Kirsten Hamstra

Kirsten Hamstra of SAS on how to build a social media team from the ground up

Kirsten Hamstra was shocked to find that at SAS, many employees had been there for over 20 years.

With a personal career history at agencies, she says the low turnover rate was a refreshing change. According to Kirsten, it's a byproduct of SAS being a great place to work. In fact, they've ranked in the top ten of Fortune's “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 12 years.

She says for many teams, including her own, it feels like family. But she also found that that low-turnover rate presented a steeper learning curve in social media for long-time employees.

So when she became the Global Social Media Manager, her first order of business was social media governance.

We had to start by really understanding where we were in social media and apply controls and governance.

As a team of one, she had always advocated for building up a social media team. But for now, she had to do it alone, asking for help from volunteers who already had their hands full with their regular jobs.

She met with people from human resources, legal, internal communications, and PR to help write a policy for every single channel. If you wanted to start a SAS-branded social page, you had to work with Kirsten to meet business justifications and corporate creative standards.

“We had to start by really understanding where we were in social media and apply controls and governance. That made executives and PR happy because with more controls, we had fewer risks of a crisis.”

Now, Kirsten was ready to start building the case for her new social media team.

“I started following tons of BtoB and BtoC brands and asking them about their teams. I Googled everything to death, subscribed to tons of blogs and thought leaders, and compiled as much information as I could.”

She also got a lot of survey data on social teams from Altimeter Group's annual studies on the state of social business. And since this was before Kirsten became a member, she did it all on her own.

“Peer groups are so important. I really wish I had had back then. I didn't have a community like to go to for support. I can't even imagine what that process would have been like if I had,” she says.

Another big resource for Kirsten: Mentorship.

There is no amount of convincing you can do if your organization isn’t ready.

She figured that if she could convince enough layers of management, then she could ultimately get the approval she needed from her CMO. She started by building a close relationship with the two most important people she had to convince first: her Manager and Senior Director. The three held regular check-ins with Kirsten to help her piece together a proposal.

“My Manager gave me hints like ‘Have you created your vision statement? What competitors are you looking at and why?' She would ask, ‘If you got everything you wanted, Kirsten, what would that team look like?'”

Those questions helped Kirsten flesh out a detailed description of her dream team.

“I literally crafted job descriptions from scratch with titles and responsibilities. I wanted to go in with as much detail as possible,” she explains.

Kirsten and her team at their Digital Marketing Summit.
Kirsten and her team at their Digital Marketing Summit.

Kirsten came up with five direct reports:

1. Social content specialist

This person creates and curates opt-in content such as longer formats, digestible social content, graphics, and toolkits. They also create templates for each channel with standardized fonts, colors, and logo placement to share as a resource with all of SAS' global business units.

2. Employee engagement and education specialist

This person works on creating global social media certification programs with self-guided modules, recommendations, and other resources. They also blog weekly, conduct trainings, and hold 101 workshops. Right now, they are working on creating an employee advocacy program for 2016.

3. Social communications and brand specialist

This role is all about managing corporate channels, content strategy, and delivery. If it's going to be published, it's going to have to get their approval. Kirsten says that means tweaking and improving content for social is a big part of this job.

4. Social listening specialist

This role is focused solely on social listening platforms, projects, and insights. And Kirsten says as the team builds out more reporting capabilities, the role will continue to grow.

5. Social media blog and web specialist

The person in this role not only leads SAS' external blogging program, but also has tech expertise in things like WordPress and building an internal employee social media portal from the ground up.

Patience ultimately earned Kirsten buy-in to bring on her team.

“There is no amount of convincing you can do if your organization isn't ready,” she says.

Kirsten relied on her Manager and Senior Director to be on the lookout for the appropriate time to present her argument to her CMO. She says trusting your leadership is key, as well as being open to changing your way of thinking and adapting to their advice.

“Most importantly, though, before proposing anything of this kind of scope, you have to really believe in this yourself. It became something I thought I could not give up on no matter how long it took. This was not an overnight process by any means, you really have to be ready for the long term, and be ready to dig in, no matter how long it takes.”

Follow Kirsten on Twitter and ask about how she managed to get such an awesome twitter handle. She's been a member of since 2015.