The Blitzkrieg approach is the one most commonly used by organisations when implementing innovation; it’s an “all in one go – get used to it” approach that consists of imposing the change to the whole organisation following a tight schedule…this type of approach virtually always fails to generate “internal buy-in”

The Blitzkrieg approach is the one most commonly used by organisations when implementing innovation; it’s an “all in one go – get used to it” approach that consists of imposing the change to the whole organisation following a tight schedule. Most social media consultants will tell you things like “Resources Mapping, Social Media Policy, Training, Engagement Map and you’re good to go”. Well, this doesn’t work, mainly for one simple reason: most people hate change. As a result, this type of approach virtually always fails to generate “internal buy-in” and the shiny Social Media Revolution ends in an inconsistent, marketing-driven “let’s use twitter to broadcast corporate messages just like the old days” mockery of what was supposed to be “engagement”.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the Guerrilla approach. This consists in taking only a small number of well-trained and highly motivated individuals to make the company social, department by department, one campaign at a time and recruiting new devotees along the way.

Applying Everett Roger’s “Diffusion of Innovations” model to this particular case, the Guerrilla approach acknowledges the fact that within every organisation the acceptance for change is not homogenous. Some people love change, some are shy or indifferent, some will fight it until they’re dead or fired. Basic human nature, we’ve all seen it. In other terms, only a fraction of people can be considered as “Innovators” and they are the only ones to have the influence to generate buy-in from the “early majority”, quickly followed by a big chunk of the “late majority”. Then come the “laggards”, or “social media haters”, left alone in the smoking ashes of the old “broadcast and sell” paradigm.

Let’s go back now to the Jeremiah Owyang model and try to see what it would look like if we were to turn a “Organic” company into a “Coordinated Model” following the Guerrilla approach.

Step 1 would be to identify and extract one particularly innovative node from the Organic structure.

In Step 2, after some targeted training/workshops, one could decide to launch a pilot program coordinated by the one team extracted in Step 1. At this point, it’s just not realistic to put together a central cross-functional social media savvy team, so let’s make the central team and the node complementary to each other: Central Marketing and one product-focussed initiative, or Central HR and a business-area specific HR team for example. This way we expect to create the first segment of the Coordinated Model and generate interest and buy-in among neighbouring business areas (the orange dots below). This is the “innovators to early majority” stage.

Step 3 to end: One by one, add hubs around the central point replicating on a larger scale the process implemented in Step 2 while complementing the central node with new functions and skills (i.e. Comms + CRM + Legal + HR + Marketing…). Progressively, the central node will develop processes and tools to speed up the integration of peripheral nodes: Social Media Policy, Engagement Guidelines, Training, Tutorials, Toolkits, Resources…

In the end, this incremental (hence long term) approach should enable the organisation to reach the desired structure (or to change its mind along the way) whilst ensuring at each step that the resources are properly trained, that the engagement is consistent, and that – most importantly – social activity is strategically meaningful and ultimately generates value for the business.


Coming from a business school background but/and deeply passionate about music, fascinated by the perpetually resurrecting creative industries and an early believer in the power of Social Media, I joined Carve Consulting after previous experiences in both the Music Industry and the Consulting area. Now a beginner DJ on week-ends, I love spending my weeks at Carve blending ideas, matching tactics and tools to create the catchiest strategies to bring innovations, individuals and companies together on the Social Web. On top of dealing with clients, I sometimes switch the cross-fader to Internal Strategic and Business Development. Addicted to Hootsuite (among many other geeky bonbons) and rather optimistic about future Web developments, I’m confident that the web 3.0 will actually arise when people will be able to directly download pepperoni pizzas and ice-cold beers.

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