WRITTEN BY: Jörgen Sundberg
Social command centres are a great way to showcase the power of social media in real time to teams, departments, or the whole business. Their usefulness is comparable to “financial tickers” in banks and trading centres, showing stock prices as they go up and down, and any other useful info that people need to know in real time.
Back in December ’15, when I shared my predictions for 2016, I said that 2016 will be the year of social intelligence, and social command centres were definitely in my mind when I mentioned that.
Considering how important these are and their increase in demand this year, it’s only fair that we cover command centres in depth on Link Humans. Consider this your ultimate buyer’s guide to social command centres.
So, where should you start? What tools should you go for? How can you successfully introduce a social command centre in your workplace, and how can you integrate that in your social strategy? This guide will answer all these questions and more. Let’s start with the background work.
Before you go ahead and get a social command centre, you need to (1) make sure that you’re going for it for the right reasons, and (2) do your research before choosing a vendor.
There are 4 main questions you need to answer before you can tell if you’re really ready for a command centre:
- Why do you want it? Command centres are too valuable and too expensive to be treated as gimmicks or gadgets on a screen. “We want one because or competitor has one” isn’t a valid reason, and neither is “it looks fancy” – even though they sure do look fancy. Everybody has their own reasons for getting one, and your reasons may differ from those of your peers. So, why would you want one? Here are a few reasons to think about, some of which you’ve probably already thought of, some of which you probably haven’t yet:
- Real-time awareness of your brand on social media: this includes your own social performance (how are your social pages doing? How are people reacting to the content you’ve posted on your social accounts?), as well as the social perception of your brand (how do people talk about your brand? Are you being talked about positively or negatively?)
- Competitor monitor: how do people talk about your competitors? How do people compare you to them? Could you use any of these opportunities for your own marketing (i.e. real-time responsive marketing)?
- Reactive and proactive customer service: who needs your help right now? Who’s contacted you for customer care help? This is regardless of whether people contact you directly (on your pages, or mentioning your social handles), or indirectly (mentioning your brand or products in passing on other pages, or excluding your social handles).
- Trending topics: what’s trending right now? What are people talking about on social media? What’s trending in your industry? You may find plenty of opportunities for real-time marketing thanks to social command centres. This is one of the many ways you can help your brand join trending conversations (when relevant) that are taking place on social media.
- Crisis identification: command centres are great to identify crises, emergencies, and any incoming PR difficulties that you may need to deal with. While you’re probably used to being the last one to know about any of these difficult situations, a command centre can help you be the first one in the loop, the person alerting other teams and departments of an incoming crisis.
- Where will you place it? The command centre needs to be in a strategic and useful place. There are mainly two types of visualisations: physical and virtual. Physical command centres can be placed in a location accessible to your team, or department, or perhaps the whole building. Its location depends primarily on where the main stakeholders are based. If the main stakeholder is your whole team, then it may makes sense to place the command centre in your team office, for everyone in your team to see. If it’s your whole department on your floor, then have it where everyone can see, be it in the middle of the room, at either end, or perhaps on multiple screens; if your team/department is split across floors, then multiple screens is the easiest way to showcase these live visualisations. If, however, the command centre is for everyone in the building, then place it in heavily trafficked areas, like the canteen, the main reception, main corridors, by the main lifts and stairways. You also have the option of setting up a dedicated location for your social command centre, a room where these live visualisations live. One of the best and well known examples is EE’s Social Hub, a room set up with intelligent tech and lots of screens showing relevant social metrics, stats and content, for everyone to know what’s going on. The social analysts would use that room as their primary station, so that they can keep abreast of what’s going on at all times. They can call managers and executives in whenever there’s a crisis brewing, and that room may also be used as a war-room, to monitor situations closely.
- Now, notice how I mention “main stakeholders”: these are the ones that will benefit from the social command centre first. Other people may be welcome to stop by and marvel at the social viz moving across the screen, thus increasing the interest and appetite to either widen the audience of this tool, or perhaps just extend the viz to them too. Ideally you’d like to reach a stage where social command centres are a staple component of your business, so the onus of paying for this command centre won’t fall on you alone – or at all.
