I am reminded on a regular basis of the gap between organizations leading the adoption of social media – who are embracing and shaping new trends and applications – and others who still seem hesitant to devote any resources or intellectual capital to the discipline. The latest example comes through the concept of listening. While some organizations are (inexplicably) barely paying attention to online dialogue, others are working hard to improve their listening ability and using the information to shape their customer outreach, products and even their business operations. They are listening with a purpose – to use the insights and information they gather to truly engage with their customers, critics and fans online.

A recent blog post by Brian Solis details the progress of companies like Dell and Gatorade, who have expanded the concept of a community manager – the model for many companies engaged in social media – to that of a social media command center. This command center model not only provides a more robust, integrated structure to monitor, analyze and moderate online dialogue – which can be a challenge for organizations with a global profile and thousands of daily mentions – but also helps the team to internalize and respond to the various inputs.

There are numerous benefits to this enlightened approach. Solis writes about the Gatorade team, which is able to adjust online marketing campaigns in real-time based on analytics and user comments. Dell’s command center, meanwhile, provides a centralized platform to coordinate the outreach of its online ambassadors, expert authors and customer service activities. Issues and potential emerging PR problems are quickly identified and assessed. Various social media platforms and programs are integrated and managed without attention to traditional silos and functions. In other words… you listen, you learn, you react and you adapt.

As Solis describes it, Dell has become the model of a truly social and adaptive organization. And it’s important to note this goes beyond a defensive posture to respond and react to individual customer issues; the ultimate benefit from engagement with online communities is being able to harness their opinions, ideas and wisdom on topics well beyond sundry product or service complaints. Perhaps the biggest lesson from the actions or Dell and Gatorade is that existing organization models and concepts are no longer effective in this age of social media – which transcends traditional disciplines like marketing, IT, research and public relations. Even appointing a few individuals as community managers is a stop-gap measure. It will be interesting to see how other companies manage their social media activities in the coming months. My guess is the gap between leaders and laggards will only get wider.