Business Leaders/C-Suite Adoption of Social Media: Water Over the Falls 2

There have been a number of articles and posts in the last month about business leaders and their use (or lack of use) of social media. But there is another set of questions to ponder about business leaders and their use of social media.  One is whether the Communications team has counseled and prepared the Executives, akin to the traditional media training programs.  The other, and possibly more important question, is to what extent have business leaders had the chance to actually step back and understand the differences inherent in social media and reflect on the issues/questions for his/her teams that impact how they operate. 

As Shel Holtz points out, leading and leadership recognizes that the use of social software is becoming a routine tool of customers and staff within their daily routine. Leaders who don’t engage with the same tools that all of their stakeholders are using fail to lead by example and will get a skewed view of the conversation. See this related study.

Charlene Li in her new book “The Engaged Leader” talks about leaders using social tools to listen at scale; sharing information to shape decision making and action; and, using social media tools (internally and externally) to build and strengthen the relationships that are important for the business priorities.  Of course, Charlene is spot on.

Weber Shandwick’s reputation study encourages CEOs to become more publicly visible, in humble ways, as the CEO has an increasingly important impact on corporate reputation.  In fact they state public engagement “is the new CEO mandate.”  Forbes predicts CEO engagement on social media will double by 2017 because 82 percent of people are more likely to trust a company whose CEO is active on social media.

water over the falls 2On the questions of preparation and assuming Executive involvement in social media is “water over the falls,” see this post for more detail.

However, on the question of the C-Suite’s knowledge/expertise/ understanding of the social media channel (or other business leaders/managers, such as the VP of Product Development, or the head of sales or the customer service leader) one has to wonder if personal involvement in social media is the step required or best suited for Executives.

Many senior business leaders rose through the ranks to their leadership position based on traditional business metrics and operating procedures – before or even in tandem with the rise of social media and business.    If we truly want social media savvy business leaders, more than them having a presence on the internal social network or tweeting, it is important that they also had the time/opportunity to actually grow their personal knowledge and assess possible business changes arising from the adoption of social media in their business functions.

Those changes could range from understanding the skills changes needed in their department; how they think about skills and professional growth for their teams; the departmental KPIs; how they should approach the next product launch; how their once “non-customer facing” department becomes an integral component in customer relationships; how monthly data reports are generated or what is in them; and, what programs should garner more or less resources.   The list of possible changes across a department goes on.  Only a socially savvy executive can ask all those questions or make all the needed changes.

While the answer to some of these questions might well be gained through the Executive’s use of social media, some of it will also come from absorption of knowledge from the teams around them.  Another considerations is that the C-suite and leadership teams require some time/briefing and personalized training to support their own knowledge and growth in the social space.

For example:

  • a marketing leader should likely not be satisfied with “the latest ad campaign includes social media with YouTube related videos and Instagram photos plus tweets with the campaign hashtag.” The social savvy leader would also want to understand what the engagement strategy is with people who share or like the “campaign”.  He/she might also want to know what the success metrics in social look like, besides mere reach or clicks.  Is the social campaign a bolt on to the mass media effort or does it include special components addressed to advocates, customer connections and/or influencers?  If the latter, on which social platforms?
  • the Corporate communications leader might raise similar questions about a news release, an Executive speech or with a media placement.
  • Executives could be well-served to ask marketing or corporate communications for a qualitative and quantitative weekly or monthly social listening report about the company and the industry/competition – just as there have traditionally been media clip reports that get shared widely across a business. Of course, that kind of market intelligence also requires figuring what data is relevant to your business and how to communicate it to the leadership team in a meaningful way.
  • Customer service executives might want to think about new ways to quantify their success in social media beyond simply how long it took to resolve a customer issue and how many customers had issues resolved and were happy about it. Perhaps the customer Tweets identified product issues sooner than traditional calls to the 1-800 number?  Maybe the company’s customer service reps tweeted out a link to a product solution so fast that it reduced normal call volume?  Did customers themselves share the solution with others resulting in fewer 1-800 calls?

At this stage in the adoption of social by business, many business leaders may not want to ask some of those questions – as they assume teams have it under control.  However, an executive team and business leaders that take the time to understand their own personal social media skill sets and knowledge of social media implications for their business will be much better leaders – both when they use Twitter or meet with their teams to discuss where the business unit/function is headed in social media.

The SME  offering addresses the question of leader/manager skills and helps fill the gaps as needed, should you need assistance in bridging these gaps.

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