The other day I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by a social media guru on the cheese-moving, game-changing, power-shifting, balance-restoring, granny-empowering, field-levelling opportunities of our age.
Naturally, this otherwise excellent talk began with the Ritual Shaming of the people in the room brave enough to admit they didn’t have a professional Facebook account, don’t really understand Foursquare, are only dimly aware of Google Buzz and can’t, honestly, see the point of Twitter. And then began the Ritual Disemboweling of myopic Palm-Pilot-toting dinosaur executives who just “don’t get it”. Even Forrester has jumped on the CEOs-Must-Join-the-Party party.
The Blognocrats (my term) have been picking on our CEOs for years on the whole social media thing, and it’s quite true, many of them don’t get it. Steve Jobs gets it but seems unable to be polite. Bill Gates probably gets it but mostly doesn’t do anything about it. I’m pretty sure Warren Buffet could care less. Jonathan Schwartz got it first and famously Tweeted his resignation from Sun Microsystems.
Happily, for marketers stuck in the middle, there are now bootcamps where you can send your C-suite to get up to speed on the social media thing. As tempting as it is to send your CEO away to camp for a week, wouldn’t you much rather he came home with a sunburn, three painted rocks and rather fewer clothes than a deep understanding of how to engage your customers one-on-one using his Twitter account? What are these people thinking?
If your company has a large fleet of trucks, are you sure your CEO needs to take an auto repair course? How many of your customer care, technical support and sales numbers ring to your CMO’s house? When was the last time your VP of sales updated your webpages or your CIO proofread your monthly statements? I hope it wasn’t recently because that’s not what senior executives (at least in larger companies) do. That’s what people like us do.
C-suite people do other things. Like strategy, mergers, balance sheets, showing up for Congressional ass-kickings and generally leading the rest of us toward whatever it is we are supposed to be doing.
And yet, here we are telling our CEOs they must blog and they must tweet and they must post to our Facebook page. They need 2B txtng our customers and building relationships and putting that human face on our company that it so badly needs. How stupid is this? Well it’s stupid five ways.
Execs are not always customer-friendly
The skill set that gets one to the top of the organization may or may not include an ability to communicate with customers. In fact some executives lack the social skills to communicate with their own children and coworkers. There are countless tell-all books about the appalling behaviour of some of the most successful CEOs in history. The C-suite is not a nice place in many companies and the alpha dogs in that yard are sometimes not all that nice either.
Even the ones who should have social skills don’t always remember to behave nicely. A stunning example is James Andrews, the public relations agency VP who Tweeted nasty things about Memphis minutes before meeting with FedEx, his client based in, well, Memphis.
Execs are always more than a little busy
I know, I know, if CEOs spent more time talking with customers and less time playing golf we’d all be singing It’s a Small World and not suing each other. Now let’s put on our grown-up clothes and consider that most CEOs spend their days in meetings. Or flying to meetings. Or planning for meetings. Or debriefing from meetings. They have people whose only job is to manage their calendars. They have other people who answer their emails. And we are going to expect them to hammer out 500 words of insight three times a week?
Execs don’t have to care
They really don’t. They have to care about shareholders, regulators, boards of directors, competitors and economies. They don’t have to care about a customer’s crappy experience with their product or service. The good ones, of course, do care about that but they don’t have to. They have to care about the aggregate of crappy experiences they impose on their customers because that erodes market share and, ultimately profitability, but they really don’t have to care about individual failures. They have people who care on their behalf. If you’re looking around the room just now, I’m talking about you.
Not all execs can write
Some of them can barely put a sentence together. That’s why we have corporate communications professionals. Their job is to turn executive drivel into something that passes for brilliance, vision or at least cogent thought. But, say the Blognocrats, if the CEO doesn’t write it, it’s not genuine (blognocratic?) enough. Personally, I’d rather read sterilized ideas with punctuation instead of the random, scattered noise that must populate the average CIO’s head. (By the way, I know almost all of you have a secret file full of illiterate nonsense spewed by your corporate overlords which you take out on bad days just to feel better about yourself. And if you don’t, why the hell not?)
Not all execs have that much to say
If you think about it, a great deal of what C-suiters do is actually pretty confidential. Acquisitions, mergers, financing, key hires, product releases and EBITDA are proprietary things that even the most genuine and transparent of executives would probably rather not discuss until securities regulations or a court order compel them to do so. Watch Bloomberg or BNN sometime and you’ll see that for every gregarious ball of Sir Richard Branson-like charisma there are several CEOs who are really pretty dull with not a lot to say. As a shareholder, I would tend to prefer the latter.
BOCTAOE (But Of Course There Are Obvious Exceptions)
The leaders of social media companies should use social media because it’s stupid not to. The leaders of non-profit or cause-based organizations should use social media because it’s a cheap way to build their support networks. The CEOs of start-ups who need to build a personal and corporate brand (and can’t find anyone to do it for them) should use social media. So should executives who are thinking of running for public office, planning to pollute the Gulf of Mexico or who want to kick start their stand-up comedy careers.
Social media should be a