Some time ago I gave a talk on social media to C-level executives from B2B companies. Feedback was great, but there were a lot of questions about relevance, value, time, ROI, etc. Because of this I thought I’d share why I believe social media is so important for businesses and why, without the buy-in of the C-suite, it will never become part of company culture.

I understand where the doubts come from. C-level leaders are busy people with little time for distractions. However, instead of asking whether they have time to ‘dabble’ in social media and what the ROI is, I’d turn it around and ask: “What will you lose by NOT understanding it and – if you’re feeling bold – actually engaging with people on social networks”?

Social media is about listening; it’s about networking; it’s about community building; it’s about personal branding; it’s about gaining market knowledge and insights.

It’s not just about sales and marketing. When we try to think of it just in those terms, we make mistakes.

It offers a real competitive advantage – the competitive advantage of being a leader that is tuned in to the digital conversations taking place all around them, 24/7.

Social media is the Zeitgeist; it’s life as we live it in 2015; it’s part of us. Social networks are now an integral part of the lives of the majority of the world’s population. Yes – even ‘old dinosaurs’ are signing up. We crossed a Rubicon some time ago and there’s no going back.

As I tried to get across in my talk, burying one’s head in the sand is no longer an option. Executives should not only be keeping up with current social and digital developments, but also scanning the horizon for emerging trends. While it’s not necessary for leaders to engage directly on social networks (although I’d argue that they should) – it’s essential that they:

1. Understand the significance of the social/business/cultural revolution that social media is bringing (and remember, we’re still only at the start – in 5 years the business world will be much more social). It’s all-encompassing.

2. Once they understand its significance, they should actively work to make their companies’ ‘social enterprises’, where social media is an integral part of the way they do business – both in terms of reaching out to and engaging with customers and other stakeholders, and internal communications and employee engagement.

3. This requires a completely different mind-set – one that accepts that social media is as significant as the emergence of the printing press, of radio, of television, of the internet, of e-mail. It’s just the latest development along the digital road – and it’s all one-way.

So, do business leaders accept that things are changing faster than they could ever imagine – and urgently educate themselves – or do they sit back and hope that their industry, their company – their job – won’t be affected? The danger is that, when the tidal wave finally breaks, the laggards will be too far behind to gain any advantage and could actually see their companies failing.

If you’ve read this far you may be asking, “OK, show me the proof. Show me some leaders who are ‘social'”. No problem – check out:

  • Peter Aceto, CEO of Tangerine Bank, Canada
  • Phil Jones, Managing Director of Brother, UK
  • Jack Salzwedel, CEO of American Family Mutual Insurance, USA
  • John Legere, CEO of T-Mobile, USA

These and others are listed on my website. They are being joined every day by CEOs and C-level leaders who see the value of being open, available and transparent online. Will you join them?

I’ll finish with this quote: “Directors who don’t understand social media are placing their company at risk of not capitalizing on the business opportunities, as well as exposing it to unnecessary risk” (Walter Adamson).

About Damian Corbet

With almost 20 years’ experience in B2B PR and communications and, more recently, social media, Damian helps organizations and leaders connect with stakeholders.

He’s especially interested in the impact of social media on the C-Suite. He recently founded The Social C-Suite (http://thesocialcsuite.net/) to help leaders get the most out of social media for personal branding, networking and business intelligence. As well as the website he also manages The Social C-Suite LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook groups and @TheSocialCsuite Twitter account.

Damian was born and raised in Zimbabwe but now lives in London. Follow him on Twitter at @DamianCorbet.

Subscribe to OP|EN for BUSINESS!
Receive A Weekly Digest of the Most Popular Posts to Your Inbox!