Will Companies Need a CSO (Chief Social Officer)?

As computer technologies became an integral part of running a modern business, executives created the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) role to develop strategy, oversee implementation and ensure the business was leveraging appropriate technologies to enhance results. Will the increasing recognition of the power and importance of social networks, in everything from learning to innovation, lead to the creation of a Chief Social Officer (CSO) position? One whose role is to develop strategy, oversee network creation and ensure the business is leveraging social networks effectively to drive business results? After reading Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christaki and James H. Fowler, I think it just might. In Connected, Christaki, a Harvard University professor, and Fowler, a professor at the University of California San Diego, explore how our networks impact our lives in a variety of ways. Their conclusion is that your network impacts everything from your health and happiness to your career and financial success.

Connected examines research about and provides examples of the 5 Rules of the Network:

  1. We shape our network: Not only do we make choices about whom we connect with, but also about the size and diversity of our networks. The characteristics of the networks we create play a significant role in a variety of aspects of our life.
  2. Our network shapes us: This goes beyond being influenced by those with whom we associate, it also includes where we lie in the network topography.
  3. Our friends affect us: Not surprising, as any parent of a teenager will tell you, one of their major concerns is who makes up their teen’s peer group. And as some wise person once said, “emotionally, we really never get out of high school.”
  4. Our friends’, friends’, friends affect us: Christaki and Fowler call this the Three Degrees of Influence Rule. Research studies show that “your friend’s, friend’s, friend has more impact on your happiness than an extra $5000 in your pocket. Not only that but that same friend of a friend of a friend can impact whether you gain or lose weight, find a job, and whether you choose to vote in the next election or not!
  5. The network has a life of its own: Christaki and Fowler make the case (and I’d say a pretty good one) that we can not really understand the behavior of the individual without looking at their network and its structure.

And importantly organizations, they also examine how networks impact creativity, innovation, and the adoption of new ideas. In Connected, Christaki and Fowler show that it’s not only who is in your network, but the topography or structure of the network that has a huge impact. It turns out that who is connected to whom and in what ways they are connected are both important.

In a separate paper, Watts and Strogatz went deeper, examining the effect of network structure on creativity, by analyzing the impact of social networks on the success of Broadway musicals. Their study of the collaboration among producers of 321 musicals that premiered on Broadway over a 44-year period, led them to conclude that a particular type of network structure, which they call “small-world type,” leads to the greatest financial and critical success. This type of structure, they conclude, facilitates easy communication, but also encourages greater creativity through new ideas and synergies.

Given how significant the research shows networks are in influencing not only individual but also group behavior and performance, and the proliferation of networking tools, like Facebook, Yammer, etc. it may well be that large organizations will soon see the need for a Chief Social Officer.

Now I’m off to review my Rolodex!

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