Social media for the C-Suite

By now virtually every CEO acknowledges that social media technologies are a fact of life and must be considered when developing corporate and brand strategy. In 2011, we reached out to a number of leaders in the industrial goods, financial services, and healthcare sectors to discuss how SM will impact their businesses.  These B2C and B2B firms, already engaged in modest SM marketing, were considering their next level of engagement.  Our conversations cut through SM’s hype, pointed to future areas of value and brainstormed implementation best practices. Below were some of their insights:    

Nothing changes…

While acknowledging its potential, the executives were clear that SM should not detract from what really matters – building, marketing and servicing differentiated and high margin products.  Program ROI is still important, perhaps even more so given the tough economic climate.  Although SM opens up new possibilities to engage customers directly, it remains at the end of the day just another channel.  This group viewed SM in an evolutionary light, whose value will unfold over time but after fits and starts.  They drew parallels to the rise, dashed expectations and rise again of e-commerce, whose emergence did not do away with physical stores.

…But don’t bury your head in the sand, either

Given its hundreds of millions of users and real-time nature, the leaders recognized that SM can have a major – both positive and negative – impact on the brand and their business model.  For example, SM could be a powerful tool for CEOs to magnify and tailor the corporate brand message to different audiences.  Conversely, the CEO can use SM to quickly and directly mitigate bad press and reduce reputational risk. Instead of receiving biased customer feedback from within their organization, senior leaders can leverage SM to collect unfiltered and real-time feedback to customers, partners and employees.

Visionary managers view SM’s potential beyond marketing and brand-building.  For example, some firms are enlisting internal and external communities to provide expert and timely customer service and decision-making support.  In another case, traditional recruiting practices are being disrupted by automated searches within LinkedIn and Facebook’s community of 750M+ members.

Despite the possibilities, none of the executives really knew where these technologies were headed and or how to permanently embed SM practices within their organizations.  To this end, I have assembled below some of our firm’s our best practices, all of which center around the management’s level of  commitment, resourcing and alignment.

1.         Show leadership

If SM is going to play an important role in the company, the CEO must explicitly establish SM’s strategic priority, goals and values. As a new, unproven initiative, SM often runs the risk of losing momentum and internal focus. CEOs should authorize the creation of measurement systems to quantitatively and qualitatively track program impact and market feedback.  To ensure that efforts deliver maximum customer impact,  the C-Suite should ensure that SM strategies are properly funded and staffed.  As well, it is vital that SM communications and programs reflect corporate values and are perceived by its audience as authentic, compelling and relevant.

2.         Prime the organization

Senior leaders must oversee the development of structures and policies that enable SM strategies while ensuring proper governance and internal compliance.  After all, no CEO wants an internal tweet showing up in the NY Times.  At the same time, management should be careful not come across as ‘Big Brother’ in directing and monitoring personal social media efforts.  When developing SM programs, care should be taken to ensure that key information circulates freely across the organization and that these initiatives are designed and managed through a cross-functional lens.   

3.         Test, refine and re-launch

When it comes to new technologies, there is no better way to gain learnings than to jump right in.  The most successful SM pioneers began with an executive-sponsored, cross-functional pilot.   This approach enables managers to better match program requirements with market opportunity and to cope with the deluge of market feedback – for example, deciding on whether some customer opinion is crucial or merely a nice to have.  The C-suite needs to play an ongoing role in guaranteeing that solid initiatives receive adequate funding, and that all learnings are communicated across the organization. 

A ‘walk, don’t run’ approach not only generates critical insights but it also allows firms to carefully review new business practices that may enable them to leapfrog competition.  These breakthrough areas could include crowdsourcing collaboration strategies, developing new gamification models that build consumer loyalty or creating new ways of catalyzing internal change.   

SM can appear scary but it’s really not.  The platforms and tools are not overly complicated, just  overly hyped, rapidly changing and often misunderstood. To successfully leverage SM, CEOs must provide consistent leadership while ensuring that internal efforts maintain strategic clarity, receive sufficient resources and reflect a learning culture.

For more information on our services and work, please visit the Quanta Consulting Inc. web site.


2 comments so far

  1. kylemcguffin on

    We have come a long way in Social Media (SM). With over 800M+ users and still counting. Facebook is #1. Why? We want to share photos, and experiences with our close network of friends and family at any time.. Brands realize that these networks are key to their survival. YouTube, LinkedIn and Twitter should also be apart of any marketing strategy. People want to use the 24 hour internet to share their experiences. The product/service companies that think they are bigger than these channels will no longer exist in the next 5 years. Brands should not miss the opportunity to have valued interactions with suspects, prospects and loyal customers. We realize that brands and customers want more than a transaction. We have also learned that customers will share what they want, when they want it, where they want it and how they want it. All a brand needs to do is setup this sharing environment. Why? Most importantly to LISTEN! Thanks for sharing Mitch.

  2. […] unclear.  As a result, the first step for any CEO is to communicate down through the organization why social media is a strategic priority and how it supports key corporate priorities like new business acquisition, customer satisfaction […]

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