Most business experts agree that social media is becoming a mainstream channel for brand promotion and customer engagement that marketers cannot ignore or treat as a novelty. However, some experts are now going as far as to say social media has become important enough to deserve its own dedicated C-level executive role.

The Argument for Chief Social Officer

In a recent column, Dion Hinchcliffe of ZDNet explained the rationale for what he termed a “Chief Social Officer,” and laid out what this executive’s prime responsibilities would be. Because social media crosses over into functions managed by the marketing, sales and IT departments, no one department ultimately owns it, leading to confusion and mismanagement.

In addition, Hinchcliffe said the Chief Social Officer is a better concept than the emerging C-level role of Chief Customer Officer, which only deals with customer-facing issues and tends to focus on legacy communications channels. In contrast, Hinchcliffe said, a Chief Social Officer would manage both external- and internal-facing issues, overseeing customer communities (CRM), workforce communities (HRM) and supply chain communities (ERP).

(The Chief Social Officer) would take the entire spectrum of social business into account, providing the necessary holistic view that lets companies take full advantage of the benefits of such a unified perspective,” said Hinchcliffe.  “A Chief Social Officer would be focused on where the company is heading in terms of how it operates and has control over engagement across all constituencies and stakeholders.”

 Other Experts Agree

Hinchcliffe is not the only expert to recommend that Chief Social Officer become a standard C-level executive role. In his personal blog, Piergiorgio Grossi, IT manager of Ferrari F1, stated, “Social is an experience for the company that goes side-by-side with the organization: it’s a way to broaden the possibility to achieve results.” Advocating for the role, Grossi said people inside companies are collaborating faster and going beyond standardized procedures, and outside companies are sharing information out of sight and control. And the kicker? “The barrier between inside and outside is getting thinner and thinner.”

And as far back as July 2010, Experient Strategic Account Manager Michael McMurry stated in his personal blog that “In order for a company to effectively transition to a social culture, there must be C-Level executive buy-in.” Because McMurry said this all too frequently does not occur, the answer is “(to) create a C-Level position that will focus on leading a company into the social realm… Having a C-Level Executive in place who not only speaks the language of the boardroom, but is savvy and passionate about social business, might just be the medicine needed to propel an effective social business strategy forward, for most organizations.”

A Chief Social Officer Speaks

Earlier this month, NTT Communications published an interview with Jay McBain, Chief Social Officer of Channel Eyes, a social networking platform for IT partners and vendors. “My title basically means I’m responsible for building a platform that people want to use and see as a solution to their challenges,” explained McBain. He said other companies may “possibly” have a Chief Social Officer going forward. “Companies…are now using social media in their HR department to find job candidates and in their sales organization for prospecting,” he said. “Customer service is now using social media to talk to customers and make sure that complaints are being handled. So social is seeping into every part of an organization. It’s not just a marketing tool anymore.”

The arguments for a C-Level social media executive role seem pretty persuasive. Consulting and outsourcing firms are rapidly developing specialized social media management practices in responses to social media’s rapid development as a mainstream customer engagement tool, and properly overseeing all the dimensions of social media is legitimately a full-time job. Companies may not be keen on creating a new senior executive position that requires senior executive salary and benefits, but hiring the right person will undoubtedly produce a solid return on the investment.