The Social Command Centre—a kind of NASA Ground Control for social media hub teams in organisations—is an increasingly common sight these days inside large organisations. Here’s a snap of Microsoft’s latest prototype, which I saw running on a visit this week to their UK Campus:

Microsoft-Social-Command-Centre

The big idea behind command centres like this is to provide an at-a glance view of interesting things happening on the social web. In Microsoft’s case this equates to monitoring their own accounts across a variety of channels as well as any trending social chatter about selected products and services.

In reality though, having a whole bank of screens—I’ve seen as many as twenty—creates a wall of data that is sometimes very hard to analyse and understand without an army of community managers and data analysts. Unless you’re running a presidential election or overseeing a high-profile public event with millions of viewers, the chances are an oversized command centre may eventually prove as useful as an inflatable dartboard.

There’s is, however, a different purpose that a wall of screens can serve, and that’s to create a focal point for the company’s social media listening and response activities. For Microsoft, the monitors you see above help remind staff and executives that there’s a world outside of the corporate headquarters. Making a public show that you’re listening to the chatter and working hard to engage with customers in real-time sends a powerful signal across the organisation. This was the guiding principle behind Nokia’s social visualiser Agora (watch video), which was placed in public areas like staff canteens and thoroughfares within their office locations.

Of course, the Social Command Centre isn’t a new idea. Many other companies including Gatorade, Salesforce, Dell and NVIDIA have all publicly showcased monitor-laden operations centres. But for many the question remains, is this actually a useful tool for improving the effective use of social media marketing, a cheap way to inject outside influence onto an internal organisational culture or just an extravagant way to lend social media a much-needed air of credibility?

What do you think?