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    How to build your social media team for the future of marketing

    A short decade ago, one could assume they wouldn’t miss much if they took a few days off social. Now, each day brings at least ten trending topics, a brand crisis or two and countless viral products. Brands that lack well-staffed social teams aren’t just missing major moments—they forfeit countless daily opportunities to foster brand awareness and loyalty.

    It’s not 2013, anymore. So why are businesses still resourcing social media teams as if it is?

    As social media has evolved, so have the expectations and capabilities of social marketers and teams. They take on content creation, strategy development, data analysis, community engagement—not to mention keeping up with an ever-evolving network landscape.

    The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all social media team structure because there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to social media management. Social media org charts have to reflect the unique needs of your business and audience.

    This guide is designed to help you think through the factors that go into designing a social media department that sets everyone—leaders and contributors—up for success. Keep reading for advice on team structures

    5 must-know social media team structures to consider

    The word “restructuring” typically invokes a sense of fear, but when applied to your social media team it’s most definitely an opportunity. The dynamic nature of social helps marketers refine and grow their skills quickly, so they can level up to the next stop on their career path.

    Proactively experimenting with new types of social media department structures can result in career-making opportunities for social marketers. If you’re ready to shake things up but aren’t sure where to begin, here are five to consider:

    1. Network

    How to build your social media team for the future of marketing

    The majority (64%) of social media teams are organized by network, aligning individual team members to specific networks—like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn. This approach empowers individuals to become experts on their assigned platform and take full ownership of a strategy from development to execution.

    Our own social team experimented with a network-specific structure back in 2022 but ultimately decided they wouldn’t continue the approach moving forward. While it did result in some highly intentional content and a much deeper understanding of platform-specific audience insights, it simply wasn’t scalable for a team of our size.

    Unsurprisingly, having a separate strategy for each social network is hard. As more and more platforms join the chat, creating effective strategies for each of them is virtually impossible.

    Olivia Jepson

    Senior Social Media Analyst

    This team structure gained popularity during a more stable era of social; Since then, the landscape has evolved into a much more fluid space where platform dominance is no longer a given. With new platforms emerging and consumer preferences changing rapidly, assigning team members to specific networks can now result in gaps and redundancies.

    Our experience revealed that a network-based social media team structure can create silos and gaps, particularly when a new network gains popularity (hello, Threads!). However, it still has potential as an interim structure for new teams developing a social media marketing strategy from the ground up.

    2. Audience engagement

    The second most common team structure focuses on audience engagement goals and patterns, which can vary based on your industry or business size. The main categories include:

    • Awareness: Creating content that’s designed to boost brand visibility with new and existing audiences.
    • Engagement: Creating content and engaging with inbound messages (comments, DMs, etc.) with the goal of building community and increasing brand loyalty.
    • Customer Service: Managing customer service questions, requests or complaints to ensure they’re resolved in a timely manner.

    Of course, these teams go beyond content creation. For instance, an awareness team might include a content creator, influencer marketing manager and performance analyst to ensure content stays relevant and valuable.

    This approach calls on individuals to work across multiple networks, so a robust social media management tool is a non-negotiable here. Consolidating workflows into a single system is the only way to prevent your team from spending too much time hopping between disparate platforms.

    A screenshot of the Sprout Social platform. The screenshot shows the Week View of Sprout Coffee Co.’s publishing calendar. A user is drag-and-dropping a TikTok post so it publishes later than its originally scheduled time slot.

    3.  Distribution

    Teams structured around distribution needs and tactics align roles around content creation and publishing formats. This setup is good for businesses that need to produce a lot of different content formats to meet the distribution needs of their audience.

    Think about when you go from writing a lengthy email into recording a video—it’s not easy to switch your brain to a different skill. This is especially hard for creatives, who have to create a high volume of content in different formats. Allowing individuals to carve distinct lanes based on content formats (text, static images, short-form video, long-form video, etc.) gives them the focus they need to produce high-quality work.

    That said, teams adopting this structure should note that it can create situations where audience engagement is put on the back burner. While creative and interesting content is crucial, our latest Index report found that the majority of consumers value brands that actively respond to their audience on social media.

    4. Internal functional support

    Designing social media departments around internal functions aligns teams with different departments or business units, supporting the creation of tailored social media strategies that benefit specific areas of a company.

