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