How Important is Having Social Media in Your Title?

by Shannon Paul on July 16, 2009

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but ever since I was hired in my new role at PEAK6 Online, I have rallied against having social media in my title.

I believe the title I was officially hired to fulfill was social media specialist. It probably still is as far as HR is concerned for the time being, however my role has shifted a bit to include traditional PR communications and media relations as well as social media strategy. This means my title has shifted – at least informally and throughout a lot of the internal and external communications to be noted simply as communications manager.

Social Media Is NOT a Vocation

I tend to agree with Chris Brogan’s assessment, that social media is better defined as a set of tools and tactics people use to accomplish larger business goals rather than as a vocation.  And, as a bona fide social media manager, Kat French feels differently and I believe there is an important distinction between her role and mine – she works for an agency and I have an internal company position.

Even though I don’t believe Kat’s vocation is limited to social media, I think agencies are often contracted to help companies understand how to implement social media into their PR and marketing communications mix. In short, outside agencies and consultants are hired for their expertise.  So are employees, but the workplace dynamics are undeniably different…

I Do More Than Tweet!

I’ve sworn up and down I should get this emblazoned on a t-shirt, (Pssst, my birthday’s in November) but this title doesn’t suggest that I do much more to someone who doesn’t understand the role of social media in business and, in the grand scheme of things, few people still do.

This presents a serious problem, since anyone with this title in a large organization will always have to insert him/herself into processes and explain how social media applies. This also means others might have difficulty readily respecting or even understanding what you have to offer. On the other hand, if all you want to do is tweet, good luck finding employment once the fascination with Twitter wears off.

I’m a huge proponent of Twitter, but again, it’s a means of communicating. Sometimes it works well for one-on-one communication and sometimes it works well for one-to-many communication. I’m not here to tell you how to use it, but there are sure-fire ways to annoy people on Twitter. Don’t be annoying.

No Respect

“I’m on Facebook… why am I not a social media specialist?”

When you do social media for a business, it’s quite different than just hanging out on Facebook all day or spamming your friends to become fans of your page. Or, at least it should be more than this.

To me, it’s more about informing other departments about how to make their content more conducive to sharing on Facebook and other social networks, and giving people a means of opting in to receive our content and updates via a social network rather than email. Sometimes it might also mean building a useful application or having a contest, but everything you see posted on a social network is usually a result of a lot of effort behind the scenes. The visible presence on any social network is merely the tip of the iceberg — this goes for Twitter, too.

Fear, loathing and general bitterness

There’s a divisive quality around social media with other communications professionals. Many still dismiss the value of social media communication and others are threatened by it for fear of its potential to make them obsolete in their careers. This means that other, more seasoned PR pros can sometimes be dismissive. Many have been told to take their social media vitamin one too many times and they’ve turned bitter because they don’t see themselves joining in, even though they probably participate in several forms of social media and don’t think of it as such… hence more confusion for everyone.

No clear path to the C-Level

I’m all about blazing trails, but with social media specialization, there are no clear paths to the C-suite in any organization and I don’t think it should ever be necessary to have a CSMO. Shouldn’t anyone with the capability or skills necessary to implement or create social media strategy be somewhere under a CMO? Wouldn’t it be great if all CMOs understood social media and how to manage it from this level? The same could also be said about PR in general, but I digress.

The point is there are a much wider range of skills necessary to moving to that place in their career. That includes a deep understanding of how the business operates, and how more traditional marketing and communications strategies fit into the mix.  Bottom line: Don’t fence me in!

Your Take

I know there are a lot of people out there who would love to have social media be a part of what they do for a living. I remember those days and believe me, I’m extremely grateful be able to be in my current position.

I just wish we could come down to earth and start seeing social media simply as a means of communicating with others. To me, this means thinking first about goals we want to accomplish as a business and exceeding the needs of our customers and other stakeholders who matter most to our success.

Does social media belong in one’s title? Are we still at the stage where it serves us to have some differentiation despite some of the inherent difficulties? Would you love to have “community” or “social media” an official part of your current vocation? Let me know?

