Building the right team to step up on digital

Remember that time your brand needed a new TV ad, so you gave the task to the intern? Thought not. Yet so many brands have done this with their social media programmes.

A cornerstone of digital communications, social media is no longer just an add-on and it can no longer be done by just anyone – if it ever could. It has become far too complex and powerful for that. It requires, in fact, a range of specialist skills.

As Kinda Jackson, MD of Social, Digital and Influencer here at Brands2Life, says, “Social is now business media, advice media, entertainment media, and the algorithms on each platform have changed significantly in recent years. There are specialist techniques behind how you compose content for individual channels – it’s a specific skillset in its own right.

“Brands need to set up their social teams in different ways.”

The digital transformation is well underway in business and society, and it’s accelerating. To get the most out of your social strategy – using it to shift perceptions and attract new audiences – requires a specific approach and a team with a particular skillset.

The trouble is, what you need, specifically, depends upon your operating structure, how integrated you are and how you use agencies.

But there are some universal, indispensable roles and skills you will need in a world-class social team.

Who do you need in your social team?

Change is constant in the social channel. This has given rise to the need for highly specialised roles that did not exist even two years ago. And they require skillsets that differ markedly from traditional communications job specs.

This is just an idea of the skills a world-class social media team needs: social listening experts capable of drawing out insights relevant to the category and the platform’s role from reams of data; influencer marketing experts who know how to work with social movers and shakers. You also need deep social strategy expertise to understand where social media fits into the marketing mix and how audiences will respond; and channel planning capabilities in people who understand how to target a post within the whole customer journey.

Then there are paid social media specialists who know how to attract eyes to your ads and posts; skilled copywriters for specific platforms (a post on Instagram requires a different approach to LinkedIn); experts capable of producing targeted podcasts; and people who can connect all the disparate parts together seamlessly, across the organisation and its agency partners.

The best talent tends to have both breadth and depth of skills and experience. They need to be strategists and technicians – able to plan and execute. They need to be confident and assured enough to make the business case for their plans and bring it to life at speed. Things change fast in the world of social so agility is a pre-requisite for anyone who wants to build a career in social media.

In describing the team, Kinda says, “It will be eclectic. But generally, the members need to be intensely curious, live on the channels, understand the texture of each channel but also have analytical skills.

“Being young and on the channels just isn’t enough.”

Getting the structure right

The structure of your social team will depend on many variables. In general, teams should be structured to avoid insularity. Doing everything in-house, for example, can limit innovation and foster an inward focus that fails to meet the needs of your audience

This raises the question: which roles should sit in-house and which at an agency?

Armand David, Managing Director, Applied Innovation, says, “Things are changing so fast in social that it can be difficult for in-house teams to acquire the new skills and resources required at speed. Agencies, on the other hand, are, by virtue of working with many brands, exposed to many perspectives so they acquire these skills whether they want to or not. In many situations, you won’t need these resources all the time, so it may make sense to use an on-demand resource rather than employ a full-time one.”

And when it comes to working with agencies on social, the number-one rule is complete transparency around roles and responsibilities, says Armand.

“Every single one of our social clients works differently. But the core, fundamental reality is: you know what we’re doing, we know what you’re doing, we speak the same language; and this avoids the risk of misunderstandings and overlap,” he says.

With a digital-first approach, senior management oversight is also vital compared to traditional communications.

“When the social strategy is less understood by senior stakeholders, it is de-prioritized; and that’s when mistakes can happen,” says Kinda.

Getting the digital transformation started can take a crisis, such as a brand-damaging failure or an internal dispute. But it can also be sparked by a visionary leader.

Clearly, the last is by far the best starting point. And retooling your overarching capacity for social comms – in house and in-agency – is a core challenge all comms leaders face today.

Written by Kinda Jackson, MD of Social, Digital and Influencer and Armand David, Managing Director, Applied Innovation