Background of the Corporate Social Strategist: Educated, with a Focus on Communications and Marketing

The following data and insights is just a subset from  Altimeter’s recent in-depth report on the primary business decision maker in large corporations, please read the “Career Path of the Corporate Social Strategist” (Open Research) first. You’ll find the report is filled with data around job titles, duration in role, department, responsibilities, challenges and aspirations. Next, you can see the actual list of these strategists segmented by industry, and then see how hiring has changed in the “On the Move” series.  Many years ago, (now I sound old) I had this role at Hitachi, before Facebook and Twitter were viable options.

To better understand this role, let’s focus in on once piece of the data: their educational background.  We analyzed 50 job desscriptions to find out what they wanted, and then also matched 50 job descriptions of actual corporate social strategists to find out what they had.  For the most part it lined up pretty well with education requirements. Here’s the findings of their background and make-up:

Education Level of Corporate Social Strategist
Finding: All of the Corporate Social Strategists sampled had bachelors degrees –exceeding the requirements from the 50 posted job descriptions (Source: 50 job descriptions and 50 LinkedIn profiles, 2010)

Focus of Education Degree of Corporate Social Strategists
Finding: Of the degrees achieved, most were focused on communications related degrees, quickly followed by marketing. (Source: 50 LinkedIn profiles, 2010)

Success Skills of the Corporate Social Strategist
Finding: These professionals are a jack of all trades, willing to take calculated risks, and works well with others in other departments (Source: 140 survey respondents, 2010)

A New Profession, Rooted in Communications, Prepares for a Risky, Cross-Functional Role
In the full report (here’s the link again), we know that most have been working for just over a decade, most are in marketing or corporate communications, the data on their background matches this nicely.

  • For today, Communications and Marketing are ideal education backgrounds for social business.  his group was more educated than the job requirements were listed by the hiring companies. All of the those we surveyed had an undergrad, and a handful having advanced degrees (18% had Master degrees) and one respondent had a Ph.D. It makes sense that the first role to be severely impacted by social was corporate communications, as the influence flow from bloggers and customers caused a serious disruption from 2005-2008 with mainstream media picking up these stories and amplifying them. When we modeled the data, we included degrees in English, Journalism, Communications into that first line item.
  • Yet expect over time the degrees to shift out to a wider segment.  While the corporate social strategist is often the leading the ‘hub’ within the company, I expect this to shift to a stand-alone social media group, and then strategists to appear at the ‘spokes’ starting with support, then product, and then into regional areas.  When the role starts to permeate beyond marketing and communications, expect a new class of degree requirements to appear.
  • Not For The Timid: Be Prepared to be Flexible and Willing to Stick Your Head Out. No doubt, this individual is leading change management within the status quo culture within a corporation, we call these individuals ‘Open Leaders’ who are willing to give up control to gain more influence. These professionals must be proficient in a number of skills such as communication, education, persuading, knowing technology, crises management, and program management. Additionally, because they are changing ‘the way things have always been done’ they must be willing to take risks, and work with stakeholders across the entire company.

For Those Seeking a Job in Social Business
Our 2011 social business forecast data indicates that corporations will spend their largest line item on staffing up the social business team, so if you’re seeking a role during a recession, there may be opportunities for you. In the past we’ve seen some real scrutiny placed on the journalism and communications practice, and I’m here to tell you that the data supports that the innovative practitioners have already adapted these new technologies and there are some ripe opportunities. If you’re a student now that is studying communications and marketing (or a professor guiding them), I’d love to hear your thoughts below in the comments. If you’re teaching in these courses, please feel free to use our research reports under the Creative Commons licensing that we specified in the report –it’s intended to share with attribution. Also to keep some perspective, while the Corporate Social Strategist may be the leadership position, there are many other roles in the team, as we’ve started to explore in this Quora thread, also see Focus.com, which has a B2B slant where I posed the same questions.

  • PS: I have a degree in Marketing, and for what it’s worth I’m certainly willing to take risks.

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  • Were public relations degrees folded into “communications”? The success responses relate to what PR students are taught–from basic communications skills, to consideration of all stakeholders and functions, to measurement and ROI.

  • Were public relations degrees folded into “communications”? The success responses relate to what PR students are taught–from basic communications skills, to consideration of all stakeholders and functions, to measurement and ROI.

