Lenovo’s CEO Yuanging Yang recently ordered his executive team to get active on social media within the week.  As a social media advocate and advisor, a number of influencers in my community were surprised when I challenged this approach.

Let me start by saying that I recognise the sentiment behind Yang’s executive team edict, and the support many have voiced for his take charge push to increase the social media activity of his executive team. Like a growing number of CEO’s, Yang has recognised that social business engagement is emerging as a core strategic capability for companies in the social age. Social media is rapidly emerging from its beginnings in business as simply another marketing channel, to being a core driver of innovation and thought leadership.

It’s important to acknowledge that the social business revolution is just that, a revolution. This means that just like the industrial revolution before it, it has its share of evangelists and luddites. Each of these pose challenges for a CEO. Evangelists may be such believers that they think everything social is good without understanding pitfalls of properly operationalising social business for value creation. Luddites on the other hand understand the value of the historic paradigm but are yet to be convinced of the value and opportunity to the company or themselves that transitioning to a social business may bring.

So what should a CEO like Yang who gets the strategic importance of social but is blessed with a Luddite executive team do? What are some of the stepping stones and pitfalls in trying to find an accelerated path to social business understanding and uptake in the executive team?

Strategically there are actually two challenges for a CEO. Not only do they need to lead their executive team to the social business world, they also need to ensure that the experience is a positive one for the individuals and the company. After all, how can the executive team authentically lead the broader employee base of the company into the social business world if their personal experience of social business is an indentured or a negative one?

An executive’s knee jerk reaction to social media adoption almost always leads to a faltering commitment when they;

  • do something stupid
  • don’t have a strategy so look aimless and fail to generate value
  • focus on top line statistics rather than quality and value generation (seeing social as a purpose in itself rather than a path to somewhere).

To avoid these pitfalls an enterprise needs to invest in business support systems for the transition to social media.

Business support systems for the transition

Support your team with a social media listening expert

If an executive is forced to participate in social media without understanding the fundamental rules of engagement and how they relate to their business, the negative impact on reputation could be significant.  Executives should first listen to what people are taking the time to talk about on social media so they can join the dots.  Social media success is born from the desire to engage in conversation which requires executives to influence with integrity.  They also need to inject their narrative into existing conversations not always expecting to lead conversations.  An executive’s communication has traditionally been syphoned through their public relations team for broadcasting information.  Without the proper business support system in place, executives tend to slip back into the mode of broadcasting information on social media from the top down when they need to.  This is exactly where they fail to generate value and consistently miss the sweet spot for their message in the social sphere.

The good news for executives is there are shortcuts (without cutting corners) and executive don’t have to spend their whole day scanning the online environment to find pockets of influence they can inject themselves into.  There are plenty of social media listening tools available providing analytics and insights on the social sphere.  These tools provide executives with a better understanding of how to build their online presence and exchange value with participants in the context of competitor’s activity and wider trends.

Traditionally executives have been mostly concerned with a simple Net Promoter Score (NPS) on their existing customers.  However, the social sphere isn’t quite as simple as a single score.  It’s much broader and includes not just current customers, but also ex-customers, non-customers, competitors and collaborative networks which are all active and measureable 24x7x365.

A social media listening expert can make sense of the social bazaar by creating queries to track online mentions around brands, topics and hashtag conversations or specific social communication channels and importantly people.  These queries inform executive when a conversation is happening around the online mentions they’ve identified as important to developing their personal brand.  Dashboards make it easy to dive into the analytics of a conversation to see what and who is driving it and where the content lives, helping executive to more efficiently spot quality opportunities for value generation.  Sentiment analysis also flags negative mentions so executive are aware of and can anticipate the need to develop a strategy to manage any issues if necessary.

It’s important that when stuff-ups do happen, executives can respond quickly and have a plan in place for when a crisis occurs.  Learning how to successfully engage with the social sphere in an authentic, personable way, while still maintaining a positive brand image and the integrity of the company, is a challenge. Business support systems like social media listening help executives to influence with confidence which is more engaging for participants than scared social.

Several Australian executives from the Big Four banks hit Twitter sphere with a half-hearted approach and have been belittled for their faltering commitment.

Beware of being focused on top line numbers

Executives often focus on the top line statistics in social like the number of followers or connections to achieve online presence rather than quality and value generation.  A social media listening report on The Best CMOs on Twitter provides evidence value is created by a targeted strategy rather than top line numbers. Anne Lewnes, Adobe’s CMO lead the index despite having the fourth lowest number of followers in the sample.  Although an increase in Tweets is correlated to more followers the report also shows that quantity of owned Tweets doesn’t seem to have an effect on the amount of RTs or @mentions.

An interview with social media maven Guy Kawasaki on #socialhangout a weeks ago also focused on quality presence. Guy told Twitter fans that he recently unfollowed everyone on his profile, preferring only to follow people who engage with him through @mentions. He also explained that he rarely looked at his timeline, instead focusing on @mentions to measure content success and find good conversation.

Focus on value strategy

Online mentions are the sum of a company’s reputation including its capabilities, values and performance in the context of competitors and wider trends. Executives can play an important role in the makeup of their company’s mentions and lead social employees through the development of their own personal brand online, their contribution to the company’s online presence and the delivery of products and services.

Companies big and small are increasingly understanding the value of employee engagement and social media will play a significant role. For modern CEO’s like Lenovo’s Yuanging Yang, who understands the power of online presence, I recommend they also consider the sum of their mentions and how presence is developed.  Business support systems for success are available and should be put in place to help social media engagement add business value and build capability now and into the future.

About Jessica Sullivan

Jessica is the founder of sbFlourish, a consultancy that helps clients transform into social businesses with a new generation of targeted metrics and business processes.

She started her career in the heady days of the dotcom boom and has developed extensive experience in strategic planning within large marketing divisions, across diverse stakeholder groups, and wide-ranging business portfolios.

With her vast experience in business administration and innovation for both large global corporations, big brands and successful startups, Jessica is an expert in leading the practical implication of a new technology solution.

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