Photo by Roo Reynolds

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{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

July 16, 2009 bugsyrocker 1

I believer a title should give a person confidence, pride in handing out their business card, summarize their skills and job, and is a title that can be justified.

At the marketing agency where I work we are working on all sorts of new goodies and this has come up a number of times, some heavy discussion on title changes.

And those are the four points that it comes down to. And if their title contains social media, that’s great! As long as they feel it is a great representation of them.

If someone is a “Social Media Manger”, that kicks butt. The last thing I want is a title that everyone else in the world has…. so my title is simply “The Secret Weapon” at the office, or “Unofficial Ambassador of the Upper Peninsula”. Both which I love, give me great pride and confidence, summarize what I do, and can be justified.


July 16, 2009 Shannon Paul 2

I get what you’re saying — I really do. But a title should also say something about what you do in a way that others can generally understand.

Most of what I do involves social media, or addresses how to make our content more conducive to sharing in social networks, but my thinking is that why should I be penalized with such a narrow title because I know how to communicate with a wider variety of tools than most people in my field?


July 17, 2009 bugsyrocker 3

Then clearly the title isn’t for you. :) Nobody should ever have a title they’re not comfortable with. That’s one of my criteria, and it doesn’t pass it.

On to the next title :)


July 16, 2009 Brandon 4

I totally agree. It’s hard to make people in an organization know that you’re more than just someone who sits on twitter all day. Not only is there no path to the C-Suite, you probably won’t even last at the bottom. I know from experience.


July 16, 2009 Shannon Paul 5

To be fair, Twitter has become a bit of a synonym for social media lately. I’ve noticed when people say “social media” they’re really talking about Twitter… it wasn’t always this way.


July 16, 2009 Robert Quigley 6

I was recently named social media editor at the Austin American-Statesman (I was the Internet editor previously). Getting “social media” in the title was important mainly because it’s now clear that I am focusing my efforts on engaging the community. Yeah, they could have named me “community engagement editor” or some such euphemism, but there’s nothing wrong with being straightforward.

Just because you have the name “social media” in your title, that doesn’t mean you have license to get lazy or just play on Twitter … and it doesn’t have to fence you in. I’m part of every aspect of editorial engagement with the community. I’m working with everyone in the newsroom, and in several other departments, to use these tools in the most effective way possible.

I love Chris Brogan, but I don’t agree with him on this one. If you’re fluent in web development (a tool), do you shy away from being called a “programmer or developer”? Does a marketer avoid “marketing manager”? Brogan, ironically, has “social media” right in the title of his blog.

You don’t have to rally against having “social media” in your title. As you point out, it’s what you do in your position, not your title that matters. So why fear it?


July 16, 2009 Shannon Paul 7


To be clear, I don’t think any euphemism would be an improvement. The problem with a lot of the language around the tasks we complete using social media don’t mean anything to anyone else… the words “engage in the community” sound like a load of crap to most people. You and I know what that means, and how much work is involved, but most people do not — calling is “social media” doesn’t really clear things up.

The differences in the examples you provide aren’t really the same – “programmer” and “developer” are based on the verbs, “program” and “develop”. Rather, social media has no verb – communications is based around the verb “communicate”, marketing around “to market” and so on.

We all love social media – I’m sure I can include Chris in that assertion. We all love the freedom, flexibility and one-to-one connections that social media tools and networks facilitate. However, I think enough attention has been paid to the medium. Isn’t it time we get back to the message, only this time deliver it in a more meaningful way?

Also, I’m not the least bit afraid of having this in my title — I was hired to help implement social media strategy and this wasn’t the first time. The things social media tools make possible are what I’m most passionate about, but falling in love with the tool is to forget that it exists to help us communicate with one another.


July 17, 2009 Robert Quigley 8

Thanks for the response.
Ok, maybe my examples weren’t the best (the words don’t track the same way), but within any business, there are specialties with titles that aren’t necessarily based on verbs, (off the top of my head: “software technician”, “traffic manager” or, in my world, “metro editor”).

