Breakdown of a Dedicated Social Media Engagement or Command Center

Rise of Social Commerce, an Altimeter ConferenceLeft: Dell’s Social Media Command and Listening Center, Austin Texas.

The purpose of this post is to be an industry reference for this social business use case, please leave comments with further additions.

Many a year ago, I worked at a web hosting company that had a Network Operations Center (NOC) that looked like NASA’s mission control.  Enclosed in a glass ‘fishbowl’ the 20-50 staff, systems, training, technology were all used in conjunction to support the network traffic of the customers websites, see Google images.  The “NOC” was externally packaged and marketed as a cutting edge feature of a top performance center, touted on customer tours at HQ, and had internal mystique and prestige of those who were there.

Today, we similar centers emerging at top brands, event managers, as well as offerings from a variety of marketing and customer service providers for social.  With India’s recent crises on social channels causing a shut down in websites, expect government bodies and agencies around the world to open these for daily interaction with citizens, and as well as dealing with high urgency situations.

Definition and Goals: A Dedicated Social Media Engagement Center or Command Center is a physical space where companies coordinate to listen and engage their market in social channels to achieve business use cases in marketing engagement, customer care, risk management, or operational efficiency of coordination and contact center deflection.
Starting with Strategy
First, understand that customer support and engagement has changed, we’ve found six changes to traditional customer care. Before we dive into tactics (There’s a matrix below to assist) let’s ensure we understand the greater context.  Companies must first realize this is a single tactic in a greater strategy of social business.  Often this program may stem from the Social Media Center of Excellence program, a cross-functional leadership team that oversees many programs.  David Armano also provides strategic guidance that this is more than fancy screens in a fishbowl, but people, process, and analytics are required for success.   Additionally, clear business goals need to be defined, with measurable KPIs laid out in front before initiating this program –shiny Twitter room won’t cut it.

Risks and Criticisms
Like all business programs, there are always tradeoffs, we’ve identified the following:

  1. Sexy deployment DuJour, could quickly go out of style.  Many companies have touted their centers, but if core business problems aren’t being solved, it will be viewed as sizzle and no steak.
  2. This public commitment to listening in social is a promise to customers you’re going to be there.  Set clear expectations on how goals and limitations, but know frustrated customers will expect you to respond
  3. It’s cheap, but is it really? Seemingly low cost, the long term resource needs must be offset by business benefits.
  4. These physical centers can be used to attract internal attention to the social media program, but will put additional scrutiny on business goals.  Questions on integration with other customer channels will be asked.
  5. Encourages customers to “yell at their friends to get your attention”.  Social is often a lower cost of communication than other channels, but encouraging customers to use social as first channel, basterdizes existing traditional channel investments, and may encourage customers to get best treatment from brand if they’re public.
  6. Companies deploy these one off tactics without a broader social business strategy across the enterprise.  This is just one toolset, and if all the processes aren’t fully deployed internally and the impact to customer experience, this could be ‘cart before horse’.

Breakdown: Dedicated Centers Have Many Variables
Variation Ranges What No One Tells You
Use Case Use cases can vary from marketing engagement, customer service, lead generation, internal coordination, compliance, risk mitigation, or product innovation. Be clear internally and externally on the goals of the program.Some social media vendors launch these centers to showcase their products.
Duration Companies vary their scope, some are only open periodically for critical events, while others are open 24/7/365 Be clear to the market on when response is available. Companies that desire full coverage but don’t need FTEs should outsource to qualified agency partners, or specialists like LiveWorld, emoderation, Cap Gemini and others
Sourcing Internal teams vs external teams. Internal teams range from marketing communicators, product managers, and contact center agents. Caution on charging junior staff with representing the brand online who don’t have full business acumen or PR agencies that don’t understand deep engagement nuances. Trained script based contact agents may have deep product knowledge, may struggle at the real time, personal interactions required on social channels.
Agent Scope We’re seeing agents at command centers that are focused on dedicated social channels only, that then hand off to other teams. Also, universal agents that understand nuances of all channels are also emerging.  This also spans product coverage as well as regions and languages. A multi-tier approach may be useful by pinning dedicated social agents first as first line interaction, then shifting to advanced agents in a triage process, one size does not fit all.
Locations Some companies are putting at HQ only, while at Dell, I was informed they have centers around the globe that ‘follow the sun’ for exposure Outsourcing these centers to third party agencies, service providers is increasing at a rapid pace, seek to outsource lower level functions but keep core brand engagement and storytelling near corporate.


