Does Your CEO Understand Social Media?

Social Media Plan

Back in 2009 a damning survey of Fortune 100 CEO’s reported that just two had Twitter accounts and (hold onto your lower jaw) only three had more than 10 connections on LinkedIn. It was a staggering read for anyone who thinks businesses need social media in the same way that newspapers need ethics.

I have, like most social media consultants, experienced this first hand. I winced with dismay a couple of years ago when, after I’d suggested that any senior exec who wasn’t using LinkedIn to network on behalf of his employer was not simply wasteful but was actually harming the business, the CEO confessed that he’d never heard of LinkedIn.

Perhaps things have changed in the last year. Social media has certainly matured as a business tool. Social CRM is now a keen buzzword for large enterprises (if only a buzzword, for most) and social business is a phrase that’s emerging to cover the wider implications of openness, crowd-sourcing, networking, advocacy and collaboration that social media enables within an organisational structure.

In my opening address at Social Media Marketing 2011 in San Francisco a month ago I suggested that “social business” was about the humanising of organisations. By this I meat that, through social media listening and engagement, organisations are effectively creating nerve systems that are capable of sensing reactions across the social web. By plugging these into internal communication systems and knowledge-sharing processes, then training staff to use them, organisations are able to channel valuable, real-time data to the right people to react to it. Assuming those people know what to do and have the means to respond, this should result in a more feeling, responsive and user-friendly entity. When organisations get good at this, they can also use this data to pre-empt problems, thus becoming a truly thinking being.

There’s a major flaw in this utopia though: it requires vision. Without the leadership of a visionary Chief Exec or MD this kind of cross-departmental project – which requires new thinking, new processes, new skills and new tools – simply cannot happen. There are good examples of visionary uses of enterprise social media – IBM’s adoption of enterprise social networks to leverage internal knowledge, Deloitte’s use social media for staff recruitment and retention on Holland, and plenty of social CRM case studies – but to map this across an organisation and find the budget to do it properly, CEOs and CxOs must be enlightened (and brave) enough to take social media seriously.

Two years on from the Fortune 100 report, I’ll bet lots of leading CEOs now have LinkedIn accounts and a few more will be using Twitter. How many of them seriously understand social media and have the vision to invest the time and money needed to unlock it’s full potential though, you can probably still count on one hand.

With this in mind, I’m hosting a half-day social media briefing for CEOs and CxOs in London on 20th September. Speakers include Ian McNairn (IBM), Neville Hobson (formerly of WCG), Chris Buckley (Headstream) and Loic Moisand (Synthesio). Tickets are limited to 30 max, so early booking is advised.

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