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The “New Media Director” Position is Just a Means to an End

November 24, 2010

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We've got a long way to go...

In 2010, the position of “New Media Director” within the government has become almost commonplace. From governors to senators to Departments and Agencies, now you can attend a GovUp and leave with more than a dozen business cards, all containing the title of New Media Director. Some may herald this as a sign that yes, the government finally “gets it!”  Some may even look at a role like this as the pinnacle for a social media professional in the DC area.

The role sure sounds enticing to anyone working in the social media community (the below represents a composite job description that you might see):

Job Title: New Media Director
Department:
Department of Take Your Pick
Grade:
GS-14 or GS-15
Salary Range:
$100,000+
Job Summary:
Oversee the development and implementation of a new media strategy;  respond to public information inquires via new media outlets; serve as an agency liaison for new media relations; electronically manage the marketing of agency press releases; responds to various important agency and departmental priorities and events; coordinate video and audio production of content and upload to Agency web sites; develop and implement a process for creating and posting content to multiple Agency websites.

Unfortunately, as many of the people with this title have discovered this year, there are some not so minor details that aren’t talked about as often. Let’s read between the lines of the job description –

Job Summary: Oversee the development and implementation of a new media strategy (by yourself, with no staff or budget);  respond to public information inquires via new media outlets (but make sure every tweet gets approved by public affairs first); serve as an agency liaison for new media efforts across the Agency (create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for people); electronically manage the marketing of agency press releases (make our stuff go viral!); respond to various important agency and departmental priorities and events (get media coverage for our events); coordinate video and audio production of content and upload to Agency web sites (get us on YouTube and create viral videos, but make sure they’re approved by General Counsel and Public Affairs); develop and implement a policy and a process for creating and posting content to multiple Agency websites (but without any actual authority- just get buy-in from all of the public affairs officers – I’m sure they’ll be happy to adhere to your new policy).

Sounds a little less glamorous now, right?

Here’s the problem.  As Gov 2.0 and Open Government became buzzwords within government, more and more senior leaders decided that they needed to have someone in charge of that “stuff.”  Thus, the “New Media Director” was born.  Despite their best intentions, this role has too often become a position that not many people understand, with no budget, no authority, and no real support beyond the front office.  Unfortunately, by creating this separate “New Media Director” position, these agencies have undermined their own public affairs, IT security, privacy, and human resources efforts. The “New Media Director” position has allowed social media to become this separate, compartmentalized thing. Rather than public affairs officers learning about how to use social media because they it’s just part of what they do, they can say, “well, that’s not in my lane.”  Instead of HR learning how to handle employee use of social media, they can say, “well, the New Media Director is handling that Tweeter stuff.”  The law of unintended consequences has struck again.

As these New Media Directors have found out, social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum – there isn’t one person or team that can own it. The position of New Media Director then is just a means to an end. It’s just a phase. No, the end state shouldn’t be when every Agency has a New Media Director, but when every Agency has Communications Directors, Directors of Human Resources, Chief Information Officers, Office of General Counsel who are all knowledgeable about social media and its impact on their specific area of expertise. Teaching a New Media Director how to get the UnderSecretary’s buy-in for some social media effort is just a stepping stone. The real change will come when that New Media Director IS the UnderSecretary.

We should stop aspiring to become New Media Directors where we have to fight for leadership buy-in, and instead aspire to become the leaders ourselves. Otherwise, we risk marginalizing the very movement we’re trying to create.

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