An alternative to having “physical command centres” is having a virtual command centre instead, one you can access from portable devices: log in and view stats on the go. Whichever method you go for, make sure you make these visualisations accessible to the stakeholders who need it the most.
- Who will be using this? Who are the main stakeholders for this? While the answer to this question may depend on what you’ll end up showing on the command centres, think about the actual social command centre: who will benefit most from it? Which team do you think will have easier and better workflows if you introduced command centres to them? This can benefit a group of people (e.g. community managers), a whole team (e.g. social media team), a whole department (e.g. marketing), or the whole business. Once you’ve thought about that, think of who will be the “custodian” of the command centre for each team, the go-to person for anything related to it, the one who can set it up, manage it, make any amendments as necessary; the person who has access to the back-end data that powers the command centre (unless you decide to give this access to everyone, which is also an option), the person people can go to if they’re interested in it and would like to know more about it. This responsibility doesn’t have to rest on one person alone, but do think of who will be the most adequate person/people for this job.
- What will you show on it? Choose what to show on the viz: I’m sure you’ll have a long list of metrics and content to show. Choose the right metrics and content to put on the screen. The metrics you choose are entirely up to you, and they need to be relevant to the command centre’s audience. So, if that audience is your team, choose metrics that will make sense to them. If, however, you’re going to place this in public (e.g. the canteen, the main reception, hallways), don’t display metrics that only a select few will understand, as that will defeat the purpose of having social viz around. A social command centre will remain a gimmick unless it makes sense to people who see it: it doesn’t have to be demystified or explained into detail, people should be able to pass by and understand what’s being show on the screen at any given time, at least at a high level. Also, if the data is sensitive, do not show it; you may want to show sensitive data to people who are allowed to see it in carefully protected environments, e.g. a war-room for an event that only a select few know about, thus a room that only these people will have access to.
Which tool should you go for?
Now that you’re ready for it, it’s time to look at tools. Which one should you go for? Which features are essential? While the perfect social command centre doesn’t exist, you can certainly find one that perfectly suits your requirements.
Here are some of the main attributes to look out for in a social command centre:
- Specialist or bundled: some command centres come with a social listening tool or a social management tool attached to it, and you can only get the visualisations if you buy into the whole product. This may be an expensive and possibly not viable option if you’re a new customer, especially if you already do have a social listening tool or a social management tool. With that in mind, if you already do have a social listening/management tool, ask your vendor if they also provide a social visualisation/command centre. That may work out cheaper for you as just an add-on, or perhaps with an offer for existing customers. If you’re currently evaluating social tools and you’re also interested in investing in command centres, that should be one of the questions to pose to your potential vendor(s). On the other hand you have specialist social command centre solutions, tools that specialise in social visualisations and nothing more. Their main benefit is knowing that as they specialise in that area, they will focus solely on the development of their social visualisations, making their offering better and more robust. This is in contrast with a lot of social management tools that only have social visualisations as an added bonus, causing these vendors to view it as just that – an added bonus, thus resulting in an often underdeveloped and underwhelming option.
- Technical compatibility: this is perhaps the first requirement that you need to look out for, one that unfortunately doesn’t always get mentioned by vendors in this space. Is your command centre of choice compatible with your technology? If your IT is relaxed in terms of what browsers or tech to use, then perhaps this won’t be a major concern. However, it’s not unusual for big organisations to have set regulations on what tech can and can’t be used, due to security concerns (you might not be able to use a browser older than a particular version, for instance), conflict of interest (for the same reasons that the IT department at Google will recommend Chrome over Apple’s Safari browser), or whatever other reason. Whatever option you choose needs to accommodate those technical requirements.
- Flexible and portable: related to the previous point, once you’ve identified its compatibility with your technology, can you use this command centre on the devices and browsers you need? The technical limitations of your command centre shouldn’t impact you negatively.
- Customisable: how customisable is your social command centre? You may want to look into customisation if you want to use your own logo and company palette on the screens. You may also want to have more control over what gets shown on the screen and how often it gets refreshed. Some tools are more flexible than others, so check its available options before making your purchase.
