Community management and hiring talent for social: the example of General Mills

A quieter couple of weeks at the end of April, blessed with two public holidays, enabled me to catch up on (some of my) reading backlog. Among the articles bookmarked was one about community management at General Mills based on a talk by Aaron Miller:

General Mills: Building a Team of Connected Community Managers — presented by Aaron Miller from on Vimeo.

His presentation made me consider two topics I often discuss with peers or with my students (whenever I’m doing training sessions on social media).

At General Mills the presence of brands in social channels was previously managed by agencies. This, in Aaron’s view, meant that they were “paying to build agency skills & knowledge” and not their own, an interesting perspective no doubt.

I’ve seen companies completely outsource their presence on social media to agencies. Many times the decision comes not because they conscientiously believe they do not have the internal skills set or cannot afford to develop it, but simply because they believe it’s easier and probably faster to do just that, or because they see “being on Facebook” as the end strategy in itself and simply just want someone to run that for them so they can tick the “we do social media” box. Most fail to understand what “doing social media” should mean.

A great paper by Almighty entitled “Digital Isn’t Working (Yet)”  (thank you Armando Alves for sharing this on Twitter) features this delightful (yet sad because it’s true) provocation:

“We see organizations struggling to find ways to transform the manner in which they do business socially; to harness networks in meaningful ways. Critically, many of them find it difficult to articulate the value of social media to the organization in a way that merits ongoing investment. As long as it’s easier to go through the motions of publishing streams of ephemera than to transform into social organizations, the value of social will remain unclear.

There was supposed to be something beyond centralizing things on HootSuite.[emphasis is mine]

Coming back to the topic of how to manage social, it is my personal opinion that an agency will develop your organization’s social presence only up to a certain point. Once you want to go past the competitions – “share this to win something”, “go to our app for a chance to…” – and past the well crafted or funny visuals that look really good on that Facebook page but probably add little value to your business and to your customers (in which case your brand is fighting for the attention of many in what I call the “entertainment side” of a social media presence), then you should think about internalizing social competencies and building up your company’s digital literacy.

For as much as communication and work processes with agencies or other partners might flow really well, they are not in your business (particularly important when the nuances of your product or service are hard to explain to non business related folks), they do not live your brand’s issues or strengths or peculiarities every day, and they do not have access to the unspoken side of the corporate culture that permeates the hallways, the cafeteria or the Christmas office parties.

And consider this for a moment: even if your organization is starting and you’re in the process of developing the internal team and skills, and thus feel the need to leverage on the competencies of an agency, are you sure the only “listening” you want to do of the conversations already going on about your brand, your competitors or your industry, is looking at that monthly report they will prepare for you (where you’ll probably pay more attention to the graph of the number of likes/followers than to anything else)?

General Mills decided to change the way it was approaching social so they built an internal team of 10 community managers, one for each brand, supported by agencies and contractors that act as an extension of that internal team. This way as General Mills gains internal experience it also profits from the experience and expertise of their partners to move things forward.

Community managers at General Mills are responsible for:

  • developing the brand’s social strategy
  • doing editorial planning
  • working on content execution
  • tracking and reporting base-level analytics

Aaron’s role is being the community manager of community managers, keeping them connected and learning from each other.

This is how the social brand team structure looks like at General Mills:

Every time I see such a scheme I cannot help but smile because in my role as Digital Marketing and Social Media manager at work I often feel like I’m playing Jack of all trades. Believe me it can be exciting and creative at times  but also a very lonely place (that’s probably one of the reasons why I like to manage a community of practice with peers from other close businesses, and why I value so much the stream of smart folks I keep track of on Twitter).


Another interesting part of Aaron’s talk was when he explained what he valued when sourcing for talent to this new social team at General Mills. In his words:

“We are looking for qualities more than we are looking for experience”

meaning they were valuing skills and competencies like being strategically creative, having good writing skills and also diverse backgrounds. But most importantly they were looking into how those potential employees used social media for themselves.

This reminds me of my latest post about digital reputation and also of the questions I like to leave my students with, especially those in social media marketing classes: how could someone discover you on social media? In a world where the way companies’ source for talent is changing, how could you connect to a network of continuous learning and future opportunities? If I wanted to recommend you and say “hey, check here some of the stuff she/he has been sharing/writing/working on”, where would I link to? Where is your “digital self” (besides the one sharing holidays’ photos with friends, discussing the latest football scores or doing check-ins in restaurants and bars)?

The answer is usually silence. Many have never even considered this topic. And I’m sure they will not fully understand what I mean until some sort of serendipitous digital magic – when opportunities flow to us – happens to them as it has happened to me before.

And if they still need some convincing to start working on their personal digital/social reputation, then I’m hoping the example of General Mills should be of some use.


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