My larger point remains: if titles aren’t that important, why worry about them either way? It’s what you do in your job that matters. How people perceive what you do will be based on your work and your results. I think if ones spends most of the workday coming up with social media strategy that furthers your companies goals, being called a “social media strategist” or “social media manager” is appropriate. If you provide results and the people you work for still don’t get it, then you’re working for the wrong people.

And I frankly don’t think enough attention has already been paid to the medium – and how to use it correctly. You and I live in a bubble where we may be sick of hearing about the importance of the tools (like, yeah, yeah – we get it). A lot of people (in many companies) still need to figure out how to use those tools effectively for business. I’ve talked to several “social media managers” at otherwise excellent businesses who still fight an uphill fight to just use any of these tools. The message is *always* important – and I hope that has never been forgotten just because we have new tools – but the tools and delivery are important, too.


July 20, 2009 Shannon Paul 9

I’m not disagreeing that knowing how to use a tool effectively is important. Also, please don’t assume I live in any bubble. Just because I have strong relationships with others because of my activities in social networks does not mean that I am not one of those people you mention fighting an uphill battle. I work in the real world with everyone else. That’s exactly why I find the title cumbersome. I noted above how the title makes it difficult for others to understand what I do, and communication, in my mind is about the receiver. If others don’t understand it, maybe it needs rethinking.

Maybe it’s my issue… if so, I’m willing to own it… because, if nothing else, I learn so much from people who disagree with me :-)


July 17, 2009 Lisa Wilberding 10

Enjoyed reading this Shannon. I particularly like the “No Respect” comment. This reminds me of several conversations with programmers and developers in the “highly respected” IT Department. They would offer honest and somewhat blunt opinions about how they viewed us marketing & communications folks. Airheads, fluffs, idiots, college dropouts…a few of the names they would call us behind our backs.

I think because I often tried to break down the pillars of the very divided internal departments, the IT staff realized after interacting with me more that I was a bit brighter than they thought…at least not a complete “idiot”:)

I’m not hung up on titles these days. It’d be nice if it actually reflected all that we do, but it would typically be impossible to fit in one line. Personally, I like the word communicator. You are developing and communicating strategic messages to a wide audience of stakeholders (traditional media, new media, current and prospective online customers, internal staff, etc).

No matter what, somebody won’t like or understand your title, so until they actually interact and/or meet with you, this is the only way they will really “get” who you are and what you do. One of the reasons I love the principles of social media.

Hope you are enjoying your new job and Seattle!


July 17, 2009 Narciso Tovar 11

GREAT POST, Shannon!

This has been something some uf us have been looking at for some time now…!…it can be so hard to ‘effectively’ describe what any one persom does – especially these days. So, when you put something as ‘new’ or ‘shiny’ as ‘social media’ in your job title, it can send off a barrage of images to a variety of people…some good | some not-so-good.

This is one of the reasons why I (personally) do NOT like titles like ‘spin doctor’ – there are too many negative connotations that come with the industry that it’s just best to keep titles like that to a minimum. Cause at the end of the day, we’re all dealing in BUSINESS – not titles, fads or trends.

The more you can walk the walk along wiht your talk, the less you’ll have to rely on titles – especially ones that may not have been ‘proven’ in the eyes of some folks in Wall St.


July 17, 2009 Danny Brown 12

I think if you’re going to use a title (or have to use one for your job), it needs to be something you’re comfortable with (otherwise it puts you at odds with your job before you’ve even begun).

On my blog header, I have “social media, pr and marketing” as these are my skill sets. I don’t place any more importance into one over the other, as all three complement each other.

It helps people who visit the blog know what the primary topic will be. Same goes for my “job description”, if you like – I class myself as a marketer/PR dude combining traditional methods with social media” to offer the full gambit. I don’t like being tied down as just a “traditional marketer” or a “social media marketer” when I offer much more.

So.. um… yes and no. :)

Great topic Shannon, cheers!


