Rachel Sterne Named NYC’s First Chief Digital Officer

rachelsterneAfter a search begun last May, the City of New York finally has its first Chief Digital Officer. Social media entrepreneur, founder of GroundReport, and a former Bloomberg Businessweek “Most Promising Social Entrepreneur,” Rachel Sterne is charged with helping NYC strengthen its digital media presence and streamline its internal digital media communications among a sprawling network of 83 agencies.

“This is the first position that we know of of its type,” said Todd Asher, the first deputy commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment. The office is home to the Office of Digital Coordination, under which the new CDO position falls.

Sterne (pictured above) “has a really interesting set of experiences,” said Asher, referring to her entrepreneurial work in addition to experience as a reporter covering the United Nations Security Council and as a city council intern. Sterne made a name for herself soon after graduating New York University, founding GroundReport, an international civic journalism site, in 2006. In 2009, Sterne started Upward, a digital marketing and communications strategy firm that counts upscale fitness company Equinox and digital publishing platform provider DayLife as clients. She is also an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School where she is teaching a Social Media and Entrepreneurship course. As it turns out, in 2009, she was named one of “America’s Most Promising Social Entrepreneurs” by Bloomberg Businessweek, part of the media powerhouse founded by Mayor Mike Bloomberg.

Sterne is expected to begin her first full week of work today.

In May 2010, New York City advertised the newly-created CDO position, stating the future hire would put a “comprehensive new media face” on the Big Apple. With over 10,000 Twitter followers and several speaking engagements and media appearances under her belt, Sterne seems to fit the bill.

Asher pointed to New York’s 311 emergency information service as an example of a system that employs digital platforms for communication well. The service has a website, and a Twitter account providing information about street parking, school closures, and city events, and allows residents to report problems using an iPhone app and via Skype calls.

“The 311 call center is a good model because it establishes a two-way conversation with the public in asking questions and distributing information,” said Asher. He pointed to San Francisco, Chicago and Boston as cities that are more advanced than other municipalities in their usage of digital media, but continued, “There isn’t one that in totality is representative of what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Internally, he said the city’s Office of Emergency Management, the Parks Department and the Department of Health are the most advanced in their usage of Facebook and Twitter.

“We’re looking to harness some of the power from the power users and those who haven’t even entered the social media sphere to really be impactful,” he said, noting the goal is to do more digitally in an efficient manner with fewer people.

Sterne’s initial task will be developing a report recommending what needs to be done to improve the city’s digital communications. The results of that “roadmap” report will be made available to the public, said Asher.

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