my turn


The Social Media Rules Are A-Changin'

Following a recent study, "Fortune 100 CEOs Are Slackers," social media pundits have entered a heated, one-sided debate on the subject. In today's culture, current expectations are that CEOs who opt to utilize social media must essentially agree to an ongoing and continuous dialogue with anyone interested while managing their other duties.

While social media has attracted tremendous attention, it has made few agencies - and only a small handful of people - any money. Why? Because the current rules of social engagement are completely unrealistic for corporate America.

Should Mark Parker of Nike be expected to engage in a two-way dialog regarding every comment or complaint about their product, as consumers have come to demand on Twitter, MySpace, and other social media networks? No. For social media to work, the rules of the game need to change.

I am, in fact, a CEO who is active on Twitter, yet I can proclaim firsthand that it is simply not practical for me to have an ongoing dialogue with any of my followers. As the owner of the nation's 21st-largest PR firm, I can't converse with my 85 employees every day, let alone interact with non-employees on Twitter. What I can do is provide insight into what I am an expert at - the business of communications. Facebook pages, Twitter, and all of the rest are simply additional tools for people to communicate. But the successful (and particularly the uber-successful CEOs) don't have time to communicate with their whole audiences in an ongoing two-way social media dialogue. When Twitter launched in March of 2006, it made sense for Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, to devote so much personal time and effort building his following. He effectively positioned himself and his business as trailblazers in the social media space, and he's often the first name raised when someone asks, "What companies are properly employing social media?" For Hsieh, the business of being social has equaled good business, but for countless other CEOs, the lack of a tangible return on investment and the sheer number of hours required to run a company make it a non-starter.



So how do CEOs and social media coexist? Through the evolution of current operating standards. When launched, Twitter was hailed as a microblogging site, a way in which individuals and/or thought leaders could share information with their followers, as opposed to the way in which it is mainly used today, as an instant-messaging service.

Twitter is not AIM or Gchat. It falls into an undefined realm between social and broadcast media.

And just as some bloggers choose to produce content with little or no interaction with their readership while others reply to every comment posted, two acceptable methods of utilizing social media can exist. It's conversational engagement versus one-way content sharing, and CEOs must decide how to strike the proper balance between what is best for their brand and what is best for the bottom line.

By treating social media as a one-way content-sharing resource, CEOs are able to utilize spokespeople as buffers between them and the public, ensuring that messaging is in the best interest of the brand, no differently than when a press release quote is written on their behalf.

Brands have heard the public's cries for interaction and relationship, but in order to accommodate those requests, the public will have to manage its expectations as to how these brands will accomplish that feat and become social organizations. Asking an individual who manages a company, a near-impossible task on its own, to simultaneously maintain an ongoing and open dialogue, is not only an unreasonable request, it is completely contrary to the role of CEO.

In order to capitalize on the waiting audience and monetize these platforms, focus will shift from the "etiquette" of social media, to the "business" of social media. When brands start to see social media ROI, it will be because they are actively changing the rules, not adhering to the standards retroactively set by bloggers and users.

8 comments about "The Social Media Rules Are A-Changin' ".
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  1. Hilary Topper from hjmt communications, August 21, 2009 at 9:18 a.m.

    Sorry Ron, I don't agree with you about just adding content and not being conversational. Social media is also called conversational media for a reason. It's important to answer everyone's tweets or questions to you. There needs to be a balance between information provided, being self-promotional in a non self-promotional way and being conversational. My 2 cents....

  2. Teri Schindler from Davis Brand Capital, August 21, 2009 at 10:26 a.m.

    Ronn -
    Sorry, but don't buy your premise here - If brands must be social, it does not necessarily mean CEO's have to be social -
    The expectation and responsibility of that function has to be adequately planned for, delegated and held accountable across the organization. The CEO's responsibility is to ensure that that functionality and responsiveness exists - not to be the social maven.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 21, 2009 at 10:38 a.m.

    If a CEO has enough time to twit all the twits heshe receives for your entertainment, then heshe is not using hisher time efficiently. Read their blog and company reports if you need more info.