July 17, 2009 Amber Naslund 13


I’m with you on this one. I’m so passionate about the idea that social media *intent* has to be woven throughout the organization that I’m not keen on it being a title, lest it be parked in a “department” and we just label it as a mechanism instead of a business model.

And THANK YOU for pointing out that Twitter and Facebook are not the sum total of what defines social media. That’s like saying the phone is what defines customer service. No, no, no.

I’m bullish on communications and community titles because I think they’re much more about the “why” of the role than the “how”, which is the way it should be.

Great stuff, as usual.



July 17, 2009 Kelly Rusk 14

I have been on both sides of the argument *AND* in the middle, I’ve been a community manager, a communications manager and now my official title is manager of marketing and communities.

(Ok-all though it’s not the actual words social media, I think most understand community in a title means social media role)

I agree with you Shannon–social media is not and shouldn’t be a separate job role. No matter what my title has been I’ve always been responsible for PR and marketing duties in addition to the social media stuff and I think that’s super important in a good social media specialist or community manager.

What I do like about having it in the title is it makes it easier to demonstrate to others that you’re responsible for social media duties AND that you know what you’re doing. It’s new and there’s still a lot of skepticism.


July 17, 2009 Lori Miller 15

Social media is a tool and including it in your job title is faddish.

If I’m a good PR and marketing person, I’ll be knowledgeable about and comfortable with many tools, social media included. But I don’t have to put it in my job title validate that experience.

I know companies are hiring folks specifically for that experience. They’re putting SM in the titles. But I think it shifts focus too much on the immediate tactical need, ignores the critical strategic element, sets (perhaps) unfair expectations, and leaves little room for growth.

So it may seem important now, but it’s not a good idea.



July 17, 2009 Mack Collier 16

I think ultimately, as long as everyone understands what it is you do, and the value you create for others via your work, then the title has done its job. I hear all the jokes about ‘social media consultants’ from those in the fishbowl, but for the companies I want to hire me, that’s what they are looking for, so that’s how I present myself.

Now I do think that in the next couple of years, social media will become less specialized, and will become a greater part of the everyday activities of those dealing with marketing/pr/communications.

And a final point, I think the title can also be impacted about how progressive your company is in using social media. Is it the ‘ooooooo….shiny toy!’, or has your company been using SM for years, and its a part of the everyday activities for many employees? So I think you have to take the needs of each individual organization into account as well.


July 17, 2009 Aneta Hall 17

My title at Pitney Bowes is “Manager of Emerging Media” and I love it! My role is rapidly changing though. I still do a fair amount of content creation for all of our official SM channels, but I concentrate on developing the Social Media friendly corporate culture and structure including the Social Media Council, policies and usage guidelines. I also do a fair amount of training and strategy sessions. Do I fear that my job will be irrelevant in a few years? Not really. There will be new “New Media” channels to explore and develop strategies for. As long as you are staying current you will be relevant and needed especially in big organizations where the concept of “herding cats” still applies.


July 20, 2009 Shannon Paul 18

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you had a different role at the same company before adopting this new title… if so, a lot of the difficulties in assuming this new title wouldn’t be there for you as someone with existing ties within an organization. What’s becoming clear to me is that the circumstances will play a strong role in one’s feeling about inhabiting a brand new title in an organization.

Thanks for sharing the idea of starting a social media council by the way… I love that – I just submitted the idea to my boss this morning. :-)


July 17, 2009 John Carson 19

I liked this post, Shannon. I tend to look at what people are up to in this space rather than what they are called — or choose to call — themselves.

Reminded me of a blog post I did recently, Senior Vice President of Space Invaders.



July 17, 2009 Dan 20

This is what a lot of marketing/branding guys I’ve been talking to (and the blogs they’ve pointed to me toward) lately have said. Business is still about a product, service, a message – and yes, how that message reaches consumers is changing. But if you’re calling yourselves “Social Media experts” today, what are you going to call yourselves tomorrow when Web 4.0 is here? Focus!


