The “New Media Director” Position is Just a Means to an End

We've got a long way to go...

In 2010, the position of “New Media Director” within the government has become almost commonplace. From governors to senators to Departments and Agencies, now you can attend a GovUp and leave with more than a dozen business cards, all containing the title of New Media Director. Some may herald this as a sign that yes, the government finally “gets it!”  Some may even look at a role like this as the pinnacle for a social media professional in the DC area.

The role sure sounds enticing to anyone working in the social media community (the below represents a composite job description that you might see):

Job Title: New Media Director
Department of Take Your Pick
GS-14 or GS-15
Salary Range:
Job Summary:
Oversee the development and implementation of a new media strategy;  respond to public information inquires via new media outlets; serve as an agency liaison for new media relations; electronically manage the marketing of agency press releases; responds to various important agency and departmental priorities and events; coordinate video and audio production of content and upload to Agency web sites; develop and implement a process for creating and posting content to multiple Agency websites.

Unfortunately, as many of the people with this title have discovered this year, there are some not so minor details that aren’t talked about as often. Let’s read between the lines of the job description –

Job Summary: Oversee the development and implementation of a new media strategy (by yourself, with no staff or budget);  respond to public information inquires via new media outlets (but make sure every tweet gets approved by public affairs first); serve as an agency liaison for new media efforts across the Agency (create Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for people); electronically manage the marketing of agency press releases (make our stuff go viral!); respond to various important agency and departmental priorities and events (get media coverage for our events); coordinate video and audio production of content and upload to Agency web sites (get us on YouTube and create viral videos, but make sure they’re approved by General Counsel and Public Affairs); develop and implement a policy and a process for creating and posting content to multiple Agency websites (but without any actual authority- just get buy-in from all of the public affairs officers – I’m sure they’ll be happy to adhere to your new policy).

Sounds a little less glamorous now, right?

Here’s the problem.  As Gov 2.0 and Open Government became buzzwords within government, more and more senior leaders decided that they needed to have someone in charge of that “stuff.”  Thus, the “New Media Director” was born.  Despite their best intentions, this role has too often become a position that not many people understand, with no budget, no authority, and no real support beyond the front office.  Unfortunately, by creating this separate “New Media Director” position, these agencies have undermined their own public affairs, IT security, privacy, and human resources efforts. The “New Media Director” position has allowed social media to become this separate, compartmentalized thing. Rather than public affairs officers learning about how to use social media because they it’s just part of what they do, they can say, “well, that’s not in my lane.”  Instead of HR learning how to handle employee use of social media, they can say, “well, the New Media Director is handling that Tweeter stuff.”  The law of unintended consequences has struck again.

As these New Media Directors have found out, social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum – there isn’t one person or team that can own it. The position of New Media Director then is just a means to an end. It’s just a phase. No, the end state shouldn’t be when every Agency has a New Media Director, but when every Agency has Communications Directors, Directors of Human Resources, Chief Information Officers, Office of General Counsel who are all knowledgeable about social media and its impact on their specific area of expertise. Teaching a New Media Director how to get the UnderSecretary’s buy-in for some social media effort is just a stepping stone. The real change will come when that New Media Director IS the UnderSecretary.

We should stop aspiring to become New Media Directors where we have to fight for leadership buy-in, and instead aspire to become the leaders ourselves. Otherwise, we risk marginalizing the very movement we’re trying to create.

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About sradick

I'm an SVP, Senior Director at BCW in Pittsburgh. Find out more about me here (

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14 Responses to “The “New Media Director” Position is Just a Means to an End”

  1. Infosourcer Says:

    I agree 100% with your post here, Steve. I love the job descriptions “descriptions” – they are spot on!

    My only lament here is that, basically, some time needs to pass so that those aspiring to BE the leaders can actually get there- there are a few folks that are still at the helm who won’t go away anytime soon….But I’m tenacious and patient!

    • Anonymous Says:

      Thanks Suzy – you’re 100% right. We’re making progress…

  2. Andrea Baker Says:

    Here is the thing, this title doesn’t have to exist for the person to be doing the job of what some of these New Media Directors are doing. In fact, you might see a person doing this work with the title of Director of Executive Outreach or Social Media Director.

    • Anonymous Says:

      The title can be called whatever you want – the main point is that someone’s sole job shouldn’t be JUST social media/new media/web 2.0. Rather, the public affairs specialist should be working with it because it’s a part of their job. The HR specialist should know about social media because it affects their job. The IT department should be knowledgeable about it because it’s their job.

      • Olivier Blanchard Says:

        Actually… It isn’t a bad thing to have an SM czar (using gov 0.0 terminology just for you, Steve) for a while, until the organization has fully integrated SM across every function. In those formative years (or months), you need someone who can own the change management process specifically as it relates to SM integration, in terms of process development, oversight, coordination, reporting, quality control, training, etc. They should report directly to the CEO or COO function (absolutely not, ever, to the CMO or VP communications). The thing about that role though is that it has an expiration date. If you still have an SM Director/VP/whatever after 3-5 years, they haven’t done their job – which is to build the program on both a macro level for the org and on a micro level for each department with an eye towards obsoleting the position as quickly as possible.

        Feel free to disagree, but for most organizations, the transition to SM on this scale isn’t going to happen all by itself. 😉

  3. Olivier Blanchard Says:

    Brilliant article, and one that needed to be written. Thank you, Steve.

  4. Benjamin Gentry Says:

    Your post really gets to the heart of the matter. If organizations are going to really benefit from the new media tools they will need to adopt them holistically rather than compartmentalize their use to a specific person or department. I attribute this management of social media to the fact that even though communication tools have changed; people don’t want to change their behavior. A “real” change would require current policies and regulations be reexamined to adapt to real-time responses and updates, offering employee education and changing some of the employee’s habitual forms of communication. While I recognize change takes time, I just don’t think many organizations think making a “real” change is worth their time and effort. This is unfortunate because the new media tools offer such great opportunities. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Bill Brantley Says:

    Especially relevant for us who were there when the senior executives found out about this thing called the “world-wide-web.” Bang your head! Management fads will drive you mad! 🙂

  6. Ari Herzog Says:

    It took me a while to come around to what I’m about to write, but the notion of a new media director is not unlike a telephone director or a fax machine director or a tradeshow marketing director. These are ubiquitous titles within any organization; any employee can pick up the phone, dial a number, and understand the importance to his or her role.

    Ditto for new media.

  7. john scardino Says:

    this is a common problem, not local to social media alone. when people don’t understand something, they generally put someone in charge of it so that they, personally, don’t have to deal with it. like you said, it’s not *my* swim lane.

    it’s a problem that hits at organizational structure, and why it’s so important to keep breaking down these silos we’ve built in industry and government. why pick up the phone to call steve as the new media director when you have a question about youtube instead of picking up the phone to call *anyone* in marketing or public relations?

    distributed networks with redundant nodes are always better. a flatter enterprise (and government) is always more responsive. always.

  8. helanlan Says:

    knitting and crocheting patterns, beads are not ideal for infant knitted items. The beads can loosen they usually then change out being a choking hazard.


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