The role of a social media editor: Be a pusher and user…and so much more

Defining the role of a social media editor has recently become a hot topic after Jennifer Preston (@NYT_JenPreston), who holds that title at The New York Times, went one month without tweeting. For some context:

Taking a step back, why should any chief social media person even be called an editor? (For the purposes of this post, let’s not debate the use of “social media,” which I happen to like.)

One reason may be so it fits into the traditional print lexicon; thus, it’s easier to understand what that person does because the term sounds familiar. This isn’t horrible, but it’s framing the position in the wrong mindset.

Instead, this position should be established outside the context of any medium. Neither this role nor the person in it should assume the title and implied limitations of a comparable leadership position.

Whoever leads social media at a news org should lead it for all platforms. And one manner that’s often forgotten is (brace yourself) human interaction.

All of this is not to prescribe a universal “social media editor” job description. I actually think that definition is something a news organization should outline on its own. (Like many things, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.)

Thankfully, we have Twitter to help us simplify the various descriptions being proposed. Here’s my less-than-140-character response to a discussion started by Patrick Thornton (@jiconoclast), editor of

@greglinch social media editor twitter definition

“Social media editor should be a pusher and a user. Moderate, communicate, curate, facilitate & educate.”

I’d recommend reading the other responses, which you can follow and respond to with the hashtag #smed.

How would you define the role of a social media editor?

4 thoughts on “The role of a social media editor: Be a pusher and user…and so much more”

  1. This is new, uncharted territory. Strange. I agree that using the term editor gives me little comfort as I tread into the social media jungle.

  2. It’s an interesting discussion. I can see where there’s concerns… being a “social media editor” (more on “editor” later) and not using Twitter is like a photo editor that doesn’t take photos.

    At the same time, though, I think you might have implied it: It depends on how the NYT defines “social media editor.” Does it mean the person has to engage with their followers on Twitter/Facebook, or does it mean they have to get the entire newsroom to engage with their followers?

    Maybe I haven’t done enough research on it yet and this question’s been answered already.

    Now, as for “editor.” Greg, I would absolutely agree that the term “editor” is becoming outdated when we are talking social media. It’s an easy title to slap onto something in journalism because it’s been such a newsroom staple over the last several decades. But I can’t see a possible job description that would accurately match “editor.” Director of social media might even be a better term for it. I don’t know.

  3. I think “editor” is exactly the right title.

    It implies that the job sits within the editorial structure of the publication. You are looking at how the publication can use social media for editorial purposes. It distinguishes it from a purely marketing position, where you would probably be sitting with an entirely different set of colleagues with different purposes.

    Editors often do strategic work. They are not always sitting and literally commissioning and editing articles.

    I think a social media editor needs to use social media to keep abreast with trends. But tweeting on behalf of a brand is only a very narrow part of the role.

    And there are plenty of photo editors who don’t take photos in their current position. The point is that they know what makes a good photo.

    1. Thanks, Caitlin. I completely agree that the role is in the editorial structure of the newsroom and think my view on using the title “editor” has changed more in favor, along the lines of what you describe.

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