July 17, 2009 Jennifer Wilbur 21

In PR or marketing, including or highlighting social media in your title would be like wanting a title like Speakers Bureau Manager, Messaging Manager or Materials Manager. It’s part of the job, but only part of what we do.

Social media is part of something so much larger (as you eloquently explain in your post), why limit yourself to only one aspect?


July 17, 2009 Amber Naslund 22

I have to jump in a second time and say that, while PR, communications, and media roles are often connected with social media, that’s not all! Social media has customer service implications, business development implications, and piles of internal uses.

I like the emerging and new media distinctions, but I also think that we need to be rethinking LOTS of job descriptions and titles – not just this one – because the online era as a whole is changing the way companies do business. It’s not enough to just spitpolish old PR titles, or assume that social media will forever and always be only in the realm of communications.


July 17, 2009 Becky Pearce 23

This is my 1st time reading your blog & you may have a new RSS subscriber! This is a great post. I really didn’t know what side of the table I would be on when I read the title, but I completely agree with you. I hope that Social Media is part of my role throughout my career but I certainly don’t want it to define who I am and what I do. My title is Business Strategy Director and social media is just one component of our strategy. I can also relate to your comments about respect and being taken seriously. There are a lot of skeptics at my company. I hope to change that but it’s a battle every step of the way. And in the meantime, it sure gives people a reason to tease me. Good luck in your new role!


July 20, 2009 Shannon Paul 24

Thanks, Becky.
I’m glad I could help you decide how you want to be defined with respect to your new capabilities. And as the first-adopter in an agency environment and as the social media coordinator for a pro sports, rest assured I know all about being teased… ‘tweet, tweet…’ Ugh.


July 24, 2009 onbrands 25

I come down on the side of those who see value in having “social media” in their titles.

At the end of the day, we — all of us regardless of our specialty — are problem solvers. We help our teams win.

To help, we offer specific expertise and apply it to the challenges in front of us. Sometimes we’re not needed. Sometimes we are.

I see social media as one of the means to attract, engage, etc. Social media is a distinct practice area and, I think, deserving of some distinction.

As problem solvers, we must be media agnostic. In other words, we can’t just look at a problem or challenge through one lens. If I am more of a social media guru, then I shouldn’t frame each and every problem/challenge in that light. Rather, I should see it for what it is and consider the full scope of available tools/means to achieve our team’s objectives.

We have a duty to be so disciplined.

That said, we still need specialists. We need individuals who have an in-depth knowledge of a particular practice area. Generalists and versatilists are great… but my feeling is we still need specialists.

Suggesting we don’t need social media titles, in my mind, almost belittles social media as a distinct practice area.

I’m not necessarily hung up on the term “social media”… Other titles can work… but if the job in question is oriented and designed around the use of emerging/social media, I have no problem incorporating those terms into one’s title.

I agree with all those who say we’re all focused on the “why” first and not the “how”… But organizations need specialists in certain “how” areas. Where they do and that’s the individual’s focus, the title fits… And I also think it gives the practice area some credibility and recognition within the organization, especially when you’re dealing with certain cultures.

Will social media titles evolve? Sure. You bet. Nothing stays the same.

Is it important to have social media in your title? I have to say: Yes, sometimes… and I’d lean toward including it more often than not.


July 29, 2009 M. DiLorenzo 26

Sure, now you tell me.


August 29, 2009 DaveMurr 27

I know I am really late in responding to this post, but I’m catching up on things…

Personally, I don’t think it’s important to have social media in your title. I say that having received a similar title change from the company I work for.

When I 1st stared this adventure two years ago, I knew I wanted a job in social media. It was just something that I wanted, something that felt right. Just the fact that my day to day responsibilities had some sort of social media involvement, excited me. The title was irrelevant.

My current title is Director, Social Web Communications. It was important to me to have communications somewhere in the title, because as you mentioned, this whole thing is about communicating. Many don’t know how, and they haven’t had the chance to catch with the changes that have occurred and the changes that keep happening.

Social Media is a tool, and I don’t want a job title after a tool. Director, Bench Saw Table doesn’t read right to me…


{ 7 trackbacks }

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