Structuring SocialOrgs: Social Media and the FLAT Organizational Model

Welcome back, hopefully this means what you found yesterday was somewhat worth the read… Today we’ll continue our conversation about social media performance within specific kinds of SocialOrgs.

Yesterday, we discussed the tall organizational model and its ability to sustain a successful social media presence. In this, we discovered a balancing act between control and flexibility. The tall model is efficient because of it’s highly controlled environment, but the controlling chain-of-command incites caution. This slows the proliferation of social media, as everything must be pre-approved, and ensures an online presence that finds itself falling in behind both its audience’s online conversations and their interests. Today, we will further discuss this balance between control and flexibility by looking at the FLAT organizational model, and its implications on sustaining an organic social media presence:



The horizontal organization makes an attempt to mask its vertical structure as best it can. It eliminates the hierarchical layers that most organizations operate by, relying on cross-function teams who are overseen by managers that all work for the same organization. This structure is best known for its ability to adapt to change, as the team-based environment spurs communication and innovation. Although members of a horizontal organization are provided with freedom and autonomy, this, obviously, contributes to less control and accountability. In some ways, this can threaten the functionality of a horizontal organization’s social media presence.


matrix-organizational-structureThis is the most distinct organizational model of the four we have been discussing. A matrix organization essentially sheds its vertical control and establishes a flatter structure that allows communication between departments. Executives are given more breadth in their command, and employees are given more responsibility, creating a dynamic team-based environment. This structure allows cross-polination between different departments, but also results in less bureaucratic control. As a result, employees can take action and collaborate, allowing them to make decisions quicker. (I’m sure it’s not difficult to guess what this might mean for a social media strategy.)


In both horizontal and matrix organizations, ideas can be infused and implemented quicker than within organizations that fall under the tall organizational model. Because their structures require less hierarchical control, action can be taken on social media without time-consuming approval and, as a result, these organizations can stay immersed in online conversation. This is important for any social media strategy, as online conversation is constantly transforming, and you must transform with it in order to stay relevant. Having said that, both horizontal and matrix organizational structures give up their control at a cost. The flat organizational model can allow for reactivity which is necessary within a social media strategy. However, reactivity inevitably means less active control. Although the two above structures do allow organizations to stay immersed in online conversation, it does not provide the filter that command environments ensure.

It is so easy now for anyone to say anything online. This can be a great asset, when used responsibly. Social media allows anyone within an organization to anonymously represent their team. As a result, those bad publicity tweets that we hear about (almost on a daily basis now) are not only more frequent, but the ability to hold people accountable for them becomes exhaustive. For example, when HMV followed through with a massive job-cut, their employees took to twitter, live-tweeting their “mass execution” to the 64,000 followers of HMV’s official twitter account. Further, organizations that fall under the flat organizational model can develop an inconsistent social media presence. The more people that have control over social media, the more voices there are that can contradict each other. In the end, we reach the same balancing act where control and flexibility of social media activity continue to battle one another.


Conversation is fluid, and there is no difference online. In order to fully immerse your organization as an active member of online conversation, there cannot be too many restrictions on its ability to react to social media. However, less control can lead to an unpredictable and contradictory online presence. With less control, a flexible social media strategy can result in some statements that may not go over well with your audience.

So, it’s important to find a balance between setting expectations for your online strategy, and allowing that strategy to be executed in a timely fashion. An organization, no matter how it’s structured, needs to stay immersed in their audience’s online conversation. This can be done within a social media strategy that practices some freedom of speech, but remembers that that freedom is only promised by a governing body…. Set expectations for your team, as to how they can represent the organization online, and allow them the autonomy to do so.