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.


Structuring SocialOrgs: Social Media and the TALL Organizational Model

If naming this blog “SocialOrgs” didn’t hint at it enough, in today’s market, organizations have an increasingly demanding need to be SOCIAL.

It’s not enough anymore for a business, or any structured organization for that matter, to sit back and watch their marketing content work for them. Instead, organizations need to be their own marketing content; they need to invest in CONVERSATION. Having said that, not every organization is set up to participate in online conversation. Many organizational structures limit the ability for their members to react online, leaving them behind in both online dialogue and their audience’s interests as a result.

Here, we’ll take a quick look at some popular organizational structures and their ability to enable online conversation. Inspired by a great article over at DotEduGuru, we will be looking at TALL organizational structures: the hierarchical and divisional models. By understanding each model and its ability to enable social media, you will be able to weigh the pros and cons, and choose which organizational structure is right for you. Because, as we’re about to find out, some structures can be much more efficient at sustaining a reactive social media strategy, but unfortunately this ability comes with some trade-offs.


simple-organizational-chartTypically, a hierarchical organization looks like a pyramid, with a few powerful members on top that oversee the larger workforce beneath them. In this, members are held accountable to authority, but usually cannot act autonomously. Members are motivated to be productive, with a clear understanding of the chain-of-command and how they can be promoted, but lower members are often not given much freedom and must seek approval from the ‘higher-ups’ before taking action. This, as we’ll discuss, can function to limit a hierarchical organization’s social media strategy.


divisional-corporate-organizational-structureThe divisional structure is just how it sounds, made of distinct and semi-autonomous divisions. It divides a large organization into smaller divisions that each have their own responsibilities, all of which are contributing to the overall performance of the organization. Each vertical division is managed separately and acts within its own department, maintaining its own distinct staff and resources. As a result, there is great communication within each division, while collaboration between divisions is often discouraged. One example arose when Microsoft released their SocialConnector to integrate emails with your social media content, but did not allow its program to connect to Microsoft Sharepoint or Windows Live; a result of Microsoft’s cut-off divisional structure. Not to mention, office politics can rear its ugly head when an organization creates competition between divisions.


Each of these models have one major benefit: efficiency. They distribute tasks to their according department and, as long as each one delivers on their responsibilities, the final goal can be achieved accumulatively. Control can be well established throughout the entire organization and its vertical branches, providing consistency and accountability. Having said that, tall organizations that utilize the hierarchical or divisional model are often lacking in internal collaboration and innovation, because of their highly structured environment. This can contribute to an organization that is inflexible and slow to react. All of these implications have an effect on the organization’s social media strategy.

Hierarchical organizations can be counterproductive in terms of establishing an organic social media presence. Because members must seek approval for their actions, the chain-of-command often halts action and results in a social media strategy that is too slow to react to online dialogue. Hierarchical structures are most popular because of their ability to sustain authoritative control, but this control can damage their ability to remain immersed in online conversation. Divisional organizations are just as efficient. They allow each division to focus on its own tasks without any interference and allow for a more tight-knit team environment. On the other hand, social media strategies within divisional organizations can be complicated. Unless one division is solely devoted to social media, inconsistencies can develop in establishing a social presence. This can ultimately cause issues in developing a coherent online voice.


The tall organizational model that we have analyzed here is great at ensuring ‘safe’ social media, as the chain-of-command makes sure that nothing too risky gets publish. Nonetheless, these kinds of SocialOrgs face the risk of falling behind in conversation, as online conversation is constantly changing and a filtered social media presence is slow to react.

Tune-in tomorrow to get the other perspective, where we will be looking at FLAT organizational structures and their implications on your social media strategy.