- APIs: you may want to export the data from your command centre to your own systems to take that data further, or you may already have data that you’d like to add to what’s already shown on these screens, to add a bit of local context. APIs usually come at an extra price, so if this is something you’re looking to do, make sure you can afford both the tool and its API. Also, some APIs can only move data one way (from the command centre to your systems, or vice versa): propose your ideal scenario to your vendor so they can tell you whether that’s at all possible.
- Back-end analytics: a lot of command centres only offer a stream of content, along with some basic stats like the number of mentions and sentiment. I always recommend going for a tool that lets you access its data, so you can run a report in case someone questions what’s on the screen – why are we seeing that sharp increase in negative sentiment? Why are we getting all these mentions from London all of a sudden? Why is that hashtag trending along our brand name? Why have these influencers started mentioning us? Make sure you have the right tools to answer any of those questions when they pop up.
Social Command Centre Recommendations
If you don’t know where to start and you’d like some recommendations of great social command centres, here are 7 I can recommend. These are sorted by average pricing (you can find more details on pricing on the tool’s official page – links provided below):
Microsoft Dynamics: this is your entry level social command centre. This comes with a full-fledged social listening tool, and the option to turn it into a social CRM (if you buy into the Microsoft Dynamics CRM suite). Starting at £40/$60 per month, it’s no wonder why a lot of small-to-medium businesses start here, as well as enterprises with bootstrapped social media teams.
Buzz Radar: Buzz Radar is a trailblazer in the social command centre space, with a huge portfolio that includes luxury fashion brands, major electronics brand, utility brands, agencies (including Ogilvy) and more. One of the many great things about Buzz Radar is its easy scalability: whether you’re thinking small or big (as in “taking over the iconic One Piccadilly digital billboard in London” big), Buzz Radar is definitely a great option to consider.
Digimind Social Command Centre: immersive, visually stunning, easily customisable, Digimind’s Social Command Centre is not only a thing of beauty but it’s also a great way to showcase social data using interactive and animated charts. This comes with a mobile remote, to easily sift through the different sets of social and marketing data with just the tap of a finger. It’s also compatible with mobile devices and tablets (iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile), so your visualisations don’t get stuck on the big screens as you can take them with you.
Socialbakers Social Command Center: more of a bespoke option, if you’re already a Socialbakers customer (or if you’re thinking of becoming one), be aware of this option, as they can help you build a social command centre tailored to your needs. This will be powered by their robust social suite, that includes social analytics, social ads, social management and publishing.
Hootsuite Social Command Center: Hootsuite is not only a pioneer in social media management, but they also provide a useful, straight-to-the-point no-frills-attached social command centre. It’s optimised for large screens, PCs and mobile devices too, so you can check the latest stats that matter to you on the go.
Brandwatch Vizia: from the folks that brought you the leader in the social intelligence space, the already powerful Brandwatch Analytics offers a solid social command centre option. With flexibility in mind, and simplicity in its interface, Vizia is a great option if you have ambitions to scale this up to be more than just fancy visualisations on a screen, and/or if you want a centre to customise to your heart’s contents, thanks to the long (but not unwieldy) list of options and customisations available.
Synthesio Beam: Beam is the latest entry in social command centres from social listening leader Synthesio. Beam can help you surface trends and key metrics for your brand and your competitors. It’s a visually appealing and easy to understand companion to the main Synthesio platform, which you can reserve for any questions that may arise from people looking at Beam.
Now that you have a social command centre, what happens? How can you use it? Here are a few use cases to get you started:
- Customer Services: social command centres can help you move your social customer service strategy from reactive to proactive. A lot of brands nowadays only speak when spoken to, and you may be familiar with this strategy too: only having visibility of the queries that people mention you in, be it on Twitter or Facebook, or whatever other platform you’re on. Oftentimes not all of these queries are even replied to, and this may be down to various issues, including shortage of staff, or not knowing what to reply, or issues in the triage, which means that certain queries get lost while they’re being passed from team to team. With a social command centre, you can now see mentions of you and mentions about you, which may not necessarily have your handles included (you wouldn’t normally receive a notification about these mentions). Once you have a good view of these mentions, you can reach out to these people who need your help.
