A social media presence for your business is no longer optional. It's a necessary part of your marketing, communications and customer relationship strategy in today's digital marketplace. It makes sense, then, to put this important function in the hands of an experienced, knowledgeable professional. Some experts even recommend creating a Chief Social Media Officer role.
The case for a Chief Social Media Officer (CSMO)
"The days of putting an intern or entry-level employee in charge of a company's social media presence have long passed. Companies and brands have realized -- often through social media disasters -- the importance of having trained communications professionals run their online presences," says Xenios Thrasyvoulou, founder and CEO of PeoplePerHour, and SuperTasker.
From a corporate perspective, social media is still a relatively new technological mouthpiece for reaching and communicating with customers, according to Kimberly Samuelson, a marketing and communications and consultant who formerly served as director of electronic content management at ECM provider Laserfiche.
"Social's still a relatively new technology. It is still difficult for businesses to figure out how to use this. Many organizations' first pass was 'let's use an intern, or someone really young, because they're digital natives and they inherently know how to do this stuff,' but using social media in their personal life and using it in a professional setting are two different things and it quickly become apparent that wasn't the way to do it," Samuelson says.
There's a unique mix of skills, experience and knowledge that must coexist in any person in a social media role, but at an executive level, finding this balance is even more important, says Samuelson. Social media professionals occupy a space somewhere between the skills and experience of a CMO and a CIO, she says.
While a social media professional must necessarily be familiar with all the typical marketing and communication platforms of engagement, the role is also highly technical. "You need a person who can build a community, who can bridge the gap between the business voice and the customer voice. What's also critical is interpersonal skills, negotiation and in some cases, customer service skills. You have to be able to handle and address negative interactions, because these will happen," says Samuelson.
But in addition, these are highly technical platforms, so social media pros must also be comfortable with the use of this technology and have some tech expertise as well as experience with data collection and analysis, Samuelson says.
"They should be able to understand and navigate the ins-and-outs of search engine optimization (SEO), of different platform application programming interfaces (APIs), but also [have] some data analysis skills, to be able to look at all the social data collected and find out what excites your community -- how to engage and energize them," says Samuelson. Of course, some basic psychological knowledge helps, too, when understanding human relationships, motivations and the impact of marketing and advertising via social platforms.
Social media specialization
Thrasyvoulou advocates for not just a CSMO, but for hyper-specialized social media roles reporting to that executive position to handle different social media platforms.
"I think a CSMO is needed to take a big-picture look at social overall and to direct the organization's larger social media outbound and inbound strategy, but also needed are individuals hyper-specialized for managing specific channels -- your Twitter expert, Facebook expert, Reddit expert, a LinkedIn expert, etc. Through hyper-specialization on these separate channels, greater attention and achievement is gained on each channel rather than having a single community manager being spread too thin trying to service all the social channels, "says Thrasyvoulou.
Teaching social media
While some previous experience and knowledge are necessary for social media roles, the majority of skills can be taught, according to Thrasyvoulou. Most marketing and advertising concepts remain unchanged, just transferred to a digital platform.
"A lot of the fundamental marketing concepts don't change, only the medium in which they're delivered. The customer service, relationship management and technical skills you can teach, as long as you find the right candidate," says Thrasyvoulou.
Those already skilled in marketing and communications, or in social media technology are prime candidates for these roles, especially if they're from the digital native generation for which such technology is ubiquitous.
"There must be an emphasis, too, on continuing education as these platforms evolve, because the technology and social media landscape is not stagnant. But education should also include soft skills. What newer, less-experienced workers often lack is the consistency, discipline and strategic vision for delivering marketing and advertising messages, which develops over time, "says Thrasyvoulou.
Regardless, without a solid social media presence and professionals to manage that, your business will lack a major mouthpiece to reach potential customers, communicate effectively with your customer base and risk being considered out of touch or obsolete. While you might not require a CSMO today, chances are you will in the near future.
This story, "Should you hire a Chief Social Media Officer?" was originally published by CIO.