What is the role of a social media centre of excellence?

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When companies wish to integrate social media into their company, it is highly recommended to appoint a person responsible for these changes early in the process. This is what a qualitative survey amongst 25 companies showed. The 25 companies were located both in Europe and in America. Some of them had already integrated social media widely in their organisation, others are only in the starting blocks.

Appointing a person with ultimate responsibility early on in the change process promptly creates clarity for the organisation. In smaller companies one person (Conversation Manager) can handle this task. Larger companies will need to appoint a team that will contribute to the social media integration: the social media centre of excellence.

The social media centre of excellence is responsible for strategies, processes and resources management.

Sometimes discussions take place regarding the responsibilities of a social media centre of excellence. Some see this as an operational function with the main responsibility of engaging in online conversation with consumers on behalf of a brand. However, this is too confined and too operational. The social media team helps its company to think within the context of the consumer and the new technology. It acts as a central project manager for integrating social media in your company.

The team’s main tasks are: determining the strategy & planning, designing processes and managing resources & knowledge.

Strategy & planning:

  • Drawing up the entire strategy and vision concerning conversations
  • Supervising pilot projects
  • Assuming ultimate responsibility for a number of flagship projects
  • Actively managing and increasing the supporting base within your company

Processes design:

  • Drawing up and introducing a social media policy (conversation guide)
  • Drawing up the process of active listening as an organisation
  • Drawing up the process of participating in the consumers’ conversations. Who says what, and what happens in case of a crisis?

Resources & knowledge management:

  • The team is responsible for organising the training and knowledge programmes in collaboration with HR.
  • Sharing lessons learned by your company internally with the teams involved
  • The team functions as an internal consultant for the different teams involved.
  • Analysing the resources necessary for your organisation: time & money


This central team’s aim is to increase the effectiveness of and the learning experiences with social media for the entire company, which will accelerate the standardisation of the processes. Furthermore, it will create clarity within your organisation. If no central team is designated, the discussion regarding the final responsibility for the changes will emerge sooner or later. At the beginning there is a chance that none of the departments will be willing to take responsibility. Once the first results are good and the risks are decreasing, everyone wants to participate. If at that point there are discussions about the leader role, the company will lose valuable time and energy. Avoid encountering this problem by appointing a responsible person or team early in the process. Research has shown that only 56% of companies have someone who has ultimate responsibility for the change process. A lot of work has to be done.


  • eBay has a social media team. The team is responsible for helping departments such as HR, strategy and corporate communication in using social media. They are responsible for the conversation strategy, the integration of this strategy in all marketing plans and listening to consumers’ conversations. This presentation sheds some light on their philosophy.
  • Cisco has 3 social media teams, each with its own responsibility. One team works on customer service, another on marketing & PR and the third on corporate communication. These teams collaborate closely and ensure a proper learning curve for the rest of the organisation. Lasandra Brill is one of their managers and has reached impressive results.
  • Intel has a team of 7 people who are responsible for managing social media within their company. They make it possible for all the departments to integrate social media as much as possible in all their marketing activities. Furthermore, they set the tone for certain strategic social media aspects, such as listening to the market. In this article Ekaterina Walter describes her role within the social media centre of excellence.

Operational or strategic?

It is best for social media teams to avoid a purely operational function. The responsibilities described above go beyond the operational management of the online conversation. Jeremiah Owyang sees two possible paths for such teams: either managing the conversation proactively and strategically, or evolving into a social media helpdesk.

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Obviously there is nothing wrong with social media teams executing some of the operational tasks. It is even good for them to organise the most strategic social media projects themselves. That is how the team can show its added value to the organisation. In addition, the team also guides other departments in their own social media projects.

Superfluous in the long term

In theory the social media team should become superfluous in the long term. Once companies have totally embraced social media, there no longer is a need for a separate function, or is there?

I think there will always be room for this team. The world evolves so rapidly that someone has to be responsible for following the latest trends. The final step of social media integration also involves making your company more flexible vis-à-vis the rapidly evolving market. That is why it is handy to invest, for example, in micro trends, and to keep experimenting with new ideas. The social media centre of excellence could be a most suitable framework for supporting this experimental environment.

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