IT vs. Social Media: The Race to Chief Digital Officer Has Begun

I have an acquaintance who’s a CIO. Well by trade at least, as he’s currently unemployed. He’s bright, articulate and understands code. However as the world rapidly changed, he admittedly fell behind. As he told me the story over drinks the other night about the murmurs questioning his competence that turned into a steady rumbling, he ultimately found himself on the outside looking in when his more agile coworkers introduced his company to acronyms and terms of unfamiliarity.

“Why did I have to know what a tweet was?” He asked rhetorically.

Being informed by his employer they were going in a different direction, being rendered a commodity that simply wasn’t core to his company’s business, was a wake up call and in turn, a reinvention of his skill set of sorts. He buried himself into the new digital landscape, specifically social media – learning the platforms, the intricacies of how they worked symbiotically both internally and externally. He figured out the CMS players pretty quickly, grasped SEO and before he knew it, he had re-branded himself as a Social Media consultant. Yet he never considered himself as such.

Joking with him about his “reinvention” he turned his nose to the label. “I’m not a social media guru…I make business decisions.”

I admittedly wanted to remind him that he made business decisions since he was on the outside looking in on a job but I restrained myself. You see I was offended by his statement; I for one working in emerging channels for the majority of my career. But the more I thought about what he said and not how he said it, I realized he was kind of right.

Now before I continue I need to preface that this post is not an indictment on your company’s IT or Social Media Director. Nor am I attacking the social media profession. What I am doing though is questioning the lack of speed of which roles are evolving within corporate walls – that social media and those who steer its strategy within an organization are simply empowered to provide counsel but lack the responsibility to actually lead the business.

Conversely, twelve years ago technology spending outside of IT was 20% of total technology spending; it will become almost 90% by the end of the decade. You read that correctly: IT will lose 90% of IT spend according to Gartner. How does IT reinvent itself to stay relevant?

Social Media and the Accountability Debate

Nobody can question the value of social media. In fact Gartner predicts that in three years, 10 organizations will each spend more than $1 billion on social media. Yet the question persists, does a billion dollar spend rest in the hands of a non-executive?

“You absolutely need to have someone at the Senior Executive level who shepherds social media investments across the enterprise, who guides overall investment strategy, especially where capabilities must be shared across teams.” Said Accenture Global Technology Offering Development Lead for CRM/Social Media, and founder of Social Media Governance, Chris Boudreaux.

According to Boudreaux, “A Director level person in most cases hired into the organization,  (1) has limited knowledge of the business, and (2) does not have the relationships to influence across an organization. Those two points are far more important than knowledge of social media.”

It goes without saying then that you are extremely unlikely to find anyone who has those two items AND understands social media deeply.  But relax social media professionals, your Senior Executive’s role is not designed to cannibalize your skill-set.  The Director-level leaders need to understand social deeply and take on initiatives funded through that Senior Executive. That way your Senior Executives can keep their directors accountable to the business.

Enter The Rise of the CDO

This is why you’re finding more restlessness in social media positions today than ever before. The social media leader is being exposed to new experiences first within corporations that impact consumer behavior on a daily basis beyond a single platform such as Facebook; all of this predicated on rapid changes in the digital ecosystem that occur faster than IT can keep up with. Rhys Grossman, Managing Director of executive staffing firm Russell Reynolds & Associates lists a number of contributing factors that include:

  • In March 2011, Apple announced it had sold its 100 millionth iPhone. As of July 2011, Google’s Android Operating System was on 130 million devices.
  • In July 2011, it was reported that the Apple Retail Store is handling 24 million app downloads per day, and the Android Market is handling 17 million app downloads a day.
  • In April 2011, it was announced that more than 200 million people had signed up on Twitter, while, in September 2011, it was revealed that there were 100 million active monthly users.
  • In 2010, global revenue for the virtual goods industry was over $7 billion, according to Ted Sorom, CEO of Risty, a virtual currency platform.

So while organizations myopically consider a single purpose for their Social Media Director, the truth is that their hands are touching multiple digital platforms.

Fortunately, organizations are paying attention. The advent of the creation of the Chief Digital Officer role as part of business unit leadership will become a new seat at the executive table. Gartner predicts that by 2015, 25% of organizations will have a Chief Digital Officer.

Furthermore, according to Grossman, a spike in demand for Chief Digital Officers has been felt globally. In Europe, the number of search requests for this role has risen by almost a third in the last 24 months. The United States has seen the same growth in half that time.

All of this is good news for those who come from a non-traditional discipline such as Social Media. The industry is evolving, however it requires industry players to evolve with it. That means a greater concentration on e-commerce and expertise pertaining to conversion/revenue. It means online marketing experience across all aspects of the purchase funnel. It requires an understanding of the venn that resides between the tangible and digital landscapes.

There will be a day when a digital CEO is given the reigns to an enterprise large enough to turn heads in the press and on Wall Street. That’s inevitable. The real race however is going to be based on who can evolve faster: your IT or Social Media leaders. Make no mistakes about it, bridging the gaps between business knowledge, and cross-functional influence will be requirements to survive the next wave of demands corporations will place on their employees. Never before has the phrase “Change or Die” ever been so salient.

One comment

  1. servantofchaos · November 21, 2012

    I am regularly asked about this shift in spending from the CIO to the CMO. But CMOs are asking where does this additional money come from? In my view it’s from a reduction in media spend. It’s a re-prioritization of funds (maybe a shift from op ex to cap ex).

    Right now we need our CIOs and CMOs to collaborate and learn from each other.

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