  4. Andrew Eklund from Ciceron, August 21, 2009 at 11:40 a.m.

    The vaste majority of social media "experts" know nothing of what it's like to be a CEO. In fact, it seems to me as though these experts have a huge amount of that one commodity that CEOs have very little: time. Why is that? Perhaps it's because the social media market is so large, comprised of anyone and everyone who's addicted to social media, that its only ability is create a lot of noise, banter, and assigned faults of business in general.

    My firm is one of those firms that is making money consulting on social media, and I can tell you that we rarely require the CEO to be active on social media, not because he or she wouldn't be good at it and relevant, rather because he or she has a business to run. Enterprise social media is most effective when responsibilities are distributed among the various talents of a company or organization, rooted in metrics, and driven by a clear understanding of intended outcomes. These latter objectives are where we want the CEO to live and breath, providing a larger, more strategic context for why his or her employees should be engaging with customers.

  5. Radiah Givens from Freelance-Social Media Consultant, August 21, 2009 at 12:39 p.m.

    I agree with Hilary, and Terri, and Paula

    It's the other way around. Corporate America has to change the way they interact bottom line. It's the customers who ultimately run the show, so if organizations choose not to respond to their customer's their going to pay the price. Organizations can interact by choice, which is in their best interest, or by force (For instance, the backlash of the Motrin Moms, and the Domino's incident). Social media is called social media for a very good reason, and that is to establish relationship.

    Some organizations don't succeed at social media because they bypass the very first rule of thumb, and the most important rule of all, and that is to be social. Corporate control addicts need to stop trying to control something that they have no control over. THIS IS NO LONGER A PITCH, AND SELL SOCIETY.......GET USED TO IT. SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT GOING ANYWHERE, SO STOP TRYING TO FIGHT CONFORMITY BECAUSE IN REALITY ORGANIZATIONS HAVE NO CHOICE IF THEY WANT TO STAY IN THE RACE! That's my $1.50 Be well :)

  6. Paul Stillmank from 7Summits, August 21, 2009 at 11:15 p.m.

    Consider using one of the newly evolving Listening Platforms - these help weed through the volumous content about your brand, product or service online and find the information that really merits your attention These are AI based on can detect sentiment, competetive contect and more. That way you can focus on those verbatims that are the most relevant. Either that or your just not in the conversation...

  7. Michael Senno from New York University, August 22, 2009 at 12:25 a.m.

    I disagree that a CEO is excused from interaction because they don't have time for it. Interaction does not mean carrying on a conversation with all of your followers. Interacting could mean responding to a few tweets sent directly to you that were made by passionate or top customers. It could mean searching out people that spoke about the brand and re-tweeting their comments, or reaching out to key bloggers that track your product/brand.

    If you want to be a player and utilize social media - you need to join the discussion. As CEO of a PR firm, that could mean something different than other brands, but it certainly does not put you above interaction.

  8. Susan Boggs, August 23, 2009 at 10:30 a.m.

    I too will have to disagree. Social media is meant to be just that - social. CEOs have to engage their social media audience - and feeding them tidbits of what you think is exciting news is not a way to engage them in today's marketplace. Twitter has the most critical audience of all the major social media tools to date. And, a good CEO will look at the changing tide and listen to the feedback. Those who don't have the time to "get with the program" perhaps shouldn't use Twitter as part of their social media marketing strategy. If you are going to use Twitter in your campaign, then use the plethora of automated tools that will make staying connected with your followers that much easier.

    A middle ground suggestion might be for CEOs to designate someone on their staff to handle online complaints/tweets/posts directly and on a regular basis. Years ago when HMOs first started to get a bad rap, I was hired to be the Complaint Coordinator of a particular HMO. It was my job to take complaints from major employer groups and from any member who asked to speak to the company president. Essentially, it was my job to make the member happy on behalf of the HMO and prevent any negative publicity. The average person with a complaint who is disgruntled with a company simply wants to know that they are being heard. If you shut them down, they are not being heard and will rightly be angry. Remember, if you have a happy customer they will tell a friend or two. An unhappy customer will tell at least 7 people how unhappy they are. Assume on Twitter that the numbers increase exponentially.

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