Do you need a social medial director in the C-suite ?

Summary :is there a need for a person dedicated to social media at the highest corporate level ? That’s something many businesses are thinking about. But what could look like a significant signal may also neutralize social media by making it more isolated than ever. Talking about a new approach to operations, savvy advisors in all the corporate functions and departments, helping to reivent practices consistently with the corporate discourse would be much more efficient.

Businesses often lack vision on this matter, those who work on projects involving social media often lack a high level sponsor, organizations lack coherence with all the projects they work on simultaneously… Logically, having someone responsible for social media at the highest possible level would help to fix the situation. A Chief Social Media Officer, equivalent of what already exists for marketing, HR etc..

No surprise this is a very trendy topic.

It first sight that’s a good idea. From his position, the Chief Social Media Officer (CSMO) could improve the convergence, alignment and coherence of all the social media projects that exist within the organization. He will have the legitimacy to raise his peers’ awareness, have projects accepted, influence projects launched in other field, propose new approaches to traditional business concerns. The list is so long that the need for such a person is more than obvious.

Yes but….

As I recently said that social was a secondary skill, social media are useless for the organization unless they are used to support a new approach to given issues. I say new approach because using new tools to support old approaches often leads to failure.

In other words, the CSMO will be of no use if he does not work jointly with HR, marketing, operations etc. At this point you may tell me that this is exactly the reason why this person should be at the highest level. Wait a minute.. That’s not because one has a seat at this level that he’s not a deadweight, the one who comes after all others, who is listened to once everyone has spoken (provided there’s two minutes left), who needs to do with the budget left once every other has taken his share. Ask to HR people in too many companies…they know what I’m talking about.

So, in some ways, appointing a CSMO would even be the best way to please all those who believe in social approaches while neutralizing the matter by locking in a new gift-wrapped golden silo.

Moreover, such a position would be ambiguous. Responsible of new approaches, of tools, of both ? In the first case he will need to convince IT to have the right tools, in the second he’ll compete with IT, in the third he’ll bother everybody. And experience tells me it would be a negative signal for the rest of the organization. As a matter of fact, with such a title, people will see him has the tools director. And sometimes he will get the job not because he gets new approaches to operations but only because he’s tool-savvy. A little bit like appointing a Head of Trucks when a Head of logistics is needed.

Moreover that’s such a transversal matter that the CSMO, no matter he comes from IT, HR, marketing, operations….will never have a holistic understanding of everything at stake.

So, what to do ?

This question reminds me of a debate that took place during the last presidential election in France. Will we have a Minister of Digital, a secretary or…nothing. My opinion is clear : in the same way social media skiills are secondary, digital is an empty concept if taken alone. In short, any body dedicated to digital is the best way to no nothing while neutralizing zealots. It’s better to have digital savvy people in each ministry to have digital applied to something that matters than have it as an isolated entrenched camp will never be heard no matter how loud they shout. No matter how the person in charge is brilliant.

The same applies to businesses. Better have a social guy in each department to make them converge, all these social advisors making up a kind of transverse expert team. Because social is not a generic skill : different profiles and expertise are needed to apply social to HR, marketing, operations, R&D etc…

I agree that nothing proves they’ll be more heard than before. But by multiplying the points of contact between social and business, organizations multiply the possibilities of having departments getting it while having a social department could easily lead to isolation.

In the end, if a social guy is needed, it should be the CEO that should define the strategy accordingly and walk the talk. Then the social advisors will help all the others directors to understand what it means in their own field. As for tools, this will the job of the IT’s social guy.

Of course, there will always be exceptions caused by context, the talent of a specific person, the corporate culture. But, in general, the risk of isolation is prevailing.

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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