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

The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist

The full 27-page report is embedded below, if you can’t see it, please click directly to this blog post to access it.

This Social Media Decision Maker Must Choose One of Two Career Paths. This emerging role is critical to the success of social media programs yet, most Social Strategists and their programs lack maturity, with only 23% of Social Strategists having a formalized program with long-term direction.  They are overwhelmed with six major challenges – with little relief in sight: Resistance from internal culture, Measuring ROI, Lack of resources, An ever-changing technology space, Resentment and envy of the role, and A looming increase in business demands. With demands just about to increase, they have two possible career paths: 1) Fall behind in requests from vocal customers and internal business units, thereby becoming reactive which we call the “Social Media Help Desk”, or 2) Develop a proactive program that gets ahead of the demands, and operate from a strategic planning position.

[As Requests Compound, The Strategist Must Build Proactive Programs Now –or be Relegated to Ongoing Cleanup as Social Media Help Desk]

Webinars, Events, Conferences Featuring This Resesarch
If you want to learn more and ask me questions, please join me in the following appearances to discuss these research findngs:



Details: Program size, Headcount, Maturity, Skills, Organizational Formations
We surveyed over 140 professionals, interviewed 39 in the role, and 12 that are working with them. We also analyzed job descriptions, LinkedIn profiles, scoured, the ongoing index “on the move” tracking this space for the last few years, here’s a sample of the details in the report:
Focus of Education Degree of Corporate Social Strategists Reactive vs Proactive Programs of Corporate Social Strategist Success Skills of the Corporate Social Strategist Work Experience of Corporate Social Strategist The Five Ways Companies Organize for Social Business

Open Research: Use It, and Spread it Widely
The more you spread it, the easier it is for me to produce more Open Research. This research was 100% funded by Altimeter Group, and we are releasing it under creative commons so you can use it in your planning, presentations and spread widely. Please spread it to your partners, clients, vendors, staff, embed on your intranet, corporate blog, executives and boss, just kindly provide attribution to Altimeter Group. Coming next: Forecast of Social Business for 2011.

Research Effort Credits
Thanks to the dozens who participated in the interviews, all those who participated in the survey, and some key advisors such as Gil Yehuda who provided a ‘third eyes’ review. A very special thanks to Altimeter’s core research team Christine Tran and Andrew Jones, Julie Viola for getting all the ducks in a row, and lastly Charlene Li, my editor for this report.

Join the Discussion Below: How Will Strategists Avoid a Career in Help Desk?
Let’s discuss the findings. Are you a corporate social strategist? Did this report reflect your career? How will strategists be proactive and get ahead of the incoming deluge of requests and escape a career in social media help desk?

Related Links About this Report
I’ll cross post to those that add to the discussion, I’ll link to the thoughtful critiques, even critical ones.

223 Replies to “Altimeter Report: The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’”

  1. In my time as Head of Social Media for the UK Government at the Cabinet Office (equivalent of the White House), I found that many of the challenges and opportunities outlined in this report were indeed the case, although of course my focus was on citizen engagement rather than selling products.
    For me, the greatest challenge was cultural and structural and I found that transforming the internal infrastructure and having a clear internal Social Media strategy was as important as having an external strategy. I have blogged about this fab report and my synergistic experiences here http://bit.ly/avPWsN
    I will certainly be sharing this report around my contacts! Very useful reading! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Jeremy,

    Once again, just brilliant research. Well done.

    I consider myself a beginner when it comes to social media, so nice to find your blog and learn from. Thanks,

    Jon Hos

  3. Hi Jeremy — nice to see you and your colleagues doing such great work out there!

    As you know, I was heavily involved in EMC's achieving critical mass in our corporate social media efforts many years ago, right about the time you left Hitachi and set out in your new — and worthwhile — direction.

    As I read your survey report, I find a lot to like, and would consider it mandatory reading for anyone in this nascent arena.

    That being said, I found myself wanting to add three more critical elements to the discussion.

    First, without a real-deal fully engaged executive sponsor, progress will be inevitably slow and painful. I played that role here at EMC (as well as getting way too hands on!) and earned the reputation of being a “charming bully” as we got people moving in the right direction. The cross-currents you describe are real and tangible. I don't think we would have been successful without the right mix of people.

    Second, there's a need for critical mass — either direct or indirect. Simply putting one or two people in charge and saying “have at it” is not a good approach. Even though I'm a believer in federated models (or hub-and-spoke / dandelion as you call it), there has to be enough mass and bandwidth at the core, otherwise people simply ignore it and do whatever.

    Third, there's a need for patience. We're re-wiring corporate DNA, and that doesn't happen overnight. I kept referring to our own experience as a “journey” for that reason — we're on our way, but we're not quite there yet …

    I moved on from my direct corporate social media involvement several years ago, and left it in more capable hands — which leads me to my final thought:

    How about a coaching talk-track for execs like me who want to build this function vs. doing it directly? Precious little out there on that angle.