- Opportunities tracking: find new prospects by targeting “intent to purchase” keywords and phrases, e.g. “I’m looking for a baby monitor” or “I need to find an alternative to Apple Music”. Listen to these keywords, even when they mention your competitors, and see if there’s an opportunity to introduce yourself into those conversations (being relevant and useful, not creepy). There are so many instances when this may come in handy, such as when influencers crowdsource information on social media. The most recent instance of this happening on my timeline comes from James Whatley, Digital Director at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising and all-round awesome guy. He tweeted the following not so long ago…
Sure, he mentioned 4 providers, including the one who he currently wants to get away from. However, there’s no reason why other providers like GiffGaff, BT Mobile, Tesco Mobile and the like couldn’t have added their voice to this conversation, especially if they felt that they had a great deal to beat the rest. While that may have been a missed opportunity for a great real-time marketing for those three brands, it doesn’t have to happen to you, and with the help of real-time social command centres you can achieve just that.
(Sidenote: while a social command centre is a great place to start, it takes more than a screen to achieve real-time marketing. Your social strategy needs to allow it. If it currently doesn’t, I suggest updating that to make your social command centre more useful.)
- Crisis Identification: if you have a sudden increase in mentions about a certain topic, you’ll know it in real-time (or depending on how often you’re updating the command centre). If you have a map showing on your command centre with bursts of real-time mentions, you may see a flurry of negative mentions coming from one location, which may indicate an outage, or a local emergency that you need to take care of. Usually you’d be made aware of these issues via “traditional channels”, like your customer service team receiving a sudden influx of emails or calls about the issue, after which someone from this team will email yourself directly about it, or email other people, who will email other people…and you’ll then receive notice of it after it goes through a long email chain. When things go awry, you’re certain to hear about it first on social media. Be the first one in the chain to get things going, to alert other people in the business. Once enough people notice how social can be embedded in pretty much anything, including crisis identification, you won’t have to struggle to prove the usefulness of social media to executives and others high up – when used right, a great social command centre proves itself.
- Competitor tracking: don’t just track what your competitors are up to, but keep an eye out on how their content is performing too, as well as their news coverage.
- The former may be very useful for your community manager or social media manager, especially when choosing what content to use on your brand accounts: what resonated well for your competitors? What didn’t work so well? Now, just because it worked for them doesn’t mean that it’ll work for them. However, with that said, you can find some interesting insights looking into your competitors’ content marketing. By looking into that on a regular basis, you may be able to discern what their content strategy is: are they posting for clicks, or are they mainly posting for engagement?
- As for the latter point, check out the mainstream coverage of your competitors for great intel: are they suffering a crisis? Have they recently won an award for their customer care? Have they mentioned you recently, negatively or otherwise?
- Brand health: of course you can’t be looking at other brands without looking at yours too. How’s your brand doing on social media? How’s your brand sentiment? Perhaps you already know a few metrics around this thanks to CFMs (Customer Feedback Metrics) like NPS (Net Promoter Score), CSAT (Customer Satisfaction Score) or CES (customer experience score). There’s a second benefit for this use case: it brings awareness of your company social efforts to people who don’t work in your social media team. People who wouldn’t normally use social media as part of their job may find it useful to see what you’re up to – any campaigns you’d like to proudly show off? Any great engagement that you’d like to showcase? You could also showcase any crises and negative periods you’re going through, showing what’s the latest, how that’s affecting the consumer perception of your brand, how your customers are affected by this, while showing how you’re handling it publicly.
After you’ve found your perfect setup, tell people about it, increase the interest. If you had difficulties trying to sell the idea before you purchased this, they’ll likely come around now that they can see how useful it is: a lot of social media concepts may seem too abstract to people who don’t work in social, until they’ve finally seen tangible results coming from it.
There’s one very important key here that we need to talk about, the one thing without which your command centre will be pretty much useless. That key is execution. How are you going to translate what’s on the screen into action?
Going back to the example of financial tickers, bankers and traders don’t see it as a nice screensaver scrolling across the room; it has a dual purpose, serving both as an FYI as well as a call to action. So, how are you going to action the insight showing on the screen?
