Chief Web Officer?

Mike Stopforth asked whether companies shouldn’t create a new portfolio for an executive tasked with tracking trends on the Web and implementing appropriate technologies and practices to take advantage of those trends:

Isnt time you seriously considered appointing or hiring a Chief Web Officer? Someone who is tasked with tracking these emerging trends and technologies and find ways to extract value from them for the company? Someone who will monitor the validity and effectiveness of the companys Web presence (which is more than just a website, by the way). Someone who will look into deploying social platforms for better communication and collaboration within the company. Someone who will assist marketers and advertisers track the online conversation, engage consumers and build a consumer-generated content strategy?

He referenced a blog post by ZDNet writer, David Berlind who asked the same question. Berlind wrote about General Motors’ foray into Second Life and the creation of a virtual dealership in the virtual world:

This is pure brilliance and has me wondering who at these car companies is so on top of things that they not only spotted the Second Life opportunity, but convinced management to unlock whatever marketing dollars were necessary to make it happen. It also made me wonder whether big old stodgy slow companies that make molasses look fast (for example, automobile manufacturers) need someone like a Chief Web Officer (CWO) whose job it is to be on the constant lookout for these sorts of opportunities, to separate the wheat from the chaff, to come up with a plan of attack, and be the first mover.

In addition to spotting Second Life and devising a clever plan to give their own company a second life, a CWO’s job would have been to spot things like the blogosphere, folksonomies, podcasting, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and other potential communication mediums and figure out how to participate in those communities.

I definitely agree that companies need an executive who has his or her finger on the pulse of the Web and who can take advantage of these emerging trends to the company’s benefit. It is a necessity just like it is a necessity to have someone to oversee the company network or manage the company’s marketing strategy. What I am not sure about is whether there is a need for yet another executive to focus on a current set of trends. This seems to me to be a function that could form part of existing executive portfolios. Perhaps the question we should be asking is whether the portfolios of Chief Technology Officer, Chief Information Officer and the Marketing director shouldn’t perhaps be reorganised.

A clear trend coming out of the new media (aka Web 2.0) space is the convergence of technology, media and marketing. The technologies that have been and are emerging are easier to implement and more user friendly, at least from a user perspective. The creation of those technologies is not necessarily as easy and that is why companies take on developers. An executive charged with overseeing the implementation of these technologies need not know how to code the relevant applications, rather he or she should appreciate the value of those applications and how they could best be incorporated into the company’s infrastructure. What is happening more and more is that this is becoming a key part of the company’s marketing function and less of a purely technical issue. The General Motors development of a dealership in Second Life is a good example of this.

I wonder if appointing a Chief Web Officer in addition to existing Chief Information and/or Chief Technology Officers wouldn’t just be adding to the complexity of a board structure and the division of responsibilities at an executive level. Perhaps the solution is to bring the Marketing department and the CTO’s office closer together and into an ongoing collaboration geared at the effective implementation of these new technologies.

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