Social business strategist or ant colony foreman? Consider these pros and cons when devising off-beat job titles.
With pedigrees from high-profile brands such as Dell, Microsoft, and Lego, the team launching a social media consultancy pondered options for the agency's name and job titles.
"Most of the time, consulting companies' names are fairly dry. They are named after somebody or it's a series of initials," said Jake McKee, who previously held the positions of lead samurai at Big in Japan and global community relations specialist at Lego.
So, Ant's Eye View was hatched. The founders invested in the logo's design and high-quality business cards. They also deliberated over job titles. "Often you get cards from people at a one-man or two-person shop and they've got titles that seem so lofty and important. Of course, they are the CEO. They are one of one people," McKee said.
Marketers are supposed to ooze with creativity. But how far should they go when creating job titles? Many businesses are figuring that out as they bring on staff to handle new roles in social and mobile marketing channels. And recruiters interviewed by ClickZ think some companies are making poor choices.
"It is not that unusual to see a job title that is somewhat out there, especially with some of the newer generations of start-ups within technology and digital media," said Jake Langwith, head of search at London-based recruitment agency Salt, in an email interview. "A couple of examples that spring to mind on the social side include 'Chatter Monkey' as well as 'Public Happy Maker.'"
Wendy Weber, president of recruiting agency Crandall Associates, also sees no shortage of off-beat job titles. Among them: web alchemist and social media swami. "They sound like fun, but I don't like them," she said in an email interview. "Titles exist to provide an indication of someone's job function. I know what 'social media' is, but I don't know what a Social Media 'Diva' does.
What are the top problems with off-beat titles?
- An employer may have trouble finding qualified candidates. "If the job title is not 'standard' and descriptive, it may not hold appeal for potential candidates. One client's Community Manager is another client's Social Media Manager…one client's Emerging Media Manager is another client's Content Strategist. I advise clients to create a recognizable title that will be broadly understood, and allow us to elaborate on the specific responsibilities as we reach out to candidates," Crandall said.
- A job seeker may be overlooked by a prospective employer. "Many first points of contact within companies involved in the hiring process are not industry experts, and often look at the person's job title to decide whether or not they should call them in for an interview. Something a little cool or off-beat could mean the difference between an interview or not," Langwith said.
- A job seeker may be overlooked by search applications and engines. When Colleen Reed left iProspect where she was communications director, she updated her LinkedIn profile to read: "Communications Strategist; Chief Storyteller; Speaker Coach; Public Relations Pro." So how did she come up with chief storyteller? "I selected that title of Chief Storyteller for LinkedIn because it best describes what I do – I help brands tell their stories," she explained in an email interview. Yet she still incorporated conventional titles. Why? "Search! I wanted to be sure to include terms that people would use to search," she explained.
Striking a Compromise
At Ant's Eye View, the launch team devised dual titles for each position - one is conventional and one plays off of the "ant" in the agency's name. McKee, for instance, is chief idea officer and ant wrangler. Besides serving as CEO, Sean O'Driscoll is the ant advocate.
At first, McKee thought the agency - once it grew - would shed the "ant" titles. But ant advocates, nest nurturers, and colony foremen are not going away anytime soon. "It's a cultural hallmark as much as an icebreaker," he said. "People want to work with people who are enjoyable, who bring joy to a project."
One risk: the potential to exhaust all variations of ant-themed titles. But, new hires have demonstrated their creativity. Christopher Carfi holds the dual titles of social business strategist and colony cartographer; Todd Shimizu is social business strategist and int'l ant of mystery.
For new hires who previously worked at large organizations, the off-beat titles serve another purpose. "The culture has changed and here is a way to remind you of that," McKee said.
When asked if he thinks it's effective to have two titles, a conventional (boring) one and a creative one, Langwith said: "This is definitely a better route to take. It can be cool to have an off-the-wall internal title and then a more standardised one for when you need to deal with companies/people who are more corporate as an example. Or who have very little in the way of a sense of humour!"
Still others scoff at titles that include any mention of "social media."
"Being an expert in social media is like being an expert at taking the bread out of the refrigerator," complained Peter Shankman in a blog post on Business Insider. Or as Amber Naslund, VP, social strategy for Radian6, has been quoted as saying: "Social media is now a job, but one day it will be a skill. You don't have a 'director of phone.'"
What's the most off-beat job title you've seen?
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Anna Maria Virzi, ClickZ's executive editor from 2007 until 2012, covered Internet business and technology since 1996. She was on the launch team for Ziff Davis Media's Baseline and also worked at Forbes.com, Web Week, Internet World, and the Connecticut Post.
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