  • Much as I find consistent value in your writing and point of view, I thing your research is over generalizing on the table ‘What makes you successful”. It’s great that you have self-report success factors from 140 Social Media Strategist, but you seem to be taking it as a given that they are equally successful. If you were to contrast the more effective from the less effective (eg, top 1/3 vs bottom 1/3) you might find that there is a smaller set of indicators that really distinguish success on the job. For example, successful and unsuccessful entrepreneurs will each tell you they take risks, what separates the really successful ones is how they respond to set backs.

    Perhaps you can build this idea into a future study of this target group.

  • Marc thanks for being a long time reader, always appreciate a commenter.

    That’s a good point, I could sub set the data by maturity to find out how different skills are needed at different maturity points. By the way, we have a report coming out in a few days on social business spend by maturity, watch for that.

    Lastly, this wasn’t a one dimensional research approach, (please read the report) you’ll find that we interviewed 51 professionals, over half which were in the role, and the other those who serve them.

    I would love for you to review the larger report for more context –this is just a a sliver of the findings.

  • Tim, yes PR degrees were folded into communication. It’s a natural fit in the ‘first stage of the game’, but as I discussed previously, this will transcend marketing.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Jeremiah for this analysis! It provides very good insights into the world of work for corporate social strategists and the level of importance organisations attach to social engagement

  • Anonymous

    I feel so defined here 😀

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  • Welcome Rachel. Using the tools is only part of the game. Developing a business plan to connect nearly the entire company with customers in a profitable and safe manner is your goal.

    Most don’t realize that biggest challenges aren’t with using the tools, but the internal culture strife that resists this.

  • I believe a combination of education and experience is requisite but you wouldn’t go to your experienced/educated lawyer for a root canal so context is equally essential. Big chunky terms such as “social” and “media” continue to create a wide swath of opinion. This is about changing all job functions within the organization and embracing the fact that communications and marketing are no longer departments or “someone else’s job”. That remains the challenge of a social strategist (community manager, etc). This takes life experience to navigate the mix of culture within the organization to integrate with strategic objectives, revenue and client interaction. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Thanks Jeremiah. As social media goes from being siloed into marketing or communications to being a more integrated part of the overall business, where do you think these strategists will sit? What percentage of Fortune 100 companies are driving some form of social media strategy through a corporate strategy group? If it’s negligible, when do you think we’ll get there?

  • Companies will follow the “Hub and Spoke’ then “Multiple Hub and Spoke” and then there will be multiple decision makers that will deploy social. Most business units will make their own decisions and have line item budgets.

    With that said, a natural evolution I expect for this to happen is in Support, Product, then spread into regions.

    At the same time, there’s often someone leading the charge internally as well.

  • Anonymous

    Great post with some outstanding charts. I’d argue that adding some basic graphic design and/or programming skills to your repertoire is a must for anyone considering this career path. In my opinion, such skills would fall in the “many hats” category making you that much more attractive as a candidate. B2B is so far behind the curve when it comes to utilizing social and new media. Adding a Social Strategist will help, but for many organizations it’s hard to justify dedicated head-count to a position like this. The more responsibility you can take on the better!

  • Anonymous

    Great post with some outstanding charts. I’d argue that adding some basic graphic design and/or programming skills to your repertoire is a must for anyone considering this career path. In my opinion, such skills would fall in the “many hats” category making you that much more attractive as a candidate. B2B is so far behind the curve when it comes to utilizing social and new media. Adding a Social Strategist will help, but for many organizations it’s hard to justify dedicated head-count to a position like this. The more responsibility you can take on the better!

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  • Ginac

    Jeremiah, I think there are two tiers of understanding and leveraging social media. Superficially, marketers can learn the ins and outs of Facebook, Twitter, etc. and create strategies for capitalizing on them for current revenue gain. On a higher (and perhaps more important, long-term level), emerging technology strategists monitor, track and position organizations to capitalize on emerging trends (social media being just one) based on deep understanding of internet technology trends past, present, and future. That being said, corporations might be well-served to look for futurists, visionaries, and big-picture strategists who monitor and understand the gravity of technology trends. I can see how entrepreneurial-minded employees with advanced business and internet technology degrees and experience might be the most sought-after in organizations looking to differentiate themselves from competitors now and into the future.

  • Your regular and informative analysis on such matters would have me agree. Question though, do we know if those non-specified individuals (22 percent and 12 percent) have simply neglected to state their educational background, or do they perhaps not have a degree and work from supposed experience?

  • I see what you mean. That’s the tough thing with communications, getting everyone on common ground can be a daunting task, but it’s very beneficial in the long run.

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