This post originally appeared on my primary blog, “Social Media Strategery.”
“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.
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 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.
Great post, Steve…about to take off, but more later.
@Em – I think the ideal situation is to have social media become institutionalized to the point where there aren’t entire departments to social media, but social media becomes just a normal part of the way people work. Kind of like email – we didn’t want Email Departments – we just wanted everyone to use it. We wanted to integrate the use of email, just like we’re trying to integrate the use of social media.
I wonder if social media strategists will continue to be “missionaries” – dropping in to design a plan and getting the execution started, only to leave after a couple of years – or if the discipline (can we even call it that yet?) will evolve to the point where enough people at a company will understand and use social media such that we’ll see entire departments devoted to it
I haven’t got a cryta ball, and it’s very likely that much depends upon the arc of time and the ways (or mnot) that technology and organizational sociology evolve over that arc of time, but I am inclined to think that (very generally) it won’t be quite so either / or as the above quote may suggest. I think there will be lots of ‘tools’ and ofra that will allow individuals and small and larger groups to paticipate in, see and help “self-manage” their activities. And, at the same time, there will be possible various ways of centralizing, aggregating and monitoring information about those activities .. and much or all of that should be made available either in full transparency or as appropriate .. and (eventually) baked into whatever a post-modern hyperlinked “organization” becomes.
But I think I am talking about more than five years out. There’s lots of experimentation and fail-faster-to-learn faster ‘practice’ about how these challenges will be met yet to come that we’ll all witness 😉
Dang .. I mean to italicize that first paragraph below .. extracted from Em Hall’s earlier comment. Apologies.