Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

Summary: 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?


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:

  • Marketing
  • Customer Support
  • Customer Programs
  • Product Management / R&D
  • IT
  • C-Suite
  • Operations

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 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.

Topic: Social Enterprise

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  • CSMO? No.. no more C titles

    Along with CTO, CIO, CSO, CMO CISO.. come on people. There are too many C titles. In most cases CIO's don't sit on the board, CTO's don't sit on the board, CSOs NEVER sit on the board.

    There are three chief titles that need to exist for any company be they a factory or a service.. CEO, COO, CFO -- They match line of business, P&L and purpose. Every other job.. reports to those three people. I'm sorry if i'm going piss off everyone else who has a "C" title--but its rare that even a CIO needs that "C" title. Information Systems are purely operational. Sure, there are some cases where other C titles are warranted, but in my opinion the last thing we need is yet another Chief with little or no budget, P&L responsibility and no seat on the board.

    I welcome the flames, bomb throwing, and vitriol. Its the internet, bring it on!
    Michael S Wilde
    • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

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  • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

    Is there a need to change organizational structures because of a changing media landscape? I don't think so!
    Social Media should be part of communication activities in a company, as such I think the principles of integrated communication should apply with all aspects. The "only" thing that needs to be taken care of is probably the frequency teams get trained on new technologies and to have at least one person that decides which channels are "right".
    Oliver T. Hellriegel
  • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

    I hope that the point isn't being missed here with the "C" title (based on Mr. Wilde's comment). Call it whatever you want. The bottom line is that yes, there is a need for this *role*. Does the title matter? Some companies have Chief Marketing Officers whereas others dub them Vice President of Marketing. Just because "C" is in the title, that doesn't mean that they automatically get or need a seat on the board, it simply signifies that there is in fact a top level professional where the buck stops for specific functions within an organization. So, forget about the "C" level and think more in terms of whether or not this *role* should exist within companies...a dedicated focus on social media activities, recognizing that they do in fact stretch beyond other traditional marketing and communications functions and that a particular knowledge base is required to effectively utilize these tools to their maximum capacity. I think the bigger question in play is whether or not there is a need for a *new role* or that existing marketing and communications folks need to adapt and realize that their *roles* are changing and social media activities are replacing some of the older ways of marketing and communicating the company.

    Personally, I believe this will ultimately fall under the umbrella of the CMO (or whatever the head of marketing's title is at the given organization) as part of what they do and have some specific professionals within the marketing and communications group handle social media, much the same as companies have folks who handle media relations and analysts relations (sometimes separate, sometimes the same person).

    Time will tell to determine if there will be room within organizations to add social media professionals to the fold or the old dogs will be forced to learn new tricks along the way. Probably a bit of both...
    • Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

      Agree.. I was irritated by the "chief-iz-ation" of so many different jobs... but do think that social media is serious business and should be taken seriously.
      Michael S Wilde
  • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

    Great write-up.

    We do not need another C-level exec for this role as the Chief Marketing Officer, or the VP of Marketing, should, and could, handle the social media components well.

    Social media is simply another set of tools that can be utilized as part of your overall corporate strategy. They enable a richer two-way communication than some of the older approaches (like direct mail, e-mail blast, etc..) but do not warrant another seat at the table any more than newer software technologies like Ajax do. I haven't yet heard a suggestion for a Chief AJAX Officer and hope I never do.

  • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

    Hi Jennifer - I wrote a post about this topic for the first time a
    couple of years ago just as speculation, and then as a follow-
    up back in January of this year:

    I think that social media is also driven out of a GOOD
    recruiting/staffing department within a company as well. After
    all - we are often at the frontline of client/customer/potential
    candidate experience with a company, and having social media
    included in the recruitment strategy will help to better this

    It's nice to know that big thinkers like you and Peter Kim also
    have this on your minds :) And of course I agree with this
    thought, especially your last paragraph: " you need to do the
    job before you actually get the job."

  • Maybe it Should be CSWO - Chief Social Web Officer

    I really like Josh Bernoff's perspective on the term social media. See his article Why Social Media Sucks

    Otherwise, I also think instead of a new title we need to educate our CMOs to fulfill the executive leadership role and then empower the Social Web leadership role - whether VP, Director or Senior Manager.

    Very interesting article and love the ideas and concepts.
  • Chief Social Media Officer

    Interesting idea. Probably not the right time. Agree with your perspective
    about not housing it in PR or solely in Marketing. I essentially assumed
    this role, in addition to my other responsibilities, at my firm, as a leader
    on the E-Business team. It's been educational, challenging and fun. Most
    firms aren't yet structured to have this kind of straddle role,
    marketing/technology/service/psychology just yet. Appreciate your
    encouragement of thinking like a C.

    Steve Furman
  • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

    I personally think this discussion of creating another C-level role is premature. What is important is that if taking advantage of social media also means that you have to change the way you do business or how you collaborate internally you need a front figure driving this change. This role must have the ability to work closely with C-level people, or the change will never happen.
    In this case I think it's much like any type of business development. At the company I work for we manage this change through a Program. Right now I'm thinking the responsibility of the outcome(s) (read communities) from such program should fall under Products & Marketing - because that's where we find it can really help improve our business.
    Originally the program started off from an IT perspective, simply because in our organization it happened to be where the people with the ideas and vision were sitting.
    Joel Lundgren
  • RE: Is it time for a Chief Social Media Officer?

    I vote NO.

    Not that social marketing strategies don't need top level (C-level or otherwise) support; they absolutely do or they fail miserably. But as your list of internal stakeholders suggests, social marketing is inherently a cross-functional, enterprise-wide. The social key is reaching peers--niches by function and expertise--particularly for B2B applications.

    Here's a parallel to think about. 20 years ago, the Quality movement attracted experienced strategic-oriented senior managers to C-level positions with titles like Chief Quality Officer, with an aim to transform companies across functions. 90% of the effort and value they delivered was at the front end--getting things started. Then the role gradually disappeared because, #1) once trainers got trained and all employees got trained, this CQO's value was diffused (by design), #2) Quality morphed into more specific process methodologies better managed at the operating group level. The fundamental problem is that leadership of cross-functional initiative are be definition STAFF positions (even with a C- attached) while the organizational power resides with LINE positions. "Quality" initiatives today are managed within line groups, facilitated across the enterprise via technology. Internally, it's a social management context.

    So, for "social" strategies to succeed, they need top-down commitment to get started, then bottom-up contributions to work, then cross-organization assimilation to be sustainable. Given this, it may be that the initial front-end development that your "CSMO" might be needed for would best be handled by an executive level contract employee or hands-on consultant. The metrics would be clear from the start; the job, however, would have a terminal point.

    Katherine Ventres Canipelli
    Twitter @kvcanipelli
    Katherine Canipelli
  • No way, Jose.

    Social media is still a new medium and it changes every day. In many instances there is no clear expert. Each organization may have someone who has the greatest web experience but it doesn't make them an expert in social media. I don't think social media is old enough for anyone to call themselves an expert. Any label like, "Chief Social Media Officer" would be superficial.

    Ben S.
    Blog Manager
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    Ben S
  • What if you're offered exactly that ?

    What if you're offered a job, reporting directly to the CEO - not part of the Marketing nor the PR department - and your overall responsibility is implementing "social media", inside and outside the company ? Cross communications, operations, IT etc... This is currently happening to me and they're asking for a title... so that's why I ask... ;-)