Archive | June, 2011

The new character witness – Social Media in the C-suite

Over the last several months I’ve been asked many times, and had cause to ponder, the pro’s and cons of jumping into social media in order to facilitate business growth.

If you’ve been anywhere near Twitter, Google or the blogosphere at any time in the last 12 months you will have heard many of the same questions – What’s the value? Where’s the return on investment? How do you measure effectiveness? How do you manage the risks? Who owns the social channel? etc. The list goes on. There are so many questions, and the answer for most of them is “it depends…” as in “it depends what your objectives are, who your customers are, what your business model is…”. Not that the use of social media is a temporary phenomenon. I truly believe that the socialization of business is here to stay. Its more that the choices of how to use these tools, who to have as the primary representatives of your organization and what sort of content to publish and share is dependent on your overall business goals.

So what role if any, should C-level executives, senior leaders and owners of businesses be taking in the adoption of these tools? Should they leave the discovery and leverage of communications technology to their marketing and PR professionals, or should they be leading by example?

One of the most interesting things I have witnessed in my own journey of discovery (revealing my bias that leaders should be wielding the machete when it comes to exploring new possibilities and models of doing business) is just how revealing a collection of 140 character statements can be, over time. Like watching the gradual build of an impressionistic painting, you can learn a lot from watching how people craft a quick tweet, reply to a follower, offer a point of view in a chat and generally interact.

One of the most delightful leaders I have had the pleasure to meet and chat with online and later offline (Sam Parrotto @qstreet) made the observation that she learns as much from how a tweeter interacts with others as she does from her own engagement with that same person. I’ve also seen how this same impression of someone’s intelligence, political persuasion, influence, and credibility translates to a real life setting, with offline meet-ups skipping easily over the mutual sniffing rituals and heading straight into the realm of warm reunions.

I’ve said before, social media doesn’t make you social, it amplifies personality traits and raises my awareness of those I want to interact with and those I admire. In that regard, social media IS the new character witness. The uncensored interactions that people have online, accelerate the opinions we form (the good, the bad and the ugly). Self-servitude, arrogance, deafness and egotistical behaviour can be amazingly evident if you watch, look and listen to how people approach their online community. While warmth, generosity, engagement and sincere responsiveness just exude from others. Just look at the amazing list of 60 men and 60 women on twitter that the wonderful Margie Clayman has put together and you’ll see exactly what I mean. While I most certainly agree with her choices, having the pleasure to ‘know’ many of these men and women from my own travels through the stream, Margie’s personal notes about why she admires each of the people on her lists and how she first met them is clear evidence of her world view. Margie is a maven extraordinaire. I love her authenticity and contribution to collaborative learning. A leader in her field, undoubtedly.

Just as I am forming impressions of individuals from the way they interact online, I am also forming impressions of businesses and their level of involvement with their communities. As the war for professional talent has heated up and continues to be a hot topic for 2011, I’m sure I’m not alone in weighing up judgements about an organization’s innovation culture by who it is heading up their social media efforts. If I see a company engaging in social media through their marketing or PR team, that’s okay, but it’s all too clearly a tactic. When I see real leaders engaging authentically through the social media channels, responding in a human way to the comments, questions and interests of others, and leading by example, I see them and the businesses they represent as more interesting and real. I know which I would rather do business with…

What do you think! Can you really get to ‘know’ someone by watching the way they behave online? Do you admire CEO’s and other execs who jump ‘naked’ into the fray? Does a social media presence manned by a C-level executive provide you with a different impression of a company? Maybe you think the CEO has better things to do than tweet. Would love your thoughts on this.