A social command centre can only work when it’s incorporated in your social strategy. That may involve a much needed shake-up that your organisation needs to go through to become really socially intelligent – think of it as a social intervention.
For it to work, the setup of your command centre need to be a part of a real-time workflow. This workflow needs to take into account content that’s being shown on the command centres (what do you if you find a great piece of content about you? what if an influencer or a competitor mentions you?), stats that come up (think of the eventualities – what do you do if you have a spike in negative/positive sentiment? What do you do if you have a sudden increase/decrease in mentions?), and opportunities to respond, beyond your usual customer care.
How do you do this effectively? Go through your social strategy and add the social command centre as a vital part of its workflow. Then make sure you’ve got the following 4 aspects covered:
- Identify . Set up your command centre to identify key trends and insights. Let it identify how those change over time, and any themes you may want to use (for marketing, PR etc.)
- Review. Remember the custodian we mentioned earlier? The go-to person who sets the command centre up and is in charge of its upkeep? This person will also need to review the content that goes on the screens: the data that the centre captures may be useful, but not all of it needs to be shown. Find the right balance between showing interesting data and data that people need to know about. Stop this command centre from being a “data overload centre”, as it will soon put people off.
- Curate. Don’t set up your command centre to pile up noise. Curate the best content to showcase internally. This may include the great content that people are creating around your brand. Once you’ve discovered a great post, you may want to amplify it and share it with your community, making it a win-win situation for both yourself and the original poster. Thanks to real-time command centres you can do so effectively while content is still fresh, and not when you casually find it in a report days, weeks, or months later.
- Respond. Think of command centres as the antenna that gets all the signals to do with your brand. As soon as a signal gets picked up by that antenna and gets shown on your monitors, make sure you have a plan in place that tells you how to react (if at all) in a timely fashion, and with the right response. This will turn your strategy from responsive to proactive: don’t wait for the mentions to come in via a handle mention, but listen for people talking about your brand and products to reach out to them.
Lastly, bear in mind that not everyone will need to take action from what’s shown on the screen, and not everything is a call for action. Make sure that those who do need to take action are well equipped to do so when the time comes. As for the rest, make sure that other people understand the data that’s shown on the screen: what will it mean to the business?
Examples of Social Command Centres
If you’re looking for practical examples of how other brands have successfully rolled out a social command centres, if you’re looking for examples to propose to your manager if they’re skeptical to invest in this technology, or if you just need some inspiration on the endless possibilities of social command centres, here are a few great examples to start with:
- Dell’s social command centre;
- Clemson University’s social media listening centre, with support from Dell and Salesforce Radian 6;
- MoneyGram’s social command centre, powered by Brandwatch Vizia;
- Edelman’s real-time command centre;
- Gatorade’s Mission Control, with support from Salesforce Radian 6 and IBM;
- Cisco’s Social Media Listening Centre, featuring 6 touch-enabled screens in their customer-facing Executive Briefing Centre;
- Wells Fargo’s social media command centre, powered by Brandwatch Vizia;
- Intel’s Social Cockpit for CES;
- Marks & Spencer’s command centre, powered by Buzz Radar;
- Monster.com’s social media centre, powered by Brandwatch Vizia;
- The US Open’s social command centre, powered by IBM;
- Mastercard’s social command centre;
- Adidas’ World Cup social command centre, powered by Buzz Radar;
- Red Cross’ social media monitoring centre, powered by Salesforce Radian 6;
- Twitter Live Studio, powered by Buzz Radar for Twitter in the UK;
- Ogilvy’s digital content hub for Social Media Week, powered by Brandwatch Vizia;
- Castrol’s social command centre for the Super Bowl, powered by Sprinklr;
- Aussie Bank’s social media command centre, powered by Salesforce Radian 6;
- AXA’ s social media command centre;
- Capgemini’s social media command centre, powered by Salesforce Radian 6;
- Grocery chain Hy-vee’s social media command centre, powered by Engage 1-2-1;
- CES 2015, powered by Buzz Radar and Storyful, in partnership with FleishmanHillard.