It’s a sad business reality that, in mid-2014, social media is still a bit of a taboo subject in the corporate boardroom.
Writing in the Guardian, Sharon Flaherty assesses a business landscape where half of global boardrooms ignore social media with ignorance and lack of understanding the rules of thumb:
- Ignorance of the genuine value social media can bring to a business
- Lack of understanding about how to measure that value
Flaherty cites recent research by Useful Social Media that examines the state of social media use in large corporations, and has a stark conclusion:
Social has hit a glass ceiling – it can’t prove value in the boardroom, and executives are thus finding growth opportunities curtailed. All this talk about social being about ‘ROE’ and ‘ROR’ creates a series of tweetable soundbites, but gets short shrift in a boardroom looking for real business impacts they can understand.
The bold text is my emphasis as that clearly is the problem – not ignorance and lack of understanding about social media and how to use it, but about the tangible, measurable benefits social media bring to a business.
Is the answer, then, to get the C-suite to tweet? To “join the conversation,” as it were? That’s one of the three recommendations in Flaherty’s concluding points.
My view on that is: it depends on what your goal is where C-suite members participating in social media would be a means to an end that leads you to the achievement of a measurable objective. Plenty of CEOs tweet, for instance, although others have had major reservations about using that platform.
Still, I’d be pretty sure that many C-suite members of large corporations in particular who are active participants in the online social conversation have clear and measurable objectives set out.
Now I circle back to the major issue of ignorance and lack of understanding and ask – doesn’t it make excellent sense to first listen to what you hear from the boardroom as epitomized in Useful Social Media’s statement above? Listen, learn and then speak in language and terms that make an impact in that boardroom.
That means presenting hard facts about how many qualifiable leads resulted from a social media marketing campaign and the projected value they bring to the sales effort, for instance, not just how many comments there are on a LinkedIn company page update and how the community is growing.
Excel not PowerPoint, you might say.
Read Sharon Flaherty’s full assessment below and see what you agree with.
In a recent talk at Hay Festival, Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, advised the audience to keep their phones out of their bedroom when sleeping. Why? Because, most of us wake up, reach for our phones and before even getting out of bed in the morning, have a quick check of our social accounts, messages and emails.
This highlights how constantly internet-connected we really are and just how much of a grip social media has on us. Why then is it that a common complaint among marketers is that the C-suite still don’t ‘get’ social media?
Half of global boardrooms ignoring social media
A poll of senior marketers around the world conducted by Useful Social Media found that only half of all boardrooms are convinced about social media’s value. Now that it is a multi-billion pound industry, surely CFOs, CEOs and CMOs don’t still think social media is a fad? So what is really at the heart of management’s reticence?
“I have run out of fingers and toes on which to count the times a bright-eyed marketing manager within a big organisation has brought us in to pitch only to then hear the words “our CEO does not ‘do’ social” and this ignorance shows no sign of slowing,” says Andy Barr, owner of 10Yetis social media and PR agency.
Can’t calculate ROI, won’t buy-in
According to Barr, a large chunk of FTSE 100 CMOs are still battling to get their heads around the value social can bring because they simply don’t understand how they can measure the return on investment.
This sentiment is echoed by the co-founder of social media analytics provider, Birdsong, who points to the lack of measurement and accountability of social media as a reason why numbers-driven C-suites, simply do not buy-in or relate to social.
Jamie Riddell said: “Social media is not seen to be as measurable as other forms of media such as TV. In order for any media channel to be taken seriously at board level, it’s impact on hard criteria such as reach and ultimately sales, needs to be understood. Your average C-suite executive will be focused on business results that are more than brand mentions or sentiment analysis.”
But it’s not just measurement and proof of ROI that’s preventing the C-suite from committing to social; regulatory restrictions are playing a role too. A distinct lack of clarity around the use of social media by financial services firms has meant many are paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong.
The financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, has failed to update its social media guidelines for over three years, despite the tremendous changes social media has undergone in that time. However, any regulatory breach could trigger a hefty fine and the related reputational damage.
Much needed is education about social media and its application in the corporate world. Founder of the Social Media Leadership Forum, Justin Hunt, says it is particularly the younger marketers who are frustrated by the lack of understanding about social media.
“In some cases, execs are demanding a million Likes on Facebook or a million Twitter followers after they realise they need to be involved. This lack of understanding causes issues with agencies and staff who despair,” he said.
According to Hunt, the repercussion is that some agencies are still buying social media followers on behalf of these brands, despite the folly in doing so. This misunderstanding of social media could in part be explained by the lack of the C-suite’s personal involvement with it.
According to Brandfog, a social media consultancy that works with CEOs globally to improve their social media presence, a whopping 64% of CEOs do not use social media at all, with only 5% of all Fortune 500 company CEOs on Twitter.
Three ways to warm-up the C-Suite
1: Get them on social. Whether it’s posting from their own personal account or a corporate account, encourage your CFOs, CEOs and CMOs to participate themselves and provide support and training to avoid any faux pas.
2: Simulate a crisis. By simulating a potential crisis that could hit the brand, you enlighten the C-suite to the power of social media and also the potential damage it can wreak if you haven’t invested in social media listening and community management.
3: Identify the balance of your website traffic sources. Highlighting the traffic sources to the company website will demonstrate where it is over-reliant and hence vulnerable. For example, if the bulk of your web traffic comes from search, then growing your social traffic to diversify your traffic sources will be an asset when search positions fluctuate or if the company is hit by a Google penalty or algorithm update. Social media is also a significant contributor to search engine optimisation.
Sharon Flaherty is founder of BrandContent. Follow her on Twitter at @BrandContentUK.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
(Image at top via The_Warfield, used under Creative Commons license.)