Social Media – Strategy or Fashion?

I was reading some guff the other day entitled “Why aren’t more business leaders online?” The angle was social media blah blah number one way to engage with blah blah shocking behind the times blah blah failure death famine pestilence blah blah…

What a load of old tosh.

Now listen, if you’re a public figure like Richard Branson or anyone else with some form of public profile (like me!) then you should probably do the YouTwitFace thing.

Now only Branson can do his own Tweets (if they are to appear as if written by him). It’s something that only he can do.

And that’s what makes CEOs CEOs – they do what they should do and what only they can do.

So as most CEOs are not public figures they don’t do social media. Simple.  

Avoid fashion…

I remember once sitting in a room with my fellow board members and someone from the IT department who couldn’t spell PC came in with the Chief Information Officer in tow. This was late 1990s. She gave us a one slide PowerPoint presentation (good!) on what the internet is and how if we didn’t get with it we were doomed to starvation, economy class travel and the loss of our wives to more alpha-y males with great websites (bad!).

We did nothing and most of these things didn’t happen and those that did were not caused by the internet. And fifteen years later most firms in that industry still have only brochure websites and that’s all they need. They are in consolidated industries and frankly everyone knows everyone.

If it sounds too good to be true…

I meet armies of small business people who are trying to generate “free” leads from social media and SEO. Now this does work and I do it myself but it’s only free if you don’t price in your time. If you do, it’s wildly expensive so you need to do it strategically and measure, measure, measure ROI just like you’re spending real money. Because you are…in the form of your time.

The whole truth…

I think there are some truths that prevail even in this ever more teched-up world…one is that you pay for a lead. One way or another. In time or in money or in both. The great thing about the internet is that you can test what you do without spending a fortune so you can judge your ROI cheaply and quickly. This is the magic of it. “Free traffic” is not the magic of it. That’s a fantasy.  

 So, “Why aren’t more business leaders online?”

Because they’re business leaders, that’s why. The answer is in the question. They lead. They do what only they can do. This is seldom social media. That’s a delegate issue or it’s not important. Most of us are not Branson.

I am reminded of the Audi CEO who, when asked about the recession said “We have discussed it at our board meeting and we have decided not to participate.” Queue Germanic chuckling…

Business leaders are self-directed. Self-directed people may use social media but they’ll do it strategically if it’s the right thing to do and for most of them it isn’t. So they don’t.

If you’re using social media…

…for business are you being strategic or merely a follower of fashion?

Remember what a strategy looks like? A strategy has goals and measures of performance and leaders take corrective action if the goals are not being delivered.

Fashion is altogether different. And fickle.

4 Responses to Social Media – Strategy or Fashion?

  1. Richard Dawson November 13, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    Interesting take on this subject. I think you are right we should not be slaves to fashion . Those CEO’s that have adopted it are the ‘celebrity’ ones like Richard Branson and Alan Sugar.Elsewhere PR people don’t want Managers and Executives going anywhere near Twitter etc.

    The main caveat I would have is that Social Media is changing the fundamental business model in many more consumer driven sectors like Newspapers (will there be any printed Newspapers in 20 years time? Will there be any Journalists ?) and retail to name but a few .Marketing people are struggling to keep up with the way that consumers engage with Brands ‘socially’.

    Whether these trends spread to Business to Business is a question though I can see Twitter engagement is growing in those sectors and we are seeing a change in B2B behaviour with the growth of LinkedIn as a communication and marketing tool.

    20 years ago business leaders shunned Email as a fashion trend I can remember my boss at the time saw it as utterly trivial and a waste of time (may be he was right!!) ‘Whats wrong with a memo ? ‘If its urgent fax it’ ‘Computers are for Clerks’ etc etc .

    But once something becomes a central part of your communication strategy and defines large parts of the business model its hard to ignore.

    I think what you are suggesting is business leaders should be ‘late adopters’ wait till its really hurting your business not to do something then do it -is that leadership though?

    • Mark Nugent November 13, 2012 at 10:50 am #

      Hi Richard – hope all is well with you.

      What I mean is that real leadership is about being self-directed and strategic, not externally-directed by fashion.

      Being more connected is great in principle, but I think we have yet to learn to use these tools. I have a hammer in the garage. I use it for about 3 minutes a year (nailing Catherine Wheels to the garage on bonfire night).

      What I see on social media is a) mostly trivial and b) transmit only – it’s a one way conversation which isn’t a conversation at all.

      I hope we master these tools. We have failed to master email or the phone. And the best B2B network, which is LinkedIn, is already getting jammed with spam.

      I’ll bet my money that histroy will call this period we are going through the age of mass distraction….still, a huge opportunity for those of us who stay undistracted!

  2. clare November 13, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

    Interesting discussion that has made me think about how i am using social media. I have been reading “that first tweet”

    which give some good tips for generating interest around a specific cause for use in the Charitable sector; but on the whole , leads arn’t free, and twitter is a new distraction….Now, remind me what my strategy is??

    • Mark Nugent November 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm #

      Hi Clare – hope all is well.

      I looked at your link and I couldn’t get past the first line – “When you look at the numbers, it’s hard to deny that social media has become a ubiquitous part of how the world does business.” They then offer a load of irrelevant stats that fail to exemplify “how social media has become a ubiquitous part of how the world does business.” Par for the course.

      I don’t wish to be an old fart about social media (SM?) but like anything else we do in work we should do experiments, measure results, reflect and do more experiments. (And have the guts to kill it if it isn’t working.)

      Beware Emperor’s new clothes.

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