Social media allows organizations to communicate with customers and prospects in ways they could only imagine before. However, research by the Corporate Executive Board found that only one in 10 brands are seeing significant results from their social media efforts. According to Pat Spenner, managing director at the Corporate Executive Board, the distinguishing factor for those seeing success is having a seasoned social media expert at a high-level who bridges the company's different departments, removes silos, and enables seamless interaction with customers across the whole organization.

Although essential, the social media maestro is only part of the orchestration that makes a business successful in social media. This key figure needs to have the backing of the C-suite and a team supporting his efforts. Cisco, H&R Block, and Ford are three companies taking that approach. They each have a conductor who brings corporate communications, marketing, and customer service together in harmonious collaboration.

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Creating a cross-department bridge
As Cisco's director of social media marketing, Jeanette Gibson noticed that while there was an abundant amount of social activity across the company, it wasn't streamlined. "There were a lot of practices, but not a lot of best practices," she says. Moreover, there was duplication of efforts across Cisco's different departments. "A lot of people were jumping in and trying to re-create the wheel, when we could have leveraged the team that had already learned that lesson," she says.

When she took on her new role in January last year, Gibson started the process of centralizing social media education and training programs across the company, ensuring that all employees have access to the same information to help them use social media tools. She also set up structures enabling departments to share best practices and case studies, as well as hold discussions over the company intranet. The social media maestro "has a unique opportunity to bridge the gaps between the different departments to have a company-wide approach and strategy," she says.

As a centralized figure with contacts to different departments, Gibson herself is able to share the successes and failures of one team with another, in an attempt to ensure that mistakes aren't repeated. "I may be talking to our event marketing team, which just rolled out a new mobile app, and can share with them the successes and failures of another department," she says. Gibson's team also shares best practices outside the organization. The team set up a center of excellence for social media to help other companies excel in using social media effectively.

According to Gibson the role of the social media maestro has a direct effect on customers, who are seeing an increase in openness and transparency due in part to the training that has been made available organization-wide through Cisco's hub-and-spoke model. "Our customers are seeing more Cisco experts answering their questions and engaging with them on blogs," she says.

Going from seasonal to year-round communication
By streamlining its social media strategy across the whole organization, H&R Block was able to extend its conversation with customers from tax time to throughout the year, ensuring that clients are well equipped with information that can impact their finances.

Although people talk about taxes all year round, until 2009 H&R Block was only reaching out to its customers for 120 days each year. But when the company appointed Zena Weist as director of social media in January last year, she immediately started working on a company-wide strategy to get rid of the seasonal outreach and give pertinent information to customers all year round. "We wanted to be in the thick of the conversation," Weist says, who is now Edelman Digital's vice president for strategy.

Embarking on year-round communications made it even more important for the message across the whole organization to be consistent. With more than 100,000 associates, it's imperative to have a central figure bringing together the various departments to ensure that the company's social media strategy is cohesive and holistic. Weist's five-person team realized that while the company was using social media for marketing purposes and doing some ad hoc customer outreach, nothing was coordinated. "It was crucial to make sure that what one department was doing did not conflict with another," she says.

Scott Gulbransen, who recently replaced Weist, says the new strategy is beneficial for customers throughout the year. "Decisions that a customer makes in May, June, or July can have implications when tax season rolls around. There was an opportunity for us to have a conversation with our clients to give tips throughout the year," he says.

Both Weist and Gulbransen stress that the role of the social media maestro requires C-level support. "It's human nature to resist change. Without C-level support, it's hard to move in an organization, especially a big one," Gulbransen says.

According to Gulbransen, the long-term plan is to take social and new media across every part of the organization, rather than retain a vertical model within the marketing department. "We want to be decentralized and holistic, with social media playing a part in every piece of the business."

Giving social media a seat at the table
Imagine this scenario: A man who has test-driven a car and is ardently considering buying it receives a call from the brand's CEO, who listens to the prospective customer's doubts and frustrations. Two weeks later the customer drives the new car home, netting the company not only a sale, but also an advocate.

This event became a reality at Ford thanks to Scott Monty, the company's head of social media, whose role is to connect the different departments within the organization around social media and create links between the company and its customers. "Social media is the bridge between traditional marketing and traditional PR. Everybody owns it and yet nobody does. So you need an evangelist and strategist who sets the tone and makes sure that the message is consistent within the brand," Monty says about his job.

According to Monty, the role of the social media maestro revolves around ensuring that social media has a seat at the table throughout the organization. He explains that many times social media marketing is almost an afterthought, forgotten until the planning for a specific initiative is at an advanced stage. "Part of our effort is to get people to think about social media early on in the ideation process," he says.

Monty points out that customers are constantly communicating with Ford, giving their recommendations and insights. But in a large company it's easy for a department to remain in the dark about conversations, even if they're relevant to its work. As the company's social media maestro, Monty works to ensure that conversations are not siloed, but rather are shared throughout the organization. "This gives us the opportunity to use these comments for business planning, market research, or product insights," he says.

Monty underlines the importance of having a central person who represents the brand over social media. "I'm online every day, chatting with people, answering their questions, and giving them information about things that may entertain them," he says. "Simply being present, putting a face to the brand, and allowing them to communicate with another human being is a lot more effective than just hoping they watch your advertising."

As more companies recognize the impact that social media can have on their organization, they may also see the need to have a central person who makes sure that there is cohesiveness between the ways different departments interact with customers via social. Says Corporate Executive Board Spenner: "Finding a [social media maestro] is a critical point to enable social scaling."