How Vanguard runs a decentralized, in-house social media team

It’s important to build a team that can operate independently while adhering to legal requirements and the organization’s objectives. Would this setup work for you?

How is your social media team structured?

At Vanguard, marketing is decentralized and social media is embedded within business lines.

Allen Plummer is on Vanguard’s institutional marketing team. He’s responsible for marketing in its business-to-business efforts, including addressing corporations, pensions, 401(k) plans and small-business owners.

Social media at Vanguard has always been in-house, Allen says, for two reasons: the regulated nature of their business and the need to control content. From a compliance standpoint, they have to audit and get legal approval of everything to be published. Creating content in-house gives them more control over their brand image and monitoring across any channel, he says.

Allen works with a team of seven: two writers, two editors, one designer and two channel managers. They all run Vanguard’s institutional presence across Twitter, LinkedIn and its blog.

“It’s really hard to make the case for headcount, so more and more marketing teams are learning to do more with less,” he says.

For Allen, that means pulling from the creative talent that’s already within the company. A lot of his team’s primary responsibilities are in advertising, print and the Web. Social media is just part of each team member’s job.

When he brought them on, he says, he wasn’t looking only for good content creators. Allen sought team members with a passion for social media, too.

“When you’re bringing content in-house, you can teach a talented writer to write tweets. What you can’t teach is that interest or desire to learn social media. One common factor we have is the idea of being innovative, being interested in the space, loving to learn and being really tech savvy.”

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Although they’re decentralized, it helps that Allen’s team members sit close to one another. They have weekly in-person content meetings to go channel by channel and discuss content quality, themes and balance. They also have a daily, 30-minute standing huddle to handle urgent situations; they cancel it when it’s not needed.

He says these meetings and having a group email address help his team stay agile. They’re also prepared to cover for one another if someone’s out.

Allen says, “You can make it work in a small team, but you have to be prepared with a contingency plan” to take up the slack.

One winning feature of a decentralized team, he says, is the ability to make quick decisions independently. As the social media team’s leader, Allen serves as editor in chief. He doesn’t want his approval process to create a bottleneck nor slow the team down when he’s gone.

“A measure of success for me is a team that can handle social [media] on their own and doesn’t depend on me to make every single decision,” he says. “Fortunately, we’ve got great folks who do that, and everyone truly feels ownership over their work. I love seeing our team evolve and seeing their instincts and skills in social [media] grow.”

A version of this article first appeared on

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