The first time the concept of a CLO came onto my rader was in 2007, when eConsultancy published an article called “Introducing the Chief Listening Officer.” Contrary to its title, the article was not actually a demand for companies to begin filling that precise position, but was instead an early call for brands to view social channels as a place where they could interact in a meaningful way with their customers.
Since then, Dell and Kodak made headlines for hiring CLOs. This spawned hundreds of articles written by social media-minded bloggers embracing the idea and writing job descriptions that they, quite possibly, hoped to someday fill. But these speculators have mostly been either Waiting for Godot, The Great Pumpkin, or chasing a mythical white whale. Go ahead and search for the position on company rosters. Search for postings for the CLO position on TheLadders.com and Monster. You’ll find tracks, maybe the scent of an old trail, but finding one is rarer than getting a photograph of Bigfoot.
So what happened?
The best brands have woken up to the fact that listening is everyone’s job, from customer service departments to sales departments to marketing departments. All need to be highly engaged in the conversation about their brand in social channels. Everyone from a company’s call center reps to the CEO needs to be highly invested in knowing what’s being said online and how that data is being tracked, stored and utilized. Many other brands are putting a toe in with their own marketing or PR people, or outsourcing these duties to agencies. Most are not yet ready to begin clearing out an office in preparation for yet another C-level position.
Perhaps the CLO is actually best thought of as a mythological creature. A symbol of a company that is highly attuned to the needs of its customers, anticipating every need and desire almost before posts are made. One that optimizes social channels at every turn, micro-targeting ads based on highly personal demographic information. And one that always knows the ROI of his social investments.