    Best regards

    — Chuck

  4. Chuck, It's SO great to hear from you, one of the original social strategists, yes I know your work.

    I like the idea that's a journey, this process takes years! Agreed, the center of excellence (hub) needs to be able to serve the Business Units for a few years as they get geared up, see the data in the report about team size –that will grow over the next few years.

    We actually do offer some ways to help executives like yourself. Our founder, Charlene Li (report editor) at Altimeter recently published “Open Leadership” and helps executives all over the world in coaching, workshops, speeches.

  5. Jeremiah — thought you'd remember me!

    I have “Open Leadership” on my right rail on my blog — it's on a short list of recommended reading that I share with people.

    That being said, I find that people at my level show strong interest, read the book, and then go “OK, great, how do I *specifically* get started”. Now that I think about it, this is probably more of a consultative discussion rather than a pre-fab list of instructions.

    As far as centralized resourcing, we ran into trouble initially because demand outstripped supply. If we were doing this again, I would have built a bigger centralized team and sooner.

    Some of the thought expressed painted a picture where this function gets subsumed into the fabric of the organization. I think there's a second chapter to this as well — as the organization gets more proficient, the “social strategist” gets to tackle more interesting opportunities and challenges.

    I don't see the function or role going away — or being marginalized — over the next decade or so. Done well, it just gets more and more important. At least, that's what we're seeing.

    Best regards

    — Chuck

  6. I started off implementing social media corporately and now work for a PR agency as a digital communications consultant. Even thought my previous employer knew that social media was the way to go they didn't put any real resources towards it and it was going nowhere. I was called the 'social media queen' but it still wasn't in my job description advertising for my replacement! I think I will learn lots at the agency because I'll be working for many types of industries coming up with social media strategies etc although there's a lot of fear there too. I also think that one day I'll go back to a company as their social media strategist.

  7. Another cracking presentation Jeremiah, so soon after the social business stack presentation! I wonder what your views are on whether social strategy can be applied on a global scale from corporate HQ or whether there is a role for regional offices to play?

  8. Thanks Invisible.

    This role will certainly spread in the “hub and spoke” model' to the “mutliple hub and spoke model” and the Corporate Social Strategist role will soon appear in both business units as well as regional areas.

    We are at the start, where most strategists are in corporate marketing or corporate communications –yet I expect over the next few years they will cascade into many other areas.

  9. Jen

    This is a business program, so a title alone is not sufficient. Empowerment, resources, systems, staff are required. On the flip side, it's expected the social media strategist deliver a true business plan, program, and measure ROI.

  10. Jeremiah:

    Thank you for posting this. As soon as I saw the headline appear in Feedly, it immediately caught my attention. I received an invitation to participate in the survey and I added it to my list of tasks, yet never went back to it. I was in the middle of putting together a campaign for which I was responsible for filing creative work orders and following up on design changes, the HTML/CSS development for our site and Facebook, QA testing, tracking implementation, and eventually, promoting on social channels.

    Your comment on Flickr that “you will NOT be able to implement every social media program yourself” really resonated with me. Because my employer doesn't have the resources or isn't willing to invest in more personnel at this time, I am responsible for development of strategy, analytics and measurement, engagement (though I've managed to distribute some of these responsibilities within our editorial dept), listening and monitoring, some design and development, and other areas for our main brand and internal properties. As as a result, I am often falling behind because it's just not possible to keep up with demands as an individual.

    My ambition was always to be resolute and stay on top of strategies and ensure that corresponding programs, features and practices were integrated smoothly from beginning to end. It's just easier said than done. Cultural obstacles and working for a company that is already stretched thin creates a difficult environment in which only minor successes occur and milestones are rarely ever reached.

    Anyway, once again, thank you for posting this. I feel like it is speaking out to me and it will energize me to take control of my career path again.

    – Joe Rogel

  11. Very well done! This study is spot on in my opinion. The profile of a Social Strategist seemed as though it was written about me.

    I am a little worried. According to this study I am nearing the point where I will either drop off, or achieve escape velocity. Of course I am hoping for the latter, but naturally I am nervous about it.

    One thing I noticed about questions in the survey is that they were weighed toward profit making industries. I am curious to know how non-profits are utilizing Social Strategists. Maybe that is something you can look into in the future?

    Thank you again. This is extremely valuable information and I will be applying it in the near future.

  12. Nicholas

    If you follow the matrix (see right column) it will tell you some of the clues on what to follow to avoid the helpdesk. Be procactive –not reactive like the 41% who already are.

    This study is geared around corporations –not non-profits yet they often have similar goals of swaying or connecting with audiences.

  13. Jeremiah:

    As usual excellent, insightful research.