    Aligning social strategies with internal functions grants departments greater agency in shaping social efforts that directly support their work. This method provides a clearer understanding of what social media can achieve for each department. In practice, this might look like:

    • A team dedicated to recruitment and employer brand efforts to support HR needs.
    • A team concentrating on social commerce and down-funnel content to bolster sales efforts.
    • A team focusing on social customer care to enhance customer support functions.

    This structural approach addresses an ever-present concern for social media teams: feeling siloed from other departments. Although the majority of marketers agree that other departments inform social efforts and vice versa, nearly half (43%) of teams still share a sense of isolation.

    A chart from The Sprout Social Index™ that reads, "Marketers' POV on social's business-wide influence." Below are three vertical rectangles of different heights: the smallest has text on it that reads "43% social teams still feel siloed." The second tallest one reads "65% agree other departments inform our social efforts." And the tallest pillar reads, "76% agree our team's social insights inform other departments."

    This approach also proves effective for businesses managing a portfolio of brands, ensuring that each brand benefits from specialized social media resources tailored to its unique needs.

    5. Center of excellence

    A social media center of excellence (CoE) model operates similarly to the internal functional support model but with a reverse approach. Instead of teams aligning with departments to formulate social strategies, each department appoints a representative to participate in a council, contributing insights to shape the social strategy.

    Key participants typically include representatives from public relations, employer brand, human resources, product and customer support. Together, they offer valuable input into a company’s social strategy, fostering collaboration across various business units.

    We asked Kate Winick, former Senior Director of Social Media and Brand Marketing at Peloton, to give us an example of what that might look like.

    “Consider a B2C brand managing their LinkedIn account. It’s still social, but it’s completely different from consumer-facing channels. There are stakeholders from your recruitment and employer brand teams who need to reach candidates and current employees. CoE models allow these stakeholders to manage a channel like LinkedIn strategically, without relying on your social team and stretching their bandwidth too thin.”

    Winick currently consults top brands on their team structure, including centers of excellence, and advises them on how to interact with stakeholders from other departments. In this role, she’s found that CoE models work well for large businesses that have social stakeholders distributed throughout their org chart.

    If your organization fits this description, exploring the CoE model might be a strategic move to align your social strategies with overarching company goals.

    7 social media team roles to consider for your org

    Finding a structure that suits your business needs may illuminate gaps that are present in your social media department. Here are some roles that should be at the top of your wishlist as you plan for team growth.

    The social media manager

    If you can only afford to hire a single social media marketer, it should be a generalist social media manager.

    Social media managers know your brand inside and out. They are the ones drawing up the blueprint for your social strategy, goals and marketing plan. They’re focused on developing and promoting engaging content, especially when they’re flying solo and measuring the success of that content.

    This person should also be the one building cross-departmental relationships, with a little assistance from other marketing leaders so social can make a business-wide impact. Ultimately, this person is the Swiss Army knife of your social team and has a diverse set of skills that includes writing, communication, data analysis and so much more.

    The content creator

    Content is your greatest asset on social media and having a person dedicated to creating it is a major asset to your team. A content creator directly supports the social media manager and takes some of the content burden off their plate, so the manager can focus on more strategic work. The content creator is a strong storyteller with a creative mind. They must be on top of industry news and social media trends so they can use that knowledge to influence the content strategy and spark creative direction.

    At larger companies, a content creator might work with your brand’s creative team or social agency to develop creative assets. In smaller companies, this role might be a multimedia content specialist who can do some design, photography, video and copywriting work for social themselves.

    The social data analyst

    Social is a power source of business intelligence, so having a person on your social team who is ready and willing to put on their data analyst hat is critical.

    A social media data analyst makes sense out of the raw numbers and reports and turns data into actionable insights. They regularly report on key performance indicators to help determine if your strategy is on track and performing as planned—and when it isn’t, they have the skills to make recommendations on how to bounce back. Perhaps most importantly, a data analyst can demonstrate the business impact of data and measure the return on your investment in social media.

    The community manager

    Monitoring, listening to and engaging with your social communities are a community manager’s raison d’être. A typical social media community manager is responsible for advocating for a brand’s audience and community on social. This person isn’t just friendly and engaging, they’re also strategic about building an audience.

