The Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist: An Introspection

“The Social Media Strategist must choose one of two career paths – build proactive programs now…or be relegated to ongoing cleanup as social media help desk.”

Not surprisingly, Jeremiah Owyang and the Altimeter Group have put together yet another thought-provoking report chock full of statistics, research, and stories – “The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk.” As I clicked through the report, I found that I couldn’t put it down – it did a fantastic job of putting into words some of the things that I, and many of my #gov20 counterparts have been talking about, not on the conference stages, but in the hallways of events like Gov 2.0 Summit and Gov 2.0 Expo.

The whole report is a must read, and I encourage anyone who’s leading any sort of social media effort, public or private sector, big or small organization, to read it. For me, it made me look in the mirror and contemplate exactly which phase of this career path I’m in, where I want to go, and what I need to do to get there.

Click to see full-size image on Jeremiah's Flickr page

I find myself at Phase 4: Career Decision Point (see graphic at left and on page 10 in the report below). I mentioned this to some of my colleagues the other day – it’s almost like we built this great start-up and are now struggling with how to turn the cool start-up into a scalable business. We’ve  made a ton of progress over the last three years, but as more and more business units across the firm become aware of the new business we’ve brought in, the impacts that we’ve had, and the skills that we have, we’ve found that we’re receiving a TON of new requests ranging from the harmless – “can I buy a drink and chat about social media capabilities?” to the endless time sucks – “would you mind if my team bounced some ideas off of you every now and then?”

The biggest reason for my team’s success isn’t our social media skills, but our willingness to take risks and rally stakeholders from across the organization (page 12). We have 25,000 people spread across the world and in seemingly hundreds of different business units. However, our approach has always been and always will be, that social media doesn’t and can’t exist in a vacuum.  This isn’t something that one team owns.  Rather, we purposely set out to ensure that we’ve brought the folks from our Privacy, IT, Legal, Training, and HR teams into the fold.  As I’ve told many of my colleagues – I’m not all that smart, I’ve just become friends with a lot of really really smart people :).

Over the last year, I’ve found myself less and less in the trenches, and spending more time developing and implementing our overall strategy, and securing the top cover that’s needed for the rest of my team (page 13). Three years ago, I was THE guy to talk with about all of the latest and greatest social media tools and technologies. Now, I’m much more likely to redirect those sorts of questions to someone else on my team as they’re working with this stuff day in and day out with our clients. I’ve discovered that I welcomed this evolution with a combination of trepidation and relief. On the one hand, I’ve been able to focus more of my time on scaling our social media capabilities and laying the foundation so that it becomes a true capability, not just something that I do. On the other, I sometimes miss the day-to-day excitement of working with one client.

Our social media capabilities resemble the Dandelion model (page 15).  Because Booz Allen is such a huge organization that

Altimeter's Dandelion Model

Altimeter's "Multiple Hub and Spoke" or Dandelion Model

encompasses so many different disciplines, we realized early on that there was no way that a small team was going to be able to serve the entire organization (the Hub and Spoke model). That’s why we set out to identify leaders in different business units across the organization who could serve as other hubs within their teams.  That’s why in addition to the people on my team with communication backgrounds, we also have people like Tim Lisko with deep privacy and security skills, Walton Smith and his team with their IT and Enterprise 2.0 skills, Darren West and his team’s analytical experience, and so on and so on. This diversity not only allows us to scale, it allows us to dive much deeper into these others areas of social media that no one team could do on their own.

Internal education is a primary objective of ours this year as well (page 17). Whether through our reverse mentoring program or our new hire orientation classes, we’ve committed to ensuring that social media just becomes something that we do, regardless of team or discipline. It needs to become integrated into everything that we do. This then sets the foundation for other innovative ideas for how they can use social media better in their work.

Dedicated resources are still hard to come by (page 18). While our senior leadership has unanimously bought into the power of social media and have been a key reason for the success we’ve had so far, identifying and securing the right people to serve the enterprise has been a challenge. You see, the people who are the best for this role are also really really good at other things too.  And other people realize that too. Smart, innovative, skilled consultants are quickly snatched up by other project managers, so when the decision comes down to staffing those people on client-billable projects or internal programs like this, guess who wins out? (not that I necessarily disagree – just that it makes scaling these programs all the more challenging).

The end goal remains the same – “in five years, this role doesn’t exist.”  (page 20). I said this last year and someone in the Altimeter study agreed with me. I don’t want this to become something where my team and I are relied upon for every little thing involving social media. The goal is to make this just something we do. That’s why it’s so important that we continue to identify other leaders in the organization and empower them to become another hub with their own spokes. As more and more of these hubs are formed, the need for a dedicated “social media guy” will decrease.  As my friend John Scardino said on our internal Yammer network the other day, (paraphrasing) “I feel like I was helping to lead the growth and adoption of this community at first, and now, it’s almost like the community is self-sustaining and other leaders are emerging to take on those roles.”  I think my role is to help identify and develop that next wave of social media leaders, so that it truly becomes integrated across the firm.

Have you read the report yet? If not, I’d recommend downloading it and as you’re reading it, perform a similar audit of your role in your organization.  You might be surprised what you find out.

The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’

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About sradick

I'm Vice President, Associate Director of Public Relations at Cramer-Krasselt in Chicago. Find out more about me here (http://steveradick.com/about/).

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  • http://twitter.com/ori0nnebula ori0nnebula

    One thing I think is interesting about this is as part of the Lifecylce described here you have somewhat of a “rebel becomes the establishment.”

    In the early phases there is a lot noted about risk taking, innovation, that the Social Media strategist is almost a counter-cultural, disruptive force. Forcing people to change the way the business operates, and may even be targeted by the “status quo.”

    Then towards the later phases it becomes how the officially sanctioned social media strategy “shuts down rogue and unauthorized social media programs” and how business units operate within the guardrails established for them. Essentially risk taking, innovation, are eliminated and the Social Media Strategy becomes part of the bureaucracy and the establishment.

    I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing, but I find it interesting that in essense the lifecycle here is the “rebels become the new dictator.”

  • Peter K

    Steve, insightful blog post. I agree that social media in the future will be woven into how organizations do business and it will become second nature – if it hasn’t already. It will be up to the Social Media leaders at the organization to keep an eye on social innovation to keep the community flourishing. I hope to contribute to this area at BAH :)

  • Anonymous

    The rebel-dictator comparison is an interesting one, especially when put into the context of the “Social Media Revolution” everyone’s talking about. But yes, I agree – while we may start as rebels, for us to be successful over the long-term, at some point, we have to become part of the establishment too :)

  • http://www.gabstermedia.com/ Gabster Media

    Risk is a tough word to digest when talking about social media. I think the key for a corporate strategist is to to pick the low hanging social fruit – whatever it might be and use it to implement a few successful, small scale projects.

    Social still needs to build credibility in many corporations…which is silly, but knowing this it takes a few wins before that “risk” is taken.

    Build the credibility and then use it to make a bold move when the time is right. Don;t just risk for the sake or risk. :D

  • http://www.careeroutlook.in/online-jobs-for-students/ Online Jobs for Students

    i like the report in the post.

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