Defining Social Product Strategy Within the Organization – a New Role I Think Companies Should Pursue

Over the last several years, as we’ve seen Social Media grow and mature within organizations, I’ve been in a bit of a struggle as I’ve tried to define my role at each organization. As a software developer and entrepreneur interested in product design and growth, I’ve been forced into this world of marketing, a world where developers typically avoid. I’ve grown to enjoy it, and I think I’ve gotten quite good at it – so much that I now see myself as a sort of bridge between marketing and technology. You’ll notice that, as the tag line of this blog often changes as I try to define what I do. It’s a gap not many cover. Yet I still can’t help wonder if my struggle is because my expertise is one that is not yet properly embraced by organizations.

My expertise – a mix of product management and design, marketing, understanding of software development and what it’s capable of, and a user experience centered around social interactions between people – is one that a typical marketer just won’t be very good at. At the same time, other roles I fill and I think I’ve gotten good at – Facebook Page and Social Media Account management, social advertising, social media campaign management, are roles the typical product manager or software developer will understand. I’ve come to think that there is a need for a new executive-level role at organizations where a focus on social within the product can be fully embraced. I’m going to call this role the Social Product Strategist, and it should be at the same level as Social Marketing Strategist (formerly called just, “Social Strategist”).

The Problem with our Current State of Enterprise Social Media

One of my favorite bloggers around the role of social media in enterprise is Jeremiah Owyang, a partner at Altimeter Group, who specializes in research in the way large corporations embrace social media. In his writings he discusses the role of Social Strategist within organizations, and the structure an organization should build around social media. They suggest a Hub and Spoke model, where a hub around social media, lead by the corporate social strategist, helps lead individual “spokes” within departments of an organization. This role of Social Media strategist is also likely to fade back into the organization, likely into a marketing department. I love their focus on this effort – I’ve embraced it in many of my efforts.

That statement around Social Media fading into a marketing department has always bugged me about the role of social media strategist though. I’ve always seen a strong importance around product and social media in the organizations I work with, and the need to integrate social deeply into the products I work with. Things like finding ways to embrace Facebook and Twitter to bring a user’s friends into the experiences that are being built. I think social media is much more than just adding “like” and “share” buttons on a site, and should have an even more important focus around determining what your existing “social network” is, and embracing that for each user using your product. This needs someone that understands social design. It needs someone who understands product design, social APIs, and what can be done with them. I don’t think this is a marketing role. It fits more in the product, or technology arm of an organization, if even that.

Defining the Role of Social Product Strategist

I think there’s now a need for a parallel focus in organizations around the focus of Social Media. Yes, there should be a social marketing strategist role as is already being implemented in many organizations, with a focus on the marketing elements surrounding Social Strategy. These are the types of roles that will fade back into the marketing arms of organizations. However, there needs to be an equivalent level, parallel role around social Product strategy. This should be a VP or Director-level role around the development and deep integration of social experiences into every product the company develops.
I see this role as figuring out where the current relationships of your customers exist, and determining how to bring out those relationships into the experiences of every product built. The role should seek to build new experiences that are social, as well as embrace existing experiences, and make it easier for your customers to stay on the site, feeling comfortable that their friends and family are there with them.
Google as the Example

Google has done this well as they’ve tried to embrace social media. Many know Google for taking a developer-centric focus around the products they build. I think they’ve embraced this philosophy well by hiring Vic Gondutra to figure out their challenge around social product design within Google’s organization. Notice that Vic doesn’t focus on Facebook ad strategy or Page management or anything else like that – Google’s Marketing and PR departments handle those types of investments.
Instead, Vic decided he needed to create a new network, Google+, to get the entire organization on board with bringing out the real relationships their users have, and he made that available to the entire organization to use within their products. He figured out the already existing “social network” that existed in Google products, and found a way to build technology around embracing that social network. It’s a pure product design strategy. Other companies should also be considering this approach in their organization, and it goes way beyond the corporate social strategist.

I propose that more organizations start considering this role of Social Product Strategist into their organizations social media strategy. The typical “social strategist” won’t handle this as well as a product person can. Organizations should seek out product-focused managers within an organization that have strong experience building social user experiences into the products they work with. Someone who has managed Facebook apps and experiences would fit well into this position. Someone who understands the benefit of social design into products should be considered.
I think its time organizations start taking this role seriously as a new role within the organization. This is something that I think we’ll start to see develop more and more in the coming year or two as organizations look back to see how they can embrace their own existing “social networks” that exist within their products, and find ways to embrace technology to bring out the relationships that already exist between their customers and users.

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