Virgin Group’s Richard Branson wrote a post yesterday called “Why aren’t more business leaders online?” in which he described a lethargic response by the C-Suite to social media tools, pointing to the fact that according to a recent study by IBM, only 16% of CEOs are currently participating on social media.
There were 1,709 respondents to IBM’s 2012 Global CEO Study.
Guess how many of those CEOs had their own blog?
Almost as incredible? “Some” were on LinkedIn. Some. Not all. On the #1 social media channel for business. Fewer still were on the other channels like Twitter and Facebook. The CEO on Google+ appears to be a rare one indeed.
The instinct here may be to say, “How can so many CEOs be that disconnected from online conversations?”
While that’s surprising, what’s far more disturbing may be if the findings suggest that some CEOs don’t buy into the notion of seriously exploring social media for their company.
If they personally do it, that’s great. But at least endorsing it and delegating responsibilities (internally and/or externally) to ensure it is properly executed is better.
Why? I’ve found it’s incredibly difficult for a company to conduct social media without the CEO’s true approval – both the official rubber stamp of approval and the emotional buy-in. It doesn’t bode well for long-term success without it.
That doesn’t mean they give it the “OK” and check back in 6 months from now. They still have to be very much included in the reporting of the effort and its progress. It’s just that once a strategic direction has been outlined, the day-to-day execution can fall on other departments. Which may wind up empowering more employees and strengthening the company culture. Or these daily/weekly roles can be divided so that, for example, a Marketing Director is managing the overall effort but working closely with employees or outside sources while reporting back to the C-level.
What entrepreneurs can take from this
The idea of whether or not social media is here to stay has been rendered moot. It’s a ridiculous discussion to be having at this point. You might as well argue whether or not computers and smartphones are relevant. The debate is over and done. Social media is here and it’s not just your kids on it. Get used to it. Better yet, start exploring how it can integrate into the total brand in ways your audience can appreciate. Your competitor surely is and will.
My point is this – if large corporations tend to move slowly to social media adoption (sorry, it’s kind of a clunky approval process to hold a committee meeting over your next tweet), the opportunity exists for nimble companies to be more active in this arena. Yes, smaller companies are often challenged by lack of time and internal resources, but before you skip a few steps ahead and get bogged down in logistics and tactics (and there is often more than one answer for that), think first about the importance of educating yourself and your staff with the potential advantages to your brand. It’s not a “Should we be on Pinterest?” discussion but more of a strategical discussion involving questions like, “How is our audience using this?” “How can we help a community of them not just with what we sell but what we inherently know?” “What are we trying to accomplish?” And then some.
People can make a lot of excuses for not going forward with social media but my feeling is the real issue behind these excuses is some companies simply don’t know:
1) What they should say
2) Who in the company should be saying it
3) Where they should be saying it
4) What the level of interaction with the audience should look like when they get there.
Upper management can be very much “into” social media without literally being on it every day. As drivers of the company vision and culture, they’re as vital to getting the ball rolling with exploring its possibilities – and keeping it implemented – as anyone.
It really begins with the CEO saying, “Social media is important to me to understand. And for the good of our brand, it needs to be important to all of us.”
Those are the magic words that could ultimately bring a wealth of long-term benefits for the brand internally and externally. And the impact lasts far beyond the next tweet. Whether that CEO ever posts or not.