Corporate social media specialists


2007 seems to be the year of the corporate social media specialist. I'm seeing more people who use some variation on the term to describe themselves, and clients are asking about the organizational issues around listening and interacting with social media. I wrote my thoughts on what I called social media relations last fall (don't get hung up on the title; that's not the point), and now I'm talking with people in similar roles to compare the theory with what companies are really doing and how it's working.

The central characteristic of this new role is the ability to talk tech and marketing, bridging the gap between functions without a strong history of mutual respect. Steve Rubel calls people who do this geek marketers, a term not guaranteed to maximize the job's compensation. David Churbuck prefers Chief Digital Officer, which is the logical extreme at the high end of the scale.

I suspect there's going to be a correlation between the size of the company and the level of the position, with smaller companies adding social media to the web guy's portfolio and larger companies building teams for listening and interacting online (the team may be on an agency payroll). I welcome any data points that confirm or correct my expectations.

Topic of the week
This notion of the corporate social media specialist—whatever the title—keeps popping up this week. I talked with a recruiter at Yum Brands, where they've filled one position and have more open, and I've come across several references to positions—filled and otherwise—in the automobile industry.

BrandWeek's Steve Miller interviewed Toyota's Bruce Ertmann: Toyota CGM exec monitors the good, the blog, and the ugly (via Josh Hallett):

As corporate manager of consumer-generated media at the Torrance, Calif.-based automaker, Ertmann constantly trolls the Web to see what people are saying... Although other car companies also have people who track and write blogs, Ertmann's title is believed to be the first in the U.S. auto trade.
Ertmann was also quoted in the New York Times on Toyota's use of Nielsen BuzzMetrics in December. Meanwhile, across the pond, BMW seeks new media PR manager:
The job recognises the increasing blur between traditional marketing and public relations as well as challenges presented by dynamic new communication channels. Monitoring, managing and influencing public commentary via new media is a skill set that BMW lists as important.
I'd say we have a trend. Now, if this is your job, would you be willing to talk with me about it? If you're trying to fill one of these positions externally, how are you doing it? Are you using social media to attract social media experts to your company (hint)?



Nathan, great post. So great that I wrote a similar one without knowing that you had done so. So...this makes it a trend, right? see, where I touch a bit on the situation in China.

I'm learning that blogging is a race. If there's a topic you're working on, post it, or—make that and—someone else will.

Fascinating question, Nathan. I'll look forward to hearing what you find out, especially where this role fits in an organization & what types of organizations are embracing this as a full-time position.

Thanks, Alison. Those questions are at the top of my list.

I'm completely wrapped up in this topic. I'm a recently graduated (I can still say that as a 2005 grad, right? no?) public relations rep, and my firm has been devastatingly slow on grasping just how important it is to understanding social media and its influence. I'm still trying to get a grasp on where the PR line ends and the social media specialist line begins, but I know that I one day hope to be a geek marketer. I'm keeping an eye out for those companies that are making social media (and positions based around it) a priority. Thanks for bringing this topic to the forefront! I feel we're about to see much more development on this, which is great!

I have been speaking to about 3 Fortune 500s about filling such a position. I call it "media scout" under the Internet Strategy/marketing umbrella. I am sure many other positions will emerge in the new media ecosystem like Jeremiah has mentioned. My point is the role must balance innovation and marketing through digital brand building initiatives that connect with the consumer experience. Many of the big boys use their outside agencies for input but IMO they will steer them in ways that may not be all that relevant for their products. It will take an internal cross team player to understand the entire internal and external relationships and build a team to work with the inside (IT, Marketing, PR, Finance) areas. They are a skunkworks. I would enjoy your feedback.

I like the term Social Media Evangelist personally, but this is definitely still new territory.

On the posting front, agree that the race belongs to the swift or the dead. I tend to want to write in-depth, which of course makes my posting frequency less often, and while my readership and listenership has grown quite nicely, I haven't quite taken off as much as I *could* if posts were shorter, and more frequent.

dp, we should talk. We agree on the key points. I'm much less concerned with the title. It's interesting, but the market will settle that question. Eventually, these become normal capabilities in functional groups, anyway.

Dan, quality over quantity is always a good choice.

Hi Nathan, I have become a fan over the past couple of months. I think this is a great topic, and one that I've been interested in as well. I think another way to refer to these individuals would be as chief networking officers, since dealing in social media typically means that you are reaching out in different communities and social networks to forge new relationships. There have been a lot of writings as of late on the emergence of this type of position. Here's a link to some results from a search I did:
Chief Networking Officer

You'll see that even the wikipedia definition of it relates to social capital, information flow, and the new methods of communication that are being used.

And of course, I have to plug a post I wrote on the topic :)
The Emergence of the Chief Networking Officer

One last resource that I think will be a good one in the coming years is the RNIA - the Relationship Networking Industry Association. Check them out at

Thanks again for this post! I am certainly looking forward to learning more from you.

Amybeth, I'm not sold on the CNO idea (two many chiefs in the suite?), but it is helpful to see the different ways people are approaching the same problem. In general, I tend to agree with the commenters on your post who see networking as an individual thing.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Advisor to buyers, sellers and investors. Writing my next book.
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