    [Social media community managers] keep things going in the comment section, reach out to superfans, create fan experiences—anything that builds a sense of brand loyalty.


    Paula Perez

    Community Manager, Oatly

    This person is not a customer service representative, but they might connect customer service to community members who have reached out with product or service-related questions or concerns.

    The paid media specialist

    Organic and paid social strategies are like two halves of a whole, which is why they can, and should, complement and reinforce each other.

    A venn diagram explaining key differences between organic and paid social media. Organic social helps marketers build relationships, drive brand awareness and support social customer care. Paid social helps brands target ideal customers, drive leads and reach new audiences. Both contribute to steady follower growth.

    Whether you aim to boost brand awareness, welcome new followers or gather new leads, combining both efforts will deliver optimal results. It is helpful, however, to split organic and paid social media team roles. While your other social media marketers focus on the art of organic content, a teammate that specializes in paid digital media can optimize those efforts further and deepen the business impact of social.

    The influencer marketing strategist

    The influencer marketing industry is expected to reach $21.2 billion worldwide in 2023. This exponential growth has meant that what was once assumed to be a space for retail brands exclusively now has room for industries of all kinds.

    A great influencer marketing strategist will sift through the many influencers that might fit your brand to identify the few that will drive tangible ROI. They then work with those individuals to develop content that meets the needs of your audience and theirs.

    Building relationships with influencers on behalf of a brand is inherently a high-touch process. When you consider that, alongside ongoing tasks like performance reporting and budget optimization, investing in a full-time professional for this role becomes a no-brainer.

    The social customer care lead

    Your social customer care lead serves as a conduit between your social media and customer service teams—an essential hire for businesses that experience a high volume of social customer service requests.

    This individual is responsible for documenting social customer care processes, creating escalation management strategies and managing integrations between your social media and case management tools. They also provide much-needed support for customer service agents as they learn how to offer more brand-centric support across several social media channels.

    Today, only 8% of social marketers believe themselves to be leaders in social customer care. Businesses that make this critical hire will secure a competitive advantage in their customer experience.

    3 signs it’s time to expand your social media department

    Hiring is a big decision, and recruiting is often a long and expensive process that takes time from multiple parties. That said, the costs of waiting can outweigh the costs of taking the leap. If you’re debating whether it’s time to post that job description, here are some key signs to look for:

    1. Growth is stalling

    Your output is consistent and you’re maintaining content quality, yet you’ve stopped seeing growth toward your goal metrics. Growth lulls can stem from a lot of root causes, but if your team is stuck in one you can’t shake, bandwidth may be to blame.

    How expansion helps your case

    Social is constantly evolving, and what it takes to meet your goals today might be a fraction of what it will take tomorrow.  As consumer social media usage grows exponentially, establishing your brand as a market leader will only become more competitive.

    Green data visualization citing Sprout Social Index data that 53% of consumers say their social media usage has increased over the last two years compared to the previous two

    To maintain momentum, marketers will have to spend even more time combing through social data for insights on what’s resonating with customers. If there’s no time, then expanding your social media department is your only path toward ensuring you have resources dedicated to both strategy and execution.

    2. You’re missing engagement opportunities

    On average, brands receive 87 inbound engagements on social per day. The more people you reach, the more engagement you attract. Responding to every interaction can feel like an uphill battle, but engagement is too important to let it fall by the wayside. If you’re unresponsive to your audience, it will be that much harder to build loyalty in the long term.

    How expansion helps your case 

    There are several ways for customers to interact with your brand on any given channel. Aside from the standard Likes and comments, they can leave reviews, share support requests and tag brands in praise (or in worse cases, complaints).

    In other words: social isn’t a one-way communication channel, and brands that are making an impact on social today embrace its bidirectional nature by prioritizing audience engagement. According to the most recent Sprout Social Index™ Report, 51% of consumers say the most memorable brands on social media respond to customers. This responsiveness isn’t limited to complaints or questions—consumers need brands to engage in conversations of all types to gain their loyalty.

    3. No time for collaboration

    Social media is a collaborative profession by nature. Social data can inform marketing, product roadmaps, competitive analyses, sales tactics and more. By the same token, team members beyond marketing can widen your perspective to refine your messaging and content decisions.

