Social media consulting assignments fall into three categories: strategic consulting, training, and/or setting up "Centers of Excellence." I've been hearing the term "Center of Excellence' so frequently it seems everyone who’s anyone in enterprise social media will be wearing one this Fall. Great news: it signals broader social media adoption, companies are becoming not just 'doing,' more social. Not so great news: most efforts are likely to fumble if not fail, as undoubtedly firms will rely on their existing social marketing agencies, assuming this is more of the same, only internally facing. Most assuredly (having myself set up and led several similar efforts) it's not.

No doubt agencies are convinced otherwise, but unless they have former enterprise or management consultants on staff with actual internal-facing social experience, my guess is they're in don't-know-what-they-don't-know territory.

So what is a Center of Excellence?

Usually they’re small corporate or worldwide group of digital, social, branding or other marketing experts who are focused on enabling excellence in others. This approach is not new, it's often used to support traditional marketing activities such as direct marketing. However, in terms of social media marketing, these Centers are not what they appear to be as:

  • They are not ‘application’ or ‘deliverable’ centric, as are many other social media efforts
  • Things you assume are most important, such as training materials, will turn out to hardly matter. Issues you are completely unaware of, as they extend well past the boundaries you've set, will sink you if you are not prepared
  • Campaigns may or may not perform. That’s expected. If you’ve been on the client side you know that internal investments are evaluated very differently, failure is less, if it at all, acceptable and often has serious career repercussions.

Hence, I would suggest you want to be doubly sure before you start that your firm’s investment will accelerate, not hinder, your organization's adoption of social media.

What exactly do Centers of Excellence execute?

The Center enables other groups to do something better than they’re doing it today. Think about it for a minute: what's implied but not stated in that statement? If you have any experience working across an enterprise, you know the Center’s success is completely dependent on an activity that lies beyond the Center’s control: adoption. If the Center cannot get other divisions and departments to wholeheartedly follow/integrate the Center’s newly improved process, program, guidance, or methods, it has failed.

This is in part why I find the term "Center of Excellence" problematic. "A rose by any other name" normally holds true, but there are instances when labels influence perception. Pretend you're in one of the departments or divisions the ‘Center of Excellence’ has to influence in order to succeed. Do you think it helps? Might not the title imply it:

  • …has already reaped all the acclaim – none for me
  • …as the center, is more important, more significant – than my group
  • …has staff is more talented, knowledgeable, and of course excellent – than me

One could argue it’s rightfully called a Center of Excellence because members have previously demonstrated excellence in their respective fields. This is exactly where it starts to go wrong as it implies domain expertise is the critical skill, which is not true. What does matter? Over the next four weeks, I'll address:

  • Driving adoption: what works, what does not
  • Strategically, what to focus on and where to invest
  • How successful centers position themselves and operate
  • Building a team: what are the necessary skill sets?

Photo credit: Flickr/joiseyshowaa

Pauline Ores

Published 16 September, 2010 by Pauline Ores

Pauline Ores is an Enterprise Market Relationship consultant and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (3)


Ekaterina Walter


interesting post. I don't disagree that sometimes the resources you put together may not be looked at (true in any part of business, no matter what you do). That said I truly believe that enablement that COEs provide is critical, especially in adoption of a new concept or direction. Just like with everything else you need to provide clear direction, good training and scalable solutions (especially if the sub-businesses or sub-brands don’t have resources for that). In any organization you have pioneers/grassroots and the laggards. And usually grassroots comprise a very small percentage. You need to bring the rest of the company with you by educating them and helping them integrate the direction and strategy properly. Otherwise, what ends up happening is everyone starts playing with social media themselves and run into the risk of damaging brand’s reputation as a result. Someone needs to be responsible for establishing the right guidelines, rules of engagement, etc and ensure brand consistency.

almost 8 years ago

Pauline Ores

Pauline Ores, Enterprise Market Relationship Consultant at large

@Ekaterina Walter - I'm with you 100%, I think it's important these new CoEs succeed. My concern is in the rush to set up them up, it's easy to lose sight of what it really takes to achieve results. If you've been down this road you know the hard part isn't creating the guidelines, rules of engagement, and brand consistency materials - it's getting everyone to adopt them.

almost 8 years ago


Ekaterina Walter


this is true with anything you do (especially when you are pioneering something, it is never easy). However, potential slow adoption rate is not an excuse for not trying to create the right structure. Let's face it, if we would use this excuse every time, we wouldn't get anything done.  Heck, the car wouldn't be invented! :)

And personally, I love the name Center of Excellence. That means you are striving for the best and you are creating the team of evangelists who would (and yes, sometimes slowly and painfully) help educate and guide the rest of the company. Making a radical shift sometimes takes guts and persistence - that is in part what excellence is in my book. But that's just me :)


almost 8 years ago

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