Social Media: Hubs and Spokes

Is this scenario familiar to you? An organization decides that it needs a social media presence. It polls its constituents and identifies their preferred platforms. Then it begins to post press releases, and a few employee photographs, on those platforms.

But the limitations of the platforms make them ill-suited to showcase the organization’s strengths, and thus the content looks shabby … or, even worse, downright awkward. The constituents ignore the postings, and the entire initiative collapses as a complete failure.

So what went wrong? The key mistake, ironically, was the organization’s decision to follow the preferences of their own constituents. That strategy cannot make any sense if — as is usually the case — the factors that drive the constituents to prefer certain platforms are different than the needs of the organization to communicate with them.

Web surfers, for instance, might prefer Facebook or Twitter because of their desire to share colorful photos of their children and grandchildren. Those same web surfers might also be readers of the New York Times’ online articles. But that doesn’t mean that the New York Times would be well advised to publish its entire online newspaper on Facebook or Twitter.

Instead, the Times maintains its own web site as its online hub, and establishes company pages on Facebook and Twitter. Most of its postings and tweets contain links that carry readers back to the online hub. In other words, the Facebook and Twitter accounts act as spokes that distribute the content to the preferred platforms of the readers, while bridging the distance between those platforms and the hub platform.

With this example in mind, what advice shall we provide to our beleaguered organization? Well, that depends on the nature of the organization and the preferences of its constituents. If the organization is a photography studio and its constituents are photographers, the organizational hub might reside on Instagram. There would be no need for spokes if all of the photographers also maintain accounts on Instagram.

However, if the organization is a literary club, it might make more sense to establish a hub on a blog platform. After all, blogs are explicitly designed to host essays of hundreds, or even thousands, of words. Then, if many of its members happen to be on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other platforms, it can establish spokes between its hub blog and those other services.

The key insight, counter-intuitive as it may seem, is that organizations should not necessarily post their primary content on platforms that are heavily utilized by their stakeholders. Instead, they should establish hubs on platforms that are optimally suited to showcase their content, regardless of the preferences of their constituents. Then, and only then, should those organization establish spokes to convey their content to the preferred platforms of their readers.

Does that sound complicated? Perhaps it does. But hey … the online world is a complex milieu. Organizations should expect to require complex strategies to navigate it.