Some leading brands have won substantial PR and marketing victories with social media command centers.

Typically filled with monitors showing charts, graphs and more elaborate data visualizations, control rooms dedicated to monitoring and measuring trending social media conversations can deliver real-time insights into conversations and sentiment on the full range of social media platforms. With those insights, marketers can jump into popular topics to win substantial attention and solve customer service issues.

Southwest Airlines, American Red Cross, Marriott, Dell and Gatorade are among the many brands that have benefited from social media command centers, also known as “war rooms.” Social media command centers were instrumental in Oreo’s often-cited tweet during the Super Bowl blackout and Nissan’s tweet in response to the Royal family’s announcement of an expected birth.

The command centers can help brands:

  • engage with customers,
  • help customers solve problems with products or services,
  • identify and smother potential PR crises before they erupt,
  • monitor an ongoing PR crisis and measure the effectiveness of its PR response,
  • compare PR and marketing campaigns in different regions,
  • track the brand’s performance against competitors,
  • share the benefits of social media monitoring throughout the organization,
  • showcase the value of social media monitoring to other company departments.

Nissan’s Command Center Drives Social Media Integration

Nissan’s Social Media Command Center has helped spread social media benefits throughout the overall organization, said Bryan Long, Nissan North America’s senior manager of social media customer strategy. “We’re based in the headquarters building, but we’re not a part of consumer affairs — we’re not even in the same vertical. We’re not in marketing, and we don’t report to PR, but we listen on behalf of the entire organization,” Long explained.

The command center’s open layout helps demonstrate what social media listening can do for the entire organization. The social media monitoring team provides tours and presentations to employees from other company departments. They host a “social media monthly meeting” for anyone interested in learning more and make a point of asking visitors what information they need.

Disadvantages of War Rooms

Some PR and marketing experts question the value of command centers. The rooms are expensive. While the control rooms are designed to create quick responses to events and social media conversations, time-consuming mandatory reviews by legal and regulatory departments defeat the purpose of real-time marketing.

In addition, some think such social media war rooms might not be necessary – even for the largest companies or consumer brands. PR and marketing teams can issue quick, on-target responses from a regular office — or from home. With the help of messaging apps like Slack, teams can now collaborate remotely. For multinational organizations, the non-centralized approach to social media monitoring and engagement also enables localization with multiple languages and with better cultural focus and sensitivity.

Once brands have an integrated social media listening tool, their main challenges are to develop a content strategy and train and empower their personnel. Working with a subscription media monitoring service with trained human analysts may likely prove more valuable than a room filled with large computer screens. The analysts can parse through social media comments very quickly to uncover meaningful insights – and deliver them directly to decision-makers.

“Looking at how brands like Wendy’s struck social media gold recently, thanks to a quick witted response by their agency’s community manager – it’s clear that unless you can empower your marketing team or agency, it’s quite impossible to develop ‘real time’ content,” advises Ishan Catterjee, client solutions director, South East Asia and India, for VML in the Drum.

“Focus first on a robust content strategy, understand how social informs the business and invest in technology, and invest in the right tools – screens and visualizations can come in second,” Catterjee recommends.

Risks of High Visibility

The high visibility of command centers brings both rewards and risks, according to Gartner. They illuminate both the effective and ineffective aspects of a social marketing strategy. Social media marketing often operates in isolation from the overall marketing, says Jay Wilson, research director, Gartner for Marketers. Simply relocating the social team into a command center, without a review of the entire marketing strategy, will only shine a brighter light on this divide.

In addition, command centers display fancy real-time data visualizations to a large group. They don’t improve data, Wilson says.

Gartner recommends:

  • Weigh the specific benefits of a command center such as crisis management, news jacking and real-time marketing.
  • Talk with your team to gauge their desire for a command center.
  • Make sure you can secure commitment from key teams, including content, public relations and data.
  • Focus on your critical metrics and measurement and ensure the metrics are being shared with the right people.

The Need for a Clear Strategy and Purpose

Some organizations, more concerned with following the latest social media marketing trend, create command centers without establishing a clear strategy and purpose, points out marketing expert Rick Wion, now with Kellogg Company.  If brands lack a clear plan and strategy, their staff may end up using the large screens to watch sporting events instead of engaging with customers.

Wian recommends these steps:

  • First define goals for the center, such as customer service, real-time marketing or monitoring industry trends.
  • Create a well-defined analytics plan with dozens of metrics but a focus on a handful of the most critical KPIs.
  • Beware of outsourcing its operation just to save costs. Knowledgeable and well-trained in-house staff are more likely to provide top-notch customer service and engagement.
  • Involve your IT department at every step. A center requires a significant amount of equipment.
  • Consider its location carefully. Pick a noticeable place that’s visible beyond the core social team.

“Of course, nobody can walk into your company and dictate the best solution. All of these factors must be carefully weighed,” Wion concludes.

Bottom Line: Social media command centers have played a leading role in successful social media marketing strategies for a number of leading brands. But some experts question if they are worth their considerable costs. Brands don’t need war rooms filled with colorful data visualizations, they say. Accurate social media monitoring and measurement, a well-developed strategy and a well-trained staff are the main weapons for successful social media marketing.

This article was first published on June 29, 2017, and updated on Jan. 14, 2020.