Senior Management ‘gets’ Potential of Social Media but Fail to Act

In the report by Stanford titled “What Do Corporate Directors and Senior Managers Know about Social Media?” the authors detail the results of a survey of more than 180 senior executives and corporate directors of North American public and private companies. The findings reveal a disconnect between companies’ understanding of social media and the actions they are taking to apply it to their business.

Unlike most surveys on social media, which rely on a demographic of mostly young practitioners, the survey sample included only representatives from the highest levels of their respective organizations, with the average age of survey respondents in the mid-50s.

Key findings include:

  •  While 90% of respondents claim to understand the impact that social media can have on their organization, only 32% of their companies monitor social media to detect risks to their business activities and 14% use  metrics from social media to measure corporate performance.
  •  Only 24% of senior managers and 8% of directors surveyed receive reports containing summary information and metrics from social media. Approximately half of the companies do not collect this information at all.
  •  Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) use social media for personal purposes, and 63% for business purposes. Of those who use social media, 80% have a LinkedIn account and 68% have a Facebook account, demonstrating that executives and board members are familiar with this medium.
  • Still, only 59% of companies in the survey use social media to interact with customers, 49% to advertise, and 35% to research customers. Approximately 30% use social media to research competitors, research new products and services, or communicate with employees and other stakeholders.

Professor David F. Larcker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and lead author of the study, said:

Companies appreciate the potential that social media can have to transform all aspects of their business: branding, reputation, communication, outreach, and identifying strategic risks. They also realize the serious threats that it can pose. They’re just not doing very much about it.”

“We know that executives and board members are using social media. However, familiarity with social media is just not translating into systemic use at their companies.  The majority of those we surveyed don’t have social media guidelines in place at their companies, haven’t had a social media expert consult with their company, and don’t have systems in place for gathering key information. They are putting themselves at serious risk by not taking action.”

Stanford recommends taking the following steps to implement a social media strategy:

  1. Assess their current capabilities with social media
  2. Determine how social media fits with their strategy and business model
  3. Map their companies’ key performance indicators and risk factors to information available through social media
  4. Implement a “listening” system to capture social media data and transform it into metrics
  5. Develop formal policies and guidelines for employees, executives, and directors
  6. Consider the legal and behavioral ramifications that could be involved if the company’s board receives summary data about social media

Only a ‘whole brain’ approach leads to success

What needs to be done to successfully implement social media in the organization is a holistic change journey. The recommendations by Stanford focusses on processes, KPI’s and what more. As the study showed, it’s also key to get people moving. It’s not enough that within organizations there is a lot of bottom-up empowerment, but top-down commitment is key!

Successful organizations do for things right in relation to social media integration:

  • Align social media strategy with business objectives
  • Build internal capabilities
  • Tailor organizational design to operations
  • Create a culture of sharing, accountability and learning

The one thing that you need to do to be successful in social media integration and execition is Test, Test, Test! Bottom-up empowerment does not simply fall from the sky, the potential needs to be experienced, needs to be co-created with employees. The actual transformation is often more complex than the execution, this transition also needs to happen in the mind of the employee.

This is also the way to convince senior management and make them act, create business cases and concrete ‘burning platforms’.

What do you think of the results? Does it surprise you?