BrainTrust Query: ‘I Don’t Use It (Social Media) But I Totally Get It’

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Dec 12, 2011
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Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Retail Prophet Consulting blog.

One thing I hear very often from C-level leaders of companies when I’m presenting on the topic of social business is, "I don’t use it, but I totally get it." They claim to understand the relevance of social networks and social media but simply choose not to use them. They frequently cite a lack of time as their reason for not taking part personally, yet also claim to have a clear sense of how social media can be usefully deployed by their companies to engage consumers. They don’t use it but they totally get it!

Of course only half of the statement is true.

Look at it this way; would your company hire a CMO who had never watched a television program? If your CFO had never constructed a budget, reviewed a P&L or read a balance sheet, would you have faith in them to manage the company’s finances? Chances are we would find this lack of core understanding simply unacceptable. Yet we somehow accept corporate leaders taking a pass on social business. Why is that?

And what precisely is it that is diverting C-level attention away from what is arguably the most significant communication revolution since the printing press? What level of email or voicemail proliferation is depriving them of the five minutes it takes to set up a Twitter profile, just to see what all the fuss is about? Aren’t they even a little interested to see what their customers have to say about them on Facebook? Shouldn’t they be?

The truth is the choice to opt out of social is just that — a choice. And moreover, if it were any other aspect of the business that was being so openly ignored, we would consider it negligent, but because we call this "social", it’s somehow considered extra-curricular and optional. It’s not considered an essential tool, as finance, operations and human resources are.

The C-level leader of the future won’t be excused from social business. At the very least, a solid functional capability and understanding of social networks will be expected — no different than acumen in finance, marketing and supply chain management. The use of social and professional networks both internally and externally will be as common as email is today.

The bottom line is that any corporate leader who claims that social business, media and networking "isn’t for them" is either coasting to retirement or running from their responsibilities.

Discussion Questions: Is it possible to fully understand social media without personal engagement? Is being too busy with other duties to have time for social media a valid excuse for C-Level executives?

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26 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: ‘I Don’t Use It (Social Media) But I Totally Get It’"


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David Dorf
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I used to think Facebook and Twitter were useless…until I started using them. It was clear to me that I must be missing something because so many were already aboard. So I decided to give them a try and haven’t looked back. You can’t fully understand their value and shortcomings without some commitment to use them.

Paula Rosenblum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I suppose as long as said CEO has a CMO or someone else in the organization who DOES get it and DOES use it, it’s fine. After all, not too many CEOs pretend to understand IT, but they know they cannot run their business without it.

To tell you the truth, while I like to say that understanding and being involved with social media is part of my job, it’s also a lot of fun and a tremendous time suck. If a C-level exec doesn’t want to trade the time for the fun, that’s his personal business. But he must make sure the company doesn’t ignore it.

Christopher P. Ramey
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Few CEOs are experts in all fields to which they’re responsible: operations, marketing, accounting, etc. Furthermore, it’s almost impossible to ‘fully understand social media’ because it’s a rapidly moving target. That’s why having a team of experts around you is important.

Nikki Baird
Guest
Nikki Baird
9 years 4 months ago

I don’t think you can fully understand social media without getting your feet wet. That said, I fully understand the too busy part. It comes from not having a clear translate-able business case. Social media is cool and interesting but how does it really drive sales? Of course, that question in itself is a bit short-sighted — our new research report coming out this week will show that retailers are missing key marketing and customer engagement opportunities because they are overly fixated on marketing’s role in driving sales vs. building the brand.

While I think the analogies used above are good, I think there’s an even stronger one that I would make. For retail execs not to use social media is like hiring a retail exec who has never been in a store.

Joel Rubinson
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Doug is right on the money as usual. It is impossible … IMPOSSIBLE … to totally get social media without actively participating daily. How can you understand a world of 140 characters without forcing yourself into those constraints? It turns out they force the author into creative expression. (Of course, links that are shortened help to more fully explain the points you want to make and share.)

By creating a blog, I have also gained hands-on experience with web analytics. It’s very interesting to see what search terms drive traffic to my blog (path to purchase is a leading term).

At NYU, where I teach social media, one of my first slides on day one is “be the ball.” This is not something you can “study.” You must do it.

