Brian Johnston

Brian Johnston on FedEx’s checklist for building a social media command center

According to FedEx's Brian Johnston, 2013 was the rise of the social media command center.

You're not going to get the adoption you think you're going to get right away.

“Vendors were probably beating down your door trying to sell you every product under the sun related to social media command centers. We were no different,” says Brian to a room full of social leaders at our Brands-Only Summit.

He's FedEx's Senior Communications Specialist for Global Social Media, and in 2013, he led the charge to launch FedEx's first social media command center.

Before they launched FedEx's Social Hub, Brian's team used to crowd around a few computer monitors at his desk.

But with 5,000 social mentions of FedEx each day (and growing), that wasn't sustainable for listening long-term. They needed to make the case internally for a dedicated space for social media. And with the promise of better monitoring and crisis support without a lot of extra budget or people, they got a pilot approved for the social hub.

“It was time to get our hands dirty,” he says.

Brian Johnston

Once they got approval, Brian says it was time to start diving into the real details.

Here's the checklist he recommends to nail down the details that matter:

FedEx slide

To get inspired, Brian's team visited social media command centers like the Red Cross' Digital Operations Center and NASCAR's Fan and Media Engagement Center — different ends of the spectrum, but still examples of what FedEx could do.

“Talk to your friends, especially people at,” says Brian. “We've learned a lot from other companies that have done this.”

“Think about all of the questions you didn't discuss in the happy concept phase of your social command center.”

We're putting the customer's voice on the screen for as many people as we can get in there. That's got to be the right thing to do.

For example, Brian says it's important to understand the internal processes, finance, facilities, and capital vs. expense involved in your command center. “You know, all of the things that make marketing and communications people kind of nauseous,” he laughs.

He emphasizes making friends and influencing people — not just in your own management chain, but also with people in properties, facilities, accounting, and IT. “Demonstrate your willingness to work with them and answer their questions. Be really nice, and make them a part of the overall project — that sped things up as much as it could for us.”

He says it's also important to talk about daily management questions: who's going to be in the room, what they're going to be doing, and who will train them how to do it, if necessary? Brian recommends spending time deciding whether to have dedicated seats for marketing and customer service or to open the doors for anyone who wants to participate.

Invest in the ambiance.

After 15 months of process approvals, estimates, revisions, and construction, FedEx's Social Hub was complete. Brian's team has since hosted an open house and about 50 internal and external tours in the Social Hub.

FedEx slide

They've worked hard to make the space feel unique and non-traditional with a floor-to-ceiling purple wall guests are encouraged to sign, interesting furniture, and Razor scooters. He says the idea behind the hub's unique feel is to make it feel less like a crisis center and more like a physical representation of the voice of the customer.

“You're not going to get the adoption you think you're going to get right away.”

Brian says that while people won't come flocking to our command center right away, you just have to focus on doing what's right for the company and your customers, and the adoption will come.

“We're putting the customer's voice on the screen for as many people as we can get in there. That's got to be the right thing to do.”

Watch Brian's full presentation here to hear a Q&A with the other social media leaders in the room at's Brands-Only Summit. Brian's been a member of our community since 2013.