Why Your Company Needs a Chief Social Officer

cso-smallThree years ago I had a conversation with a social media manager who thought the lifespan of his position was about two years. “Everyone is going to be social in a couple of years and we won’t need even need a social media manager anymore.”

I agreed at the time, but I’m taking a hard left turn on this one now. Not only do social media managers continue to be important to companies growing their social media efforts, but it is time to put a social media native in the C-Suite.

Social media adoption in the enterprise usually begins from the bottom up, but it only gets so far. For a large organization to truly be social across all internal and external functions, top-down support from the executive suite is required. Usually that is the CEO, or even the CMO, but there is a case to be made that an overarching approach is needed for social media, and a Chief Social Officer (CSO) can provide that.

Let’s dispense with some title issues before we proceed further. If you currently have ninja, guru or expert in your social media title, it is time to drop it. If you want to be taken seriously inside the organization and out, you need to take yourself seriously. These titles don’t do it. We’re talking about a path to the executive suite and Jedi Masters are not welcome. If you own the company, call yourself whatever you want. But the rest of us really do need professional titles.

An addition to the C-Suite should not be taken lightly. In recent years companies have added Chief Technology Officers (CTO) and Chief Information Officers (CIO). You can also find many other non-standard CxO titles in companies, but they are more likely to be in smaller companies. When I looked for examples of Chief Social Officers, the handful of examples resided in agencies where the title was meant to make a point to an external audience. It was not meant to provide a guiding vision for the organization.

How is this Different from the CMO?

The CMO’s role is already changing and they are expected to spend more on technology than the CIO within five years. This is due to the proliferation of marketing and social media tools that are required for marketers to do their jobs. But this level of oversight is not enough when it comes to social media. There can be any number of positions reporting up through this chain of command, for instance social media manager, director of digital and social media and vice president of marketing, but they are only responsible for the external social media footprint.

A CSO can set the vision for the growth of internal social media too. They can drive projects like an internal social network for better employee collaboration, social media education and certification to make sure employees understand their role in the company’s social media activities, and they can even work with VPs of legal, human resources and finance to integrate social media into their processes as well. Executive-led projects get more attention, and that helps move them along. If you have ever tried to get a social media council together, think how different the atmosphere would have been if this was driven from the top down.

What’s the Reporting Structure?

The CEO and COO usually run the show, and the other C-Level executives report to them. It would be the same for the CSO. They would be on the same level as the CMO, and work cross-functionally with them and others. This can be a new cross-functional model where social media leaders from different parts of the organization report into the CSO. This is not meant to silo social media as a separate and distinct function. This structure actually pushes out the other way. It is a hub-and-spoke model where the hub sets the vision and priorities for social media adoption, and the spokes are embedded in different departments to execute on the strategies.

Where Do You Find a CSO?

Not only are positions not added to the C-Suite lightly, but neither are people. Social media has not been around long enough for people to have career-length experience in it, but the right people have probably come up through marketing or corporate communications. As this person has grown in their career, they need to have expanded their role and responsibilities well beyond their job descriptions.

They may already understand how products, pricing, marketing and sales are interrelated, but do they have a vision for making the compliance department more social? Can they look at the latest social HR software and evaluate how that can materially change the organization? And the better question is who in the organization is qualified to determine if the CSO is the right person for the position? It is more likely that the CSO will pitch the job themselves and demonstrate their qualifications.

This post originally appeared on the Radian6 blog.

Jeffrey L Cohen

Jeffrey L Cohen