Peter Kim posed the question during his Web 2.0 Expo panel in San Francisco a couple weeks ago: "Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?" It was a question that no one else really touched on and, from my perspective, the packed room was split between nods of yes and looks of "are you kidding me?" No, I don't think he was, nor should he be, kidding.
A Chief Social Media Officer or CSMO role might appear to some as being superfluous to an organization. Do you really need social media reporting directly into the CEO? Perhaps not. Is this just a way for those snake oil social media people to make themselves feel more important? I don't think so.
However, if a company is serious about its social media endeavors, whichever person runs the program needs to have visibility and communication from top to bottom and across the organization. It truly needs to be a cross-functional, senior role. Someone who has an intricate understanding of the company's business goals and objectives. Someone who understands how to leverage social media to accomplish those objectives. Someone with a proven track record of turning programs into measurable successes.
It's no secret that social media is often initially driven by the marketing team who started out by leveraging social media for base marketing and PR endeavors. Social media has just grown beyond that. It really should not be entirely run out of a marketing organization and it definitely shouldn't be run entirely by a PR agency. Those teams should merely play a supporting part. Truly successful social media is driven out of many different groups in an organization:
- Customer Support
- Customer Programs
- Product Management / R&D
This begs Kim's original question. Even if a CSMO title is, again, a little much the person who runs a company's social media needs to have contacts and some authority into each of these organizations in order to make the appropriate programs happen. Whether it be running an internal communication campaign to influence employees or managing a Salesforce.com integration of Twitter for support programs or launching a CEO blog, cross-functional participation and decision-making is key.
So, perhaps having a CSMO title is premature. But you know how folks say you need to do the job before you actually get the job? Whether your title is director of social media or PR manager or customer support engineer, if you are responsible for leading your company's social media charges, I urge you to think like a future CSMO. The role may not be prominent now, but it will happen.