    How expansion helps your case

    According to 93% of executives surveyed, social media data and insights will be a primary source of business intelligence for their companies in 2024. If your insights live in a marketing silo, your business risks losing sight of consumer interests.

    Social can be transformative when managers have the time to share their reporting and collaborate with other leaders across a business.

    How to future-proof your social media team

    Social media is an incredibly dynamic field, where things can—and do—change at the drop of a hat. As social becomes more entrenched in our everyday lives, the future of the channel becomes more wide-reaching and more complicated.

    Graphic explaining how the future of social media management tools will be ubiquitous, personalized, intelligent and interoperable.

    Maintaining your brand’s competitive edge and reaping the most rewards from social starts with investing in the professionals that help shape your brand perception across this new digital terrain. If you’re not sure what that looks like, here are three ways to future-proof your social media team.

    1. Invest in your staff’s ongoing development

    Managing a social presence is an always-on job that requires constant explanation—whether it’s clarifying why a particular post might not resonate on a specific platform or advocating for the value of the channel itself.

    It’s no wonder 42% of marketers plan to stop working in social media within the next two years, and 20% want to change careers within the next 12 months. This poses a genuine threat to the industry, potentially leading to a scarcity of experienced talent.

    A ranked list of marketer motivations for continuing a career in social. The top reason is financial incentive, followed by passion and enjoyment, growth and career advancement, creativity and innovation, and impact and influence.

    Fostering opportunities for growth and career advancement is crucial for retaining social talent. Leaders may not be able to secure budget for immediate pay increases, but they can still support their teams by creating opportunities for skill expansion.

    Allocating budget resources for conferences (both digital and IRL), professional development resources and courses signals a commitment to long-term growth and success. Additionally, leaders can direct their teams to free communities (like Sprout Social’s Arboretum) for more regular opportunities to connect with and learn from their peers.

    2. Identify more opportunities for cross-functional impact

    Gold standard social media strategies shape cross-functional business decisions. There’s just one catch—achieving this level of impact becomes an uphill battle if your team is confined to a marketing bubble, isolated from potential collaborators.

    Forward-thinking companies break down these silos by sharing social data pervasively throughout their organizations. This approach ensures that social insights can inform decisions related to customer, product and business opportunities. If social data remains within the confines of your marketing department, you’re at risk of falling behind.

    Social teams need executive sponsorship to guide them as they realize the full potential of their strategies, and marketing leaders are uniquely positioned to fill this role. This does more than just lay the groundwork for cross-functional collaboration—it empowers teams to showcase the impact of social across various functions within an organization.

    It’s a strategic move that secures buy-in for your team to wield their influence within a broader organizational framework.

    3. Encourage experimentation

    Emerging technologies are redefining what it means to work in social. In the past, attempting to conduct regular social media data analysis while managing a full content calendar and engagement duties felt daunting. Now, thanks to artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technologies, teams can expand the impact of their work without adding more hours to the day.

    AI tools help social media teams collate massive amounts of social listening data and transform it into actionable recommendations that elevate how social data is used across departments. According to the 2023 State of Social Media Report, a staggering 96% of business leaders believe that AI will play a pivotal role in significantly improving decision-making processes in the future.

    An image showcasing the areas marketers have already seen AI’s positive impact on and the prominent AI use cases marketers anticipate using in 2024. The top 3 are analyzing social media data, content creation and social advertising.

    Businesses are all-in on AI for social marketing. To make sure your brand isn’t left behind, it’s crucial to support your social media team in embracing the latest AI use cases in marketing.

    This involves investing in tools that prioritize AI development and collaborating with business leaders to establish thoughtful AI use policies. These policies not only safeguard your business and brand but also ensure that your team remains at the forefront of the competitive landscape.

    Now’s the time to invest in your dream social media team

    There is no one-size-fits-all social media team structure, but with some vision, strategic planning and leadership buy-in, you can make it to your dream state. Now that you know how your team can benefit from additional resources, it’s time to design a role that will make an impact.

    If you’re in need of inspiration, check out this guide to social media org charts. Inside, you’ll find insights from the social marketing leaders behind Kaplan, Cielo Talent and VMWare, as well as their takes on what future social media org charts will look like.

    The post How to build your social media team for the future of marketing appeared first on Sprout Social.

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