This article was produced for the Autumn 2013 launch issue of the magazine .so. For more detail, visit http://www.tcg.so/
Whether your in-tray is physical, virtual, metaphorical, or even a mix of the three, the one thing you can be sure of is that nowadays you have quite a lot in it. That means, you need to take real care before adding something else. Should social media be in that tray?
An April 2013 survey of Fortune 500 companies by Domo found that social media isn’t really on the agenda as yet: only nine Fortune 500 CEOs have active Twitter accounts, and just 38 are on Facebook. LinkedIn has attracted a better showing, with profiles of 129 Fortune 500 CEOs, but even this amounts to just 26 per cent of this high profile group. However the same survey suggests that the younger generation of executives use social media more than the over-50s. So, social may not be on the agenda now, but perhaps it may be very soon.
I believe that, unlike many other C-suite or NED issues, what to do about social media is a personal decision. Anyone who makes a sweeping statement that all businesses should or should not be using social media is wrong. Rather, it depends on your objectives.
(1) If your objective is around personal research and learning, then social media can be helpful as one such source of information. For example, as a CMO, I use social media as one (but not the only) means of keeping up to date with developments in B2B marketing. I am a member of a number of relevant discussion groups on LinkedIn, follow selected experts on Twitter, and contribute my own views. To use social media in this way will require you to do so directly and that’s a time commitment. There are many time-saving tools available to helps such as Hootsuite, but at the end of the day if you do not make a regular commitment in your week to use social media and to interact over it, then this method of learning is probably not for you. I find that the daily commute provides me with the opportunity to use social media and with a convenient bounded timeframe in which I can start and stop
(2) If your objective is around keeping up to date with your network, social media can be helpful as one such connecting tool. This objective is bounded by generation. If your network is over the age of 50, the chances are that it engages by e-mail rather than social networking sites, such as Twitter or Facebook. By contrast, the 40-somethings in your network will be using text and instant messaging. It’s only for those in your network below the age of 40, that social media comes into its own
(3) It may be that you want to build up your personal brand in your industry or specialism and that social media can help if your target audience are millennials. Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of Virgin Group, active on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, maintaining a thought leadership blog on LinkedIn and a personal blog on the Virgin website, is the most obvious example of someone brand-building in this way. Another is Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct, who uses Twitter and Google+, and writes a blog called “Direct Talk”
(4) It may be that social media can help the internal communications challenges of your business. If knowledge is siloed in your business or if senior management is from a different generation to front-line management, you may want to see if a tool like Yammer can assist. Such tools have had a big impact on collaboration and knowledge-sharing in professional service organisations where it has been introduced. However, first you will need to publicise some guidelines and a policy to define terms of engagement
(5) It may be that your objective is around improving your business’s external communications. If your customers are on social media, then you will want to be too. The question here is not about whether but to what extent. Should you focus on listening or interacting? There is much to be said for the former approach. An overwhelming 93 percent of BRANDfog survey respondents in 2012 believed that CEO engagement in social media helps communicate company values, shape a company’s reputation, and grow and evolve corporate leadership in times of crisis. And you need to keep watching your customer mix to understand how social media usage changes. With the BRIC middle class expected to soar from roughly five per cent of the population to more than 40 per cent in the next two decades, change will be speedy.
So don’t follow the herd: because you will fail. Select your objectives, make your choice, and commit. Good luck!