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Social Media and Executives Don't Mix

  |  August 11, 2010   |  Comments

Six reasons why executives struggle with social media, according to actual executives.

In a great post titled "Why Executives HATE Social Media" from the executives at DemingHill, we get an unfiltered viewpoint - straight from the executives - on why they hate social media, but could eventually learn to love it. It's an excellent post, but also a very long one, so I've listed my six main takeaways below.

No. 1: Lack of understanding = fear. The rapid rate of change in digital innovation has caused CEOs to feel extremely vulnerable around technology, because it's something on which we have become very reliant, but which we understand and "control" so little. This vulnerability leads to fear, and this fear to irrational decisions and suboptimal outcomes. When CEOs don't have the confidence in their staff to delegate, or lack the humility to admit their ignorance regarding technology advances, they get defensive and act out in fear - or fail to act altogether.

No. 2: I want control. I want to control my company! I want to control my brand! I want to determine my destiny! It's too important to leave it to chance (or simply be outvoted by the uninformed bourgeois)! Unfortunately, and tragically for us executives, the beauty and power of social media is only fully unleashed when we let it go, and that, my friends, is the hardest thing for us to do (…and also explains why we hate checking luggage at the airport).

No. 3: Fear of it being a fad. The truth is, I would love to commit to social media in a significant way, but so far nobody in my organization has stepped forward with a cerebral, strategic, multigenerational, integrated, systematic, and sustainable methodology and roadmap for synergistically capitalizing on this medium over the long haul.

Why CEOs Can Learn to Love Social Media

No. 1: Unfiltered feedback. If done correctly, social media enables CEOs to hear raw, candid feedback from real people - people who aren't afraid of being fired because they can't be fired. The truth is, leaders with their ego in check are already fully aware that they work for the customer - the customer is his boss - so if the customer doesn't like dropped calls on their iPhone or the sauce on their Domino's pizza, it's their job to make it better. Now, every customer is not always right (or wrong), but if 850 out of 1,000 user comments say that the new Sketcher's sport shoe caused them to sprain their ankle, then something needs to be fixed - and fast. Thomas Mulready, founder of CoolCleveland, is a perfect example of a CEO with this customer orientation. After e-mailing out his weekly e-magazine for seven years, he decided that it needed to be updated, and set about introducing a new format with much fanfare. In doing so, he also did something revolutionary - he asked all 90,000 of his readers for feedback on what they thought of the new style - and boy did they reply with scores of comments submitted over the span of a few days. But then he did something else revolutionary - he actually listened, modifying and improving the new site to reflect reader tastes and preferences. Yes, it takes humility, but the end result is an engaged audience who now feels genuinely empowered to provide even more feedback, emboldened by the knowledge that their comments actually impact (and can improve) the end product.

No. 2: Authenticity. As you've probably noticed, nobody can tell the company story and embody the company brand like the CEO (think Steve Jobs), and by offering the ability to immediately and directly engage stakeholders - whether on a typical day, during a product launch, and/or especially during a time of crisis - social media provides an invaluable medium for maximizing brand value and minimizing potential brand degradation. Social media helps firms "Keep it real," but couches it in a positive brand-reinforcing context.

No. 3: Low cost (Six Sigma). In case you were wondering, executives love things like Six Sigma because, 1) it reminds us of our Greek fraternity days in college, 2) the other soccer dads don't understand value stream mapping, and 3) Six Sigma and lean processes are all about speed and cost savings, two of our favorite topics. By its very architecture, social media is positioned to leverage firms' Six Sigma orientation. Plus, it takes your marketing posture from a one-way, blanketing, bullhorn approach to a more intimate, just-in-time interaction; offering the opportunity for a more detailed, valuable, and profitable conversation and connection with your audience (and you don't need a black belt to do it).


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Erik Qualman

Called a Digital Dale Carnegie, Erik Qualman is the author of best sellers Socialnomics (2009) and Digital Leader (2011). Socialnomics made the #1 Best Sellers List in seven countries and was a finalist for "Book of the Year." Fast Company Magazine lists Qualman as a Top 100 Digital Influencer. He is a frequently requested international speaker and has visited 42 countries. He produced the world's most viewed social media video series and it has been used by NASA to the National Guard.

He has been fortunate to share the stage with Julie Andrews, Al Gore, Tony Hawk, Sarah Palin, Jose Socrates (Prime Minister of Portugal), Alan Mulally, and many others. For the past 17 years Qualman has helped grow the digital capabilities of many companies including Cadillac, EarthLink, EF Education, Yahoo, Travelzoo, and AT&T. He is also an MBA Professor at the Hult International Business School. Qualman holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MBA from The University of Texas. He was Academic All-Big Ten in basketball at Michigan State University and recently gave the commencement address at the University of Texas. He lives in Boston with his wife and daughter.

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