If Your CMO Is Not On Social Media, Find A New CMO

  • by , Featured Contributor, September 26, 2014
Last week, my MediaPost colleague Catharine Taylor wrote a post wondering why CMOs aren’t that social. In response, another MediaPost colleague, Maarten Albarda, suggested that nobody cares, that it doesn’t matter whether CMOs are on social media, and who can even name the Starbucks CMO, anyway?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years on the Internet, it’s that if two people are disagreeing online, the most productive course of action is to wade right in with your own overblown opinion. So here I am.

But first, a slight detour: to Africa, circa mid-1970s. To Zambia, specifically, where my friend Ernesto Sirolli was employed by the Italian government to do aid work. As he described in the now world-famous talk he gave at our TEDxChristchurch event in 2012, the Italian aid workers were stunned, when they arrived, to find that the Zambians had no agriculture. But instead of asking why, they said, “Thank God we’re here! Just in time to save the Zambian people from starvation!”



They planted seeds, and in that fertile river valley everything grew like it was on steroids. Tomatoes that would be the size of a ping-pong ball in Italy were the size of a grapefruit in Zambia. But then, just before they were about to reap the harvest, it happened: In the middle of the night, hundreds of hippos came out of the forest and ate all the tomatoes.

“My God!” cried the Italians. “The hippos!”

“Yes,” said the Zambians. “That is why we don’t have agriculture.”

It was silly, obviously, for the Italians to try to “help” without truly understanding the context in which they were operating -- and it would be equally silly for CMOs to develop and oversee marketing strategy without understanding the shifting digital landscape.

Albarda’s argument about why it doesn’t matter whether CMOs are on social media focuses on whether the customer notices. “I cannot for the life of me recall an occasion where a tweet or Facebook status update from a CMO has pushed me to buy or try a product or service. Can you? Can any of your co-workers or family members? ...In fact, some company leaders are celebrities: Your Mark Cubans. Your Richard Bransons. But most C-suite leaders are probably known within the industry they work in, but mostly unknown to the consumer at large. And that’s probably how it should be.”

But the reason CMOs should be on social media is neither to be a celebrity nor to push you to buy. CMOs should be on social media because, unless they are active themselves, they will never understand the medium.

In the latter half of the 20th century, would you have hired a marketer who didn’t watch TV? Would you hire someone who doesn’t read the newspaper to run The New York Times, or someone who doesn’t drink soda as the CEO of Pepsi?

Social media is now the number-one activity on the Internet. 28.5% of marketing budgets were spent on digital in 2013. How can a CMO who isn’t active on social media possibly understand customer expectations well enough to allocate those funds?

The C-Suite is not a place for operational activity, and the CMO’s job is not to maintain the Twitter account or post Facebook updates. But effective development of strategy and oversight of execution require empathy with the context of both. If CMOs aren’t capable of walking in their customers’ social media shoes, they risk being eaten by hippos.

5 comments about "If Your CMO Is Not On Social Media, Find A New CMO".
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  1. Cathy Taylor from MediaPost, September 26, 2014 at 11:23 a.m.

    Hi Kaila,

    As you know, my thoughts exactly! To put this in another context, would you want your CMO to boast about not owning, and never watching, TV? No! You would wonder whether they should have the job. Thanks for keeping the debate going!


  2. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), September 26, 2014 at 11:40 a.m.

    Hey Kayla: I very much agree with the post, but not with the headline. I totally agree that the CMO must lead with an intimate knowledge of the touch points she or he utilizes to connect with consumers, and (more importantly) the touch points the consumer uses to connect with brands. But the headline seems to indicate that if the CMO does not lead an active public social media life s/he is ready for the chopping board. I say, let's have the C-suite as a whole experience some of it, with professional hand-holding at the start, and then if they take to it then set them free. If however it is awkward and not for them, or (worse) it leads to lots of apologizing and deleting encourage a quieter or anonymous social media presence to the leader in question. That does not mean they need to be immediately replaced. So perhaps the headline this time around should be: "If Your CMO Is Not On Social Media, Gently Guide Him/Her". And also: "If Your CMO Is Making A Mess On Social Media, Find A New CMO". BTW, I think it is safe to say that virtually every CMO is at least on LinkedIn. So they have got that going for them :-)

  3. Steven Arsenault from, September 26, 2014 at 11:58 a.m.

    I totally agree with you Kaila. We are in age where disruptive technologies are changing the game all around us and with it the way people perceive, interact and ultimately make purchase decisions brands. Social is a large driver of decisions by a brand's followers - even the traffic a website receives. I see it daily with some of our clients using our all in one content marketing platforms. The ones that aren't on social don't understand the value of integrating social to bolster brand visibility (or even using social) so they make dumb decisions by not dong anything then try to pin the disasters on their staff or suppliers. Eventually these 'CMO dinosaurs' will become extinct and a new wave of CMO that grew up with social and computers will take over. In the mean time expect some 'amazing comments' from the ones that are trying to cover up their lack of understanding with unbelievable observations.

  4. Terry Heaton from Reinvent21, September 26, 2014 at 12:32 p.m.


    How long has that Zambian hippos story been drifting around in your mind looking for a landing place? Do I have to quote you, if I steal it? Great peace, and I think you're right.


  5. Heather MacLean from TaylorMade Solutions, September 26, 2014 at 2:06 p.m.

    I have to agree that a CMO who is not on social will not fully understand the various nuances and differences of social. While a CMO should have a very capable team, you would not see a Chief Financial Officer up up to speed on the latest industry standards. The same goes for a CMO. And no, it should not be about trying to be famous our even outlandish. It is about knowing and understanding all aspects of marketing.

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