Stories about how top executives just don’t “get” social media and the concept of social business were common four or five years ago. But it’s jarring to still come across such reports today.
Despite the fact that 82% of buyers say they trust a company more when its CEO and senior leadership team are active in social media, and 77% are more likely to buy from a company if its CEO uses social media (those stats themselves nearly two years old), “64% of CEOs do not use social media at all, with only 5% of all Fortune 500 company CEOs on Twitter,” according to The Guardian.
Worse, C-level executives who don’t use social media themselves are also much less likely to understand how to capitalize on the social media savvy and reach of their employees to benefit their companies. And those benefits can be considerable. Per recent research from GaggleAMP:
“Connecting your business with your employees in social media can boost your social media presence. Employee advocacy not only has the ability to acquire new leads, but also can help create original content and bump your search rankings on Google, Yahoo, and MSN…Prospective clients are more likely to recognize your brand when you’ve got a network of employee advocates helping to sell your product through social media. This can cut down on the time it takes to gain the trust of clients as well as help solidify the relationship more quickly.”
Expanding a company’s social presence through its employees’ networks requires some give and take. Employee participation must be voluntary. Employers will need to do some level of monitoring, in order to measure results, share best practices, and incentive employees for social amplification.
That monitoring activity needn’t be excessive or intrusive; it should be limited to work-related social media activities, and social networks on which employees are active on the company’s behalf (an individual employee may, for example, choose to use his or her Twitter and LinkedIn accounts to promote company content and interact with customers and prospects, but use Facebook strictly for personal relationships).
Yet too many companies, regardless of their progress as social businesses, already take or plan to take this monitoring to excessive, even downright creepy, levels. Per per research from PricewaterhouseCoopers:
“More employers plan to begin or increase their monitoring of employees’ social media use and other personal data over the next decade…the idea is frankly kind of Orwellian in that terrifying corporate kind of way: The data profiling that drives customer management will increasingly be replicated among employees as screening and monitoring move to a new level. Sensors check their location, performance and health. The monitoring may even stretch into their private lives in an extension of today’s drug tests. Periodic health screening gives way to real-time monitoring of health.”
Of course, employees need to actually be engaging in social media activities on a company’s behalf in order for their to be any social activity to monitor. Nearly as disturbing as excessive monitoring, more than a third (36%) of businesses block social networks completely within the office, and more than half (57%) permit workplace social media access only for select employees (e.g., marketing and HR).
The fundamental barrier to embracing a social business strategy seems to come down to one word: fear.
- • Fear of bad, or even unmeasurable, results. While precise social media ROI may or may not be measurable, many indicators of success certainly are. Social media amplification is like any other business process: test, measure, improve, repeat.
- • Fear that employees will waste time on social sites. Employees have been finding ways to distract themselves, and others, and generally waste time at work, for pretty much as long as groups of human beings have worked together. Employees intentionally wasting work time are a sign of poor hiring, poor motivation, and/or poor management. Those determined to waste work time will do so regardless of social media policy.
- • Fear that employees will be unproductive. This is different than the point above; it’s not fear that employees will purposely waste time, but rather that employees, with the best of intentions, will use social networks inefficiently. Monitoring, measurement, and training are the answer.
- • Fear that employees will say the wrong things. They’ll get brand messages wrong, or argue with customers, or reveal trade secrets, or disclose sensitive financial information, or bash competitors, or bash management, or tweet while drunk, or say something racist or sexist, or…whatever. Actually, in a healthy work environment, employees are far more likely to appreciate trust than to abuse it. And, backed up with training and clear policies, they deserve it.
Most fundamentally of all, however, is the fear that a surprising majority of companies still seem to have in acknowledging that they are staffed by actual people. Try this experiment: pick 10 business websites, from companies of any size, pretty much any industry. See if you can find a way to directly contact a specific individual (e.g., the head of marketing, the top HR exec, anyone in customer service, the webmaster, the VP of sales, even the CEO) at any of those companies, through information presented on the company’s website.
Many sites won’t list any individual employee or management names at all. Some will have “management team” pages that list a handful of top executives (though not with any direct contact information). Most will not provide any email addresses beyond the generic “info@” or “sales@” variety. Many will link to the company’s social media accounts—but not to the accounts of any individual employee, even if used strictly for business purposes. In some cases, you’ll be able to find contact information for the individual in charge of public relations—but often as not, this will be someone from an outside agency rather than a company employee.
That may be the most fundamental fear of all: being social means being human. That is what needs to change, first and foremost. As social media guru Ted Rubin notes, “A smart brand supports its employees in building their personal brands because it expands their reach right along with that of their employees.”
How do executives who want to overcome these fears and embrace social media start? Search for guidance and resources online, watch videos like this one, read books like The Social Employee by Cheryl and Mark Burgess (a veritable field guide to social business best practices, based on case studies of brand-name social enterprises), and begin by getting employees involved with the business socially internally, using tools like Yammer or Chatter.
But whatever you do, start. With regard to social business, the only rational fear top executives should have is fear of being left behind.