“the social media echo chamber is starting to crumble”
—David Armano, Senior Partner, Dachis Corp
Depending on whom you choose to interact with on Twitter, it can easily seem like an echo chamber, and the release of a “report” last week declaring “It’s Official: Fortune 100 CEOs are Social Media Slackers” did nothing to change that perception.
The research found that the vast majority of Fortune 100 CEOs (Warren Buffett, Allan Lafley, Kenneth Chenault, Mary Sammons, et al) aren’t using most, if any, social networking tools, and came to a rather ridiculous, naive conclusion:
In our opinion, the top CEOs appear to be disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating. They’re giving the impression that they’re disconnected, disengaged and disinterested. No doubt regulations such as Sarbanes Oxley and Reg-FD make CEOs cautious about comunicating freely, they’re missing a fabulous opportunity to connect with their target audience.
Conducted by ÜBERCEO — a TMZ-ish wannabe that claims to offer “the latest news, commentary, rumor and discussion about all things CEO” (noting they’re “about” CEOs, not “for” them) — one of the most glaring flaws in their “analysis’ is their definition of target audience, an antiquated term the social media “revolution” is supposed to have done away with.
There are some wonderful social media tools that have enabled people to communicate across boundaries; to broadcast their opinions, beliefs and experiences to the world; to “interact” with celebrities, representatives of their favorite brands, and other like-minded people; and, sometimes, even to sell each other stuff. But at its core, social media isn’t about connecting businesses, or their CEOs, to “target audiences” — it’s about people communicating with each other.
Forbes and Google partnered on a more substantial (and credible) study, The Rise of the Digital C-Suite: How Executives Locate and Filter Business Information, that shed some light on how corporate executives really use the Internet. Perhaps not surprisingly, the study found that search engines were a primary source of information, and noted a generational difference as those under the age of 50 were “more positively disposed to use Internet resources.”
It also includes a key observation that puts Fortune 100 CEOs’ seemingly slow public embrace of social networking in perspective:
Personal contacts still trump virtual networks
- 77% of survey participants view guidance from colleagues at work as very valuable (a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale) compared to 43% maintaining the same view of online communities.
- Executives interviewed appear to be focusing their online community efforts on prospecting and recruiting.
- Still, several executives insist that personal networks remain the most valuable for work-related information. For example, Sophie Zurquiyah, chief technology officer at Schlumberger, says, “For me, I get the most valuable insight from my interactions with people.”
Because more and more people are using these tools to talk about and recommend, or bash, a wide range of products and services they buy and use — the oft-referenced “groundswell” — there’s no question that it’s an area for companies of all sizes to embrace, but more so as a vehicle to listen to and empower their customers, not inject themselves into the middle of their conversations.
While some CEOs and senior executives, inside and outside of the Fortune 100, have embraced social media to varied (and sometimes over-stated) effect, the end-user of their products and services is not typically considered their “target audience”; for better or worse, it’s their shareholders and the media. Even Groundswell pegs a blog’s ROI [return on investment] overwhelmingly to its Public Relations value — 60% vs. 10% for Research, or customer insights (pg. 113).
As a shareholder and/or employee of a company — someone with a vested interest in how a CEO spends their time — I want an experienced professional with a clear, long-term vision and the business savvy and focus to pull it off; one who hires smart, qualified people based on real-life experiences and interactions; and one who inspires and empowers their employees (and customers) to be 24/7 representatives of the company through actions, not words.
In the wake of an economic collapse that was partly fueled by a myopic emphasis on short-term gains, the last thing any CEO needs to be doing these days is focusing too much on real-time feedback from customers on social networks. That’s the sales, marketing and customer service realm, and it’s their collective responsibility to set up programs to monitor real-time chatter, digest it, and present a relevant and actionable analysis to the CEO.
When it comes to the CEO, their own public use of social media ranks very low on my list of things anyone should care about.
I don’t care about a CEO’s “personal brand”, which is so often what social media is really about and what ÜBERCEO seems to be focused on; if they happen to blog, and use Facebook and Twitter, that’s all gravy, but not terribly relevant to their ability to keep a company moving in the right direction, especially in tough economic times like these.
Give me Warren Buffett over Chris Brogan any day!