    It seems that the success of a social media strategist is linked to a personality type that might be best identified through a Myers-Briggs or similar aptitude test. People who are entrepreneurial, an early adopters, with a predilection to fail forward, etc. tend to cluster around specific personalities — often ones that do not fit into large corporate structures.

    It would be interesting to see the survey expanded to include testing similar to the Asher CPQ or other trait identifiers that predict performance.

    Furthermore, many of the “leading companies” that you included in your list are likely to fail. It would be very interesting to see a study of why programs fail.

    Great article. Hope the HR world takes notice. So much of social media is polluted with old-school “broadcasters” who don't get the concepts of opt-in and consumer controlled engagement. — Olin Hyde

  14. Olin thanks

    Yes, we identified them, and pinned them as “Corporate Entrepreneurs”. Must are just a few years into their career and ready to 'make a difference'. Very important psyche to do change management.

  15. Jeremiah, thanks so much for making this research open! I've read it, and have commented on all the similarities, and one striking difference, between Social (Media) Strategists and Enterprise 2.0 Strategists, here: http://www.giatalks.com/2010/11/social-business-strategists-social-media-vs-enterprise-2-0/

    Do you see the Social Strategist ever donning the Enterprise 2.0 Strategist role? With IT playing such a strong role in the E2.0 arena, it seems improbable, unless Marketing and IT become fast friends.

  16. Marketers (or whatever department the strategist reports to) is eventually beholden to IT to rollout an internal collaboration platform or to manage SCRM, the finding is: This is an enterprise wide impact –not limited to one department over another.

  17. Jeremiah: The oxymoron “corporate entrepreneur” does not add any value or insights. The term is such a misguided concept that I had to mention it in my my most recent blog on blogging. Nothing about a starting a business within a business is anything like starting a business. Corporate entrepreneurs are called employees. Calling them otherwise adds more confusion than clarity to your post.

  18. Why is heading up social media help versus social media marketing painted in a negative light? I prefer helping people to marketing so would actually see the reverse as my priorities. It's unfortunate you relegate the help desk as a lesser role in your social media hierarchy rather than providing both as viable and challenging paths.

  19. I'm happy I found this blog, I couldnt discover any info on this subject matter prior to. I also run a site and if you want to ever serious in a little bit of guest writing for me if possible feel free to let me know, i'm always look for people to check out my site. Please stop by and leave a comment sometime!

  20. Thanks Laura, a fair question.

    If an individual enjoys a career or responding to endless requests, and if are unable to complete may have to clean them up later, then the social media help desk is a suitable role.

    However if you're interesting in long term planning, building scalable programs, and connecting the company with customers using social business programs, getting ahead of the requests is the ideal career path.

    There's certainly room for both, (41% are headed towards SMHD now) and the other 59% headed towards escape velocity. This document illuminates what's coming for those that don't plan –but thought they were headed towards something more grand than a constant churn of requests.

    Thanks Laura, appreciate your comment.

  21. I am responding less to the idea of being proactive rather than reactive and more to your language choice. Consistently “help desk” is used in a negative light and “strategist” as positive. It seems these roles are separate with different responsibilities, with the help desk yes, responding to people, and strategists marketing. Ideally they work in conjunction with one another, but one does not replace the other, nor is one “better” than the other.
    That said, I am not quite sure what you're saying with “and if are unable to complete may have to clean them up later”

  22. Thanks Laura for the ongoing dialog. To answer your question about last sentence:

    If you check out the challenges section in the report, the sixth challenge points to more requests coming in future from stakeholders.

    If the strategist is unable to fulfill the requests that are coming from business stakeholders “I want my Facebook page, or my niece will build it” within 6 months or sooner these efforts may fail, and the strategist will have to clean them up, by shutting them down, consolidating them, or adding resources to fixing them.

    Bottom line = More requests are about to come to the strategist, and if they are not proactive now, they will have a large mess to cleanup. They must be proactive and not reactive or fall into order taking.

    I understand your questions on language choice, remember these are research findings, this is what we heard from them.

  23. It is starting to annoy me when people talk about Social Media and Viral Marketing!

    I am not sure whether these are the same or totally different strategies?

  24. Hello, This blog is very interesting and enjoyable to read. I am a big fan of the subjects discussed. I also enjoy reading the comments, but notice that alot of people should stay on topic to try and add value to the original blog post. I would also encourage everyone to bookmark this page to your favourite service to help spread the word.

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  26. Thanks for the WOMMA webinar today, Jeremiah. We came to your MyRagan session four years ago, and followed the trajectory you laid out almost to the T! I appreciate your help and advice in helping us to get on track.

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  28. Jeremiah, this slide share has really helped me understand my place in this industry and what my expectations and challenges are.  I feel that Social Media Strategists and Social Media Specialists have such a unique role in each company, the sacrifices, the challenges, it is well worth the rewards which will come in near future.  

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