Notable Brand Examples 

  1. Dell’s Social Media Command Center:  While first, and most discussed, there are many elements to this program that includes a centralized approach, while empowering business units to be autonomous, a form of advanced holistic form of social business.   I’ve visited this first hand and received information from Richard Binhammer before publishing this, others have published videos.
  2. Salesforce.  Jamie Kennedy toured me on the Radian6 and Salesforce Listening center which is strategically located near corporate marketing and PR, see video tour for details.  I visited.
  3. IBM has a physical social media listening center
  4. Nvidia has launched a center, including a welcoming messaging from team focused on how they’re listening.
  5. Pizzahut emailed me during a previous Superbowl to showcase how they’re listening to customers, providing customer care, and offering special deals to customers
  6. Clemson University has a social center, which has been documented.
  7. Sports Team Oregon live has a dedicated center in stadium center.
  8. Pepsi’s Gatorade has a dedicated center dedicated to listening and responding to all athletes in a form of brand marketing engagement, see video.
  9. Red Cross has a center powered by Dell, which can be used in crises and recurring engagement.
  10. Nissan is working with Definance on a centralized center, announcement here.
  11. The MLB All Star Game in Kansas City has a dedicated center, see Tumblr log.
  12. Superbowl had a dedicated command center.
  13. Tampa Bay and Company has established an initiative for political conventions.
  14. Intel has launched a “Social Cockpit” monitors the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), working with WCG.
  15. Delta Airlines has a Social Media Lab. (pic).
  16. KLM’s Corporate Communications and E-commerce departments joined forces to establish the Social Media Hub.
  17. Adobe has a center, which I’ve seen in the San Jose office.
  18. Samsung let me know they’ve a center setup  and seeing call deflection benefits.
  19. Cisco (Oct 24, 2012) has now launched a Social Media Listening Center using their own network, touch screens, SocialMiner software, and Radian6 technologies, and is offering to brands, as well as using themselves.
  20. Bottlenose created a live enterprise marketing dashboard with Fleishman Hillard.
  21. Symantec’s Social Media Command Center, case study
  22. Associated Wholesale Grocers Launches Customer Connect Center, a Social Media Listening and Engagement Hub
  23. MasterCard has launched their own center.
  24. MORE: I’ve kicked off a Quora thread where more examples are being surfaced by the community.


Matrix: Top Level Requirements Checklist

Requirements Example Resources
Goal Primary use cases include: Marketing engagement, customer care, misk identification and mitigation, listening and analysis, and in some cases proof of concept of a product Brands are already relying on service providers to help define goals, in particular Edelman’s David Armano provides a strategic perspective and WCG has aided Intel.
Leadership A clear champion internally has been identified to lead this effort. I’ve spent time with Richard Binhammer (follow him on Twitter) to learn his perspective, he serves as a model and forerunner with his Dell colleagues.
Process Daily workflow and triage as well as crises management plans A number of triage documents have already surfaced from early deployed Air Force blog triage to HR Block. Read report on Social Business Readiness and on Crises planning simulations.
Staffing Some companies, like Dell have dedicated teams that operate around the clock and globe Some companies are converting communication pros, community managers, contact center staff, or outsourcing to Liveworld, eModeration, Peoplebrowsr, and agencies like Weber Shandwick, Edelman, or BPO such as Cap Gemini partnered with Attensity
Integration Social cannot be a silo’d channel. Customer experience demands a multi-channel approach. Companies are integrating with call center and across other channels (chat, phone, email, sms, automated bots)
Software: Existing Some orgs are integrating these centers with existing databases, CRM systems, Compliance, and Contact Center Software. Salesforce, Genesys, Liveops, Actiance and others have briefed me on how traditional software now integrates with social channels.
Software: Listening Companies must actively use listening software to hear what customers are saying, both on social media channels they own (like Facebook pages) and outside on third party sites like forums, blogs and microblogs While Radian 6 came up as a frequently used tool, there are a variety of providers, most companies already have listening solutions in place.
Software: Engagement Unfortunatly, the social software suites have not fully formed and there is a third class of software required to manage permissions, process, reporting, and offer engagement tools. There are a number of Social Media Management System tools available, see report for vendor breakdown.  Liveworld, Awareness, Radian6, and Peoplebrowsr have marketed specific offerings for this use case.
Program Operations A large number of tasks need to occur including internal training, internal and external PR, logistics, dedicated commitment from executives, and funding. Like all programs, the devil is in the project plan details.  There are numerous legal, IT, HR, facilities and compliance considerations.
Logistical Resources The physical infrastrcture is often the least expensive, but includes dedicated internet bandwidth, work stations, computers, flat screen monitors, and often glass enclosed dedicated workspaces While not a requirement, we’ve found programs that put these centers in strategic locations benefittted from internal curisotiy of other departments, as well as positive PR from customer and influencer visits.
External Marketing Most command centers today have launched marketing efforts, blog posts, press releases, and other external pronouncements to inform the world the company is ready Rely on traditional marketing efforts, but also tap into customers who have been active in talking to the brand. In particular, Dell, Gatorade, and Pizzahut were early to market, gleaning press and media mentions.
Analysis and Reporting Savvy companies offer reporting and real time dashboards to glean insights Use existing marketing analytics tools, or business management tools to measure and report progress back to company.

