Attention Corporate Executives! Your Time For Social Media Leadership Is Now!

This post originally posted at IntranetExperience.com in April, 2010 and is still on-target today!

About a year ago, I had a conversation with a then SocialMedia-phobe who tried to convince me that social media was a fad that had no future in the workplace. His argument was that Facebook was too personal and Twitter too truncated to ever offer any value to business culture. I tried to convince him that, like all emerging technologies, social media was still finding its place in the workplace, but it was slowly, almost imperceptibly changing the way we communicate. His response was to try to dissuade me by saying “it’s just a bunch of people talking about what they ate for breakfast.”

As I look back the amazing strides social media has taken in the last year, even I’m amazed. The importance of short, meaningful messages tugged at my heartstrings as major news outlets like CNN and MSNBC relied on Tweets from survivors of the tragic earthquake in Haiti to keep us informed. YouTube has become the second largest search engine in the world (arguably the largest content engine), and Facebook continues to grow at astonishing rates, becoming one of the largest photo repositories on the Web.

Yet, somehow….corporate executives continue to ignore social media like it’s going to go away. These social media ostriches often argue that Social Media is a “B to C” (business to consumer) activity, meaning that businesses can only use it to market directly to consumers. They argue that companies selling “B to B” (business to business) can’t effectively leverage social media, because it’s the wrong market and businesses don’t pay attention to social media.Are you a social media ostrich? Are you embracing the benefits of what social has to offer your business?

Little do they understand that businesses are not faceless organisms that make decisions without human input. On the contrary, business decisions are influenced by people and made by people, making “B to B” marketing almost irrelevant in a world where social media dominates the conversation. Executives need to understand that consumers of all type rely on product advice gained from other consumers, and the value of marketing Web sites that expound on the value of their product is diminishing. Need more convincing? Take a look at the Answers section of LinkedIn and you’ll find thousands of professionals (working for businesses) asking for recommendations on ECM, CRM, Intranet, and back office software. Yes…they even ask for advice on what blogging and social media platforms to use.

A shining example of a “B to B” corporate executive leveraging social media is Carolyn Douglas, the CEO of Intranet Connections. Her passion about Intranets, collaboration, best practices, and social media are evident in her blogs and tweets. Her thought leadership in the Intranet industry influences her peers, colleagues and customers on a daily basis. She demonstrates that although her business is technically “B to B”, her social media communication is aimed at interacting with people.

Are your employees able to share the great products and services that your company offers or are you blockikng social media?Great examples of executive leadership can be found in the “B to C” markets, as well. Just look at leaders like Marc Cenedella of TheLadders.com or Bill Marriot of Marriot Hotels. Each has established a meaningful blog and/or twitter presence that educates the public on topics ranging from interviewing tips to downtown revitalization efforts. Both activities are ancillary to their business, but provide meaning to their readers. The effect of the trust they earn from their readers is often carried over to the brand the represent.

And product marketing is just the tip of the iceberg when looking for social media opportunity. The value of collaborative activities inside your organization can justify an investment relatively quickly. You see, your employees are people, and people like to share. They share their stories, experiences, and knowledge. They talk around the water cooler, at the coffee pot, and at their cubes. At work, they feel valued and important when another employee is able to use a past experience to solve a problem. They get frustrated when they discover that the knowledge in their head could have been useful to another employee in a previous experience.  It’s the age-old knowledge management problem. How do you get the knowledge out of your employees heads and into a media that can be shared and leveraged by other employees?

The answer is social media. Give your employees and platform and they will share. Sure, they’ll share personal information, too…but mixed in with stories about their weekends, cats, and World of Warcraft are valuable nuggets of corporate knowledge that can help you solve problems, produce new products, and deliver a higher level of customer and employee satisfaction. It’s up to you to find ways to filter or segment that information to uncover that which is valuable to your business, but once you do…you’ve unlocked the potential of your employees.

In summary, social media is not about people eating oatmeal. Well…actually it is. But it’s also about people solving problems and people serving customers and people buying products. Social media is about your employees and your customers. It’s about your friends and colleagues. It’s about what they want, and what they want to offer. It’s a valuable tool that will provide insight to markets, products, and ways of doing business that you probably never thought about.  It’s up to you to get involved and show leadership. Good luck!

P.S. I’d love to hear from Execs who have taken the plunge and how your efforts are proceeding. Feel free to comment and let us know your story.

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