RIP command centers: why the couch is the new social media war room

Back in 2013 and 2014, the buzzword that hung on every savvy marketer’s lips was the ‘social media command center’. The idea of gaining real-time insights into your brand on social media, being able to jump on trending conversations on social platforms (if relevant) add a brand voice – was exhilarating.

Following the success of brands like Oreo, who hit it big with its rapid-fire wit in response to the Super Bowl blackout, and Nissan, who created an ad which went live a mere 7 minutes after the Royal Baby announcement, agencies and clients could not stop touting the merits of dedicating resources, talent and physical space to these 'war rooms' – especially around key events such as the Super Bowl and the Olympics.

But in that moment of virality, ‘real time content marketing’ went from fame to infamy; war rooms, command centers and other euphemisms for rapid fire social media responses to big cultural events became symbols of the awkward rush by brands to respond in real-time. The rate at which the term took to fame was unbelievably and unquestionably quick.

As marketers’ purse strings tightened, amid a changing social media landscape and with consumer behavior evolving towards dark social, one can only wonder: what caused the death of the social media war room, and what is its future?

It’s expensive

The very image of a war-room – a glass-enclosed room filled with people, faces lit up by screens all around – is partially what led to the downfall. Not only does it require the brand or agency to invest in human capital, but also in infrastructure and technology to keep the war room going.

The old joke about war-rooms being about a room full of millennials with soda and pizza is no longer true – just ask Orli LeWinter – 360i’s vice president of strategy and marketing (the agency behind Oreo’s real time wins). “War rooms are really expensive investments and also taxing on employees, so brands need to be very strategic about them,” she said. “If real-time readiness is crucial to the campaign, it can be an asset. But it should be used judiciously.”

It’s inefficient

Coca Cola executive Wendy Clark, a longtime proponent of real time content, has also gone on record about the complexities of setting up war-rooms that churn out content in real time, in a large multi-national corporation (MNC) environment.

Moving fast sounds fantastic as a public relations (PR) soundbite, but no when the Legal team gets involved! The intricacies required in getting approvals from corporate, brand and legal teams often completely negates the inherent concept of ‘real-time’, if it takes a few hours or days to get the go-ahead to post a piece of content.

So, how can brands really work on developing a real-time content strategy to better manage these high-visibility investments?

  • Prepare well
  • Enable your teams to be nimble
  • Embrace technology

Some may say that a room full of big monitors to track data dashboards are necessary, but in situations where all you’re doing is reacting to a game or an event, it is possible to have people do that from the comfort of their homes, through virtual collaboration platforms like Slack or WhatsApp. Brands have also begun looking at developing (pre-approved) iterations of branded content in advance of the event’s outcome, which can be posted as the events unfold.

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.

If brands and agencies can get all of these right, a social media command center should not affect one’s data-driven maturity, or speed-to-market. 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.

Ishan Chatterjee is client solutions director of VML South East Asia and India.

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