Additional Resources, and Solution Providers. 

While this trend is starting to grow, it’s important to see the strategic point of view of this toolset, remember that:

  • Command Centers are tactics and should be part of a larger strategy.  Companies should not deploy these centers without first having a strategy on how social will be used in the context of their business strategy.  These centers can amplify, impact, and disrupt existing business functions and will impact cost, customer experience, and workflow.
  • Benefits of centralized resources are useful –but not every company will need one.  While having centralized resources to offload other teams, some advanced companies are already integrating listening and engagement to all areas of the company.  Having a physically dedicated center isn’t required for customer engagement on social.
  • Expect outside providers to offer solutions.  I expect that companies will have dedicated solutions around customer engagement in social, as well as nearly every government, sports team, and beyond.  But don’t expect every company to host themselves, outsourced options like call centers in emerging markets will emerge –with benefits and downsides.

I look forward to the continued discussion, please leave a comment below with additional thoughts, questions, or resources.  Thank you Todd Defren, Dana Oshiro, Aaron Strout, Laura Fitton, Richard Binhammer, Peter Friedman, Ekaterina Walter, for their insights, and Dell, Salesforce, Adobe, for letting me tour their facilities, and to all the agencies and software providers who have taken the time to brief me.




35 Replies to “Breakdown of a Dedicated Social Media Engagement or Command Center”

  1. Really good analysis Jeremiah, and I like that you posted updated examples and also called out the realities between the hype vs. what’s valuable about having a command center in place whether it be physical or virtual.

  2. This was fantastic and really useful Jeremiah. Sharing it now. Loved the updated examples and extra resources. Simon

  3. Excellent blog, Jeremiah and thanks for including LiveWorld.
    We especially like the point that these programs must be done in
    the context of an overall strategy.

    We™d like to add

    ¢ Social media engagement/command centers can be physical or
    virtual, each approach having benefits.

    ¢ We see three major challenges for engagement.command centers,
    though each of these is addressable with the right team, strategy
    and implementation:

    1) Goals incompatible with
    social. The program must be based in social media
    insight ad engagement models, not traditional PR listen and
    minimize the negatives models.

    2) Social media information
    overload. The fire hose of data combined with a tools
    driven, one size tool fits all and automated approach often leads
    to lots of data, no insight and no actual engagement.

    3) Operationalizing the
    information out into the company to actual decision makers.
    For maximum impact and value the insight needs to be distributed
    to and actionable through out the company.

    ¢ The future: We see the
    future of social media engagement/command centers as being based
    on business decision frameworks, customer-driven with 24/7 real
    time response.

    More on all this at my Social Voice blog on the LiveWorld site.

  4. Excellent post, Jeremiah. Would have been great if you spelled my company’s name as Defiance (which it is), instead of Definance(which it is not).

  5. Still a very relevant article even though it is now close to 6 months old. Our service is called IntelliBuzz ( and many of the customers I speak to are saying that they’ve been social ‘listening’ for a while now but its time to turn that into social engagement. I hate that social listening is such a buzz word because I think it seems very passive and not as valuable as a word that implies taking action on what you learn from listening.

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