Mark Heckman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
Most C-level leaders are famous (or even notorious) for operating within the confines of things they understand and can measure. While they might be extremely good intuitive leaders, some remain impaired when it comes to technology and new media. I have worked for some that are still struggling with email, forget the “mysterious vagaries” of social media. With that said, I do understand their reluctance to channel significant resources to something that they do not fully understand or use and secondly which seems to be so fluid and evolving that any investment in their minds represents a big gamble. Perhaps the best approach for such a C-level leader is to elevate someone (or some agent) in the organization that has their trust and confidence that is both connected with social media, but also understands how to connect the dots, measure, and show the pathway from old to new. Make them a direct report! Easier said than done, but it is being done successfully. In the current competitive environment, “coasting” to retirement will likely just hasten… Read more »
Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

While I agree with Doug that one probably can’t understand all the ramifications (especially the addictive emotional appeal) of social media, I don’t agree on the critical nature of this deep understanding. Social media is relevant for some businesses and irrelevant for lots of others. If you are in a business where it’s important (I’m thinking fashion, media, durables, etc.), you owe it to yourself to have a rudimentary understanding of what’s going on. Or, you need people around you who do understand and you need to be open to it. Other types of business — not so much.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Funny, I hear the same thing about sales training. Acknowledgement is not the problem but action — ask anyone trying to lose weight.

Mel Kleiman
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

If you have never used it, you will never get it. The only problem is that social media is a lot like a bowling ball covered in grease and no holes for your fingers. Impossible to control, and ever changing. Until you at least try it, you won’t even know totally what you don’t know.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Social media is one of those “games” one must learn to play before you can truthfully say “I get it!” Even then you might not “get it” until you spend time truly learning it, and the value it brings in today’s business environment.

Paula mentioned that it is fun and a “time suck.” I agree. That’s is why I usually log on in the evening. Heck, there is nothing on TV to draw me, so why not learn what someone had for lunch with their BFF?

David Zahn
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Bob Phibbs — I think that sums it up well. And Paula and others are on the right track with saying that SOMEONE needs to know (whether or not it is the C-level executive may or may not be defensible). I am more often in meetings with executives where they scratch their head when it comes to social media (it is needed, we have a presence, but we are not certain how to measure it, what to do with it, how involved to be in it, etc.).

David Biernbaum
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

People in business that do not use social media do not “get it.” If they “got it” then they would use the social media and participate. Attention all dinosaurs, you might not like it, but social media is how people talk to each other in 2011.

Paul Carlsen
Guest
Paul Carlsen
9 years 4 months ago

The social media world opens up when you stop thinking of the 140 characters in something like Twitter as the limit and more like the address on a package, the title of a report, a book cover, headlines for a news story. Authenticity, not corporate spin, is the real connector in social media.

Robert Piller
Guest
Robert Piller
9 years 4 months ago

Although it is possible to understand social media or most any other topic without personal engagement, I think that anybody would benefit dramatically by actually participating in SM. The learning curve for SM is simple and short, so there is little excuse for not at least dabbling in it yourself.

Theory vs. Practice.

Once a C-Level executive gets to understand its impact and potential, they will get a new appreciation of the potential of SM on their business.

Diana Podaski
Guest
Diana Podaski
9 years 4 months ago
It is not possible to FULLY understand social media without engagement with it. Everyone within a company that works with customers should have an understanding of social media and how to use it. It seems that many people use it as a strategy, but in fact it’s not a strategy, it’s a tool used to push your strategy. The idea of fully knowing and engaging with social media can be overwhelming because it’s changing constantly but the physical act of using social media is quite efficient. Everything now has quick sharing capabilities. The time consuming part is figuring out what valuable content you can add to the online conversation and creating your own “purple cow.” It is sad to see that some companies still block social media sites from employees instead of educating employees on them. If you hire the right people you don’t have to worry about them wasting time on their own social media networks. Or check out IBM, they let their employees talk freely about what they’re doing — it helps the… Read more »
Ralph Jacobson
Guest
9 years 4 months ago
Don’t forget that “RetailWire” is also a social media channel that I have been contributing to since before the word, “blog” was invented. Also realize that there are far more “lurkers” who read blogs and don’t comment on them… Just like here at RetailWire. The issue is time versus value. If the perceived value of participating in social channels is minimal, that is, for only personal Facebook use, then that’s where is will stay. I have a great challenge in getting busy executives to consistently participate. I liken social media to crafting a PowerPoint pitch for clients, or exhibiting a solution at a trade show, or advertising to shoppers. Social media is one more tool to drive awareness of the brand (retail and/or CPG), create credibility and generate demand. If you prioritize social engagement this way, you will begin to understand how one simple blog post/tweet/whatever can reach exponentially more people than a solution demo, PowerPoint deck or typical ad. CXOs can take the ten minutes per day to pop out a couple of short… Read more »
James Tenser
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

OK. It seem that hands-on familiarity with social media is a must for the people in the corner offices, but personal mastery is not — so long as there are designated experts on the team.

This makes natural sense. All executives must be familiar with financials too, but only a few team members do the accounting. We can make similar analogies for product design, or CRM, or logistics, or personal computing.

Social media is at a very dynamic stage right now: High in fascination, but low in maturity. Highly measurable, but questionable in importance. Essential for some businesses, but quite possibly irrelevant for others.

If you run a company, you must find a way to understand where your business stands with respect to social media. As with most areas of expertise, however, the smartest management choice may be to designate an internal expert to monitor, advise and implement a corporate strategy.

Matt Hahn
Guest
Matt Hahn
9 years 4 months ago

No. You cannot build a strategy around something you yourself don’t understand and you can’t understand something without getting your hands dirty. How can you have an “ah ha” moment about how your company can best leverage social media without using it yourself and identifying where opportunities lie?

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
9 years 4 months ago

Given the immersive way that certain segments of customers have engaged with social media and the THREATS that social commerce present to retail stores, every senior executive must become an active participant in the most popular social media channels (Facebook, LinedIn, Twitter).

It is true that senior executives rely on their executive marketers and agencies to give them key information, however, the impact of social media has exploded in the past year, and the threat to the current business model is now too great for executives to respectfully abstain.

If you had a major competitor entering your market and stealing share, would your board of directors be content with you just reading second and third party reviews of their business?

Mark Burr
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Would the CEO or CMO of a major supermarket company fail to look at the front page of their ad in the newspaper? Of course not! Did they need to always look beyond the front page? No, but sometimes they did.

I think that’s the answer here also.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
9 years 4 months ago
Horses for courses. The downside to this sort of discussion is the idea that every business should jump on the social media bandwagon regardless of its suitability for them. Some are chided into it, shamed into it, guilted into it. It’s definitely not for every business. Social media consultancies will disagree because they can’t make money from non-clients. But some businesses are sensitive to the point that they include HIPAA health record regulation. Would you have your medical, financial, legal, or personal records of any kind serviced or managed by a retail company active in social media? What if there’s a security breach? Retailer corporate data breaches occur frequently, with the supposed intent of harvesting financial information for fraudulent purposes. Increasingly, the hacker’s entry is through social media sites. Large retailers cannot overlook the benefits of social media when helping a consumer decide between the blue scarf or the red scarf. But the choice between bypass surgery and a stent from a for-profit, retail, health supplier is quite a different matter. Social media won’t help,… Read more »
Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
9 years 4 months ago
Doug, I always enjoy and often agree with your points. Not this time. Here is the biggest overstatement ever published on retailwire.com: “the most significant communication revolution since the printing press.” Does anyone really think that social media is the greatest communication revolution since the printing press? Even if we forget about the telephone or telegraph (!!!) and focus simply on computer-based communication, you’d have a hard time making the case. There has been a Facebook-like revolution every 10 years (or less) for the last 30 years (or more). How about the following: Yahoo instant messenger (circa 2000), AOL/Compuserve (circa 1990), bulletin board systems (circa 80’s). Communication is nothing new. Revolutions in communications are nothing new. Yes C-level executives should probably practice social media so as to be more familiar with it but, seriously, framing the latest incarnation of communication as exceptional and commanding the immediate attention of C-level executives is just a bit much. I certainly hope the CEO’s of America’s largest corporations have other things on their mind because I highly doubt that… Read more »
Dave Wendland
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

Familiarity is vital as with other areas of business. But personal engagement is not essential.

“Social media” needs to be approached thoughtfully and as part of overall strategy. Bear in mind, social engagement is simply another marketing channel … and I highly doubt C-level executives are creating their own display ads, functioning as copywriters, or directing the company’s television commercials.

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I think the functional word is ‘fully.’ I agree as I also feel I have a good understanding of the value of social media, but afraid of it as well. Just as a casual search on the internet can hook me in and before I know it, I’ve spent four hours online, social media can also be a tremendous time drain. For some it is time well spent, for me, I view it as a waste of time. Saying “any corporate leader who claims that social business, media and networking “isn’t for them” is either coasting to retirement or running from their responsibilities,” is just as insensitive to the fact that different people have different working styles.

Herb Sorensen
Guest
9 years 4 months ago

I personally “use” Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, RetailWire, my business blog and gmail (a lot.) However, I assume that I am not competent in “social media” because I am not excited about the business potential here, for either me or most of my clientele. People have been building online communities for more than a decade, and I haven’t noticed any being major drivers of business, for major marketers.

Of course, this is not counting explicit ecommerce as social media. Amazon is ecommerce, Facebook is social media, to me. In this day of ubiquitous information, it’s hard to imagine many serious shoppers driven by what their “friends” might think. In fact, one shopper said it well, “I’m not here to enter into a relationship. I just want to buy something.”

None of this means that 10 years from now most businesses won’t be listening in to social media with apps designed for the purpose.

Joel Warady
Guest
Joel Warady
9 years 4 months ago

If you never use it, and all you do is hire people who do, you’ll never get it. It doesn’t matter what you say, or what your best intentions might be, without immersing yourself into social media, it will always be one of those things “that we do at the company, although I’m not sure how well it is working for us.”

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