Social Media Strategy and Business Organizational Structure

Every school operates under a business organizational structure that controls the way things get done. Projects and initiatives have approval chains. But how does social media strategy fit into business organizational structures? In a blog post, Mark Greenfield asked, “Who owns social media?” Well, you can argue for the side of “no one” or “everyone” but if your school wants to be active in social media by listening, commenting, sharing and curating, you’ll have to find a way to mold a strategy that fits into your organizational structure.

Take a look at three organizational structure examples from Jeremiah Owyang in his Social Media Trends forpresentation. They are distributedcentralized, and coordinated.

SM Organizational Model Social Media Strategy and Business Organizational Structure

Organizational Models by Jeremiah Owyang

Depending on your institution’s existing organizational structure, one of these strategies may work best for you. Let’s break down the pros and cons of each model.


Think of a distributed structure as a ground-up approach. Strategies start organically within departments. There is no overarching guide or policy mandated by the institution.


  • Allows individual departments more freedom
  • Can innovate and act quickly
  • Very easy to get started


  • Difficult to sustain growth and evolve
  • Not coordinated with entire institution
  • With no guidelines or policies, messages can be very different across campus departments
  • Reporting is often ignored, since there is a limited approval chain


A centralized structure may be guided by a Marketing, Communications or Web Services department on campus. Policies and messages are all controlled by a single group.


  • Consistency in messaging
  • Policy and guidelines are established and controlled
  • Staff positions may be entirely dedicated to social media management


  • Allows very little flexibility within departments across the school
  • The controlling department must know the needs of a variety of audiences (current students, parents, alumni, prospectives)
  • Developing new strategies for specific departments can be slowed by an approval process


Taking the best parts of both distributed and centralized models, the coordinated approach relies heavily on overarching guidelines and best practices. Departments are well-informed of the institution’s messaging and operate effectively with their defined audiences.


  • Allows social media strategies to grow and develop under umbrella of guidelines and best practices
  • Crisises are found quickly and school can react through proper channels
  • Strong communities are established, both inside the institution and with external audiences
  • Workshops and monthly meetings can be held to share knowledge, successes and failures


  • Collaborative work culture must develop before a coordinated approach can be successful
  • Requires patience and can take years to establish


When developing a social media strategy, it is important to recognize the best fit with your current business organizational structure. In the distributed approach, a social media strategy mirrors the immediacy and ungoverned nature of social media itself. A social media strategy in a centralized structure mirrors the hierarchical and controlled business structure of the institution. The coordinated social media strategy favors culture and community within the institution.

What model works at your institution? Does your social media strategy reflect your business organizational model?

This post was written by:

Web Manager - who has written 18 posts on .eduGuru

Web Manageris the Web Manager for Enrollment at Emerson College in Boston, MA.  He leads web marketing and online recruitment efforts for undergraduate and graduate admission.  Web Manageralso chairs the social media group at Emerson as they work on coming up with ways to use the social web to recruit the next generation of students. You can find him on Twitter at @mikepetroff.

  • Mark Greenfield -->

    Web Manager-

    Great article.

    I use Jeremiah’s research extensively in my consulting work, including the area of social media governance and management. (Hat tip to the Altimeter Group for following the principle of Open Research.) I have found that there are significant differences between campuses, depending on size and scope. The governance model of a large research university is usually different than a small college, and the approach to social media needs to take this into consideration. That being said, I usually recommend that schools follow Jeremiah’s “distributed” aka “hub and spoke” model.

    I’ll be interested to see what others have to say about this.

  • Patrick Masson -->

    Nice post, I do think these three models do represent the current communities of practice. I doubt however that the “Distributed” model can either be implemented (created, supported and managed) by an organization or dissolved (even controlled).

    Indeed, I would expect that while a centralized or coordinated model is being facilitated within an organization, a distributed model is also in place-like it or not.

    The critical issue then is, how does an organization work with a distributed model that it can not control or even possibly influence?

    Thanks so much for introducing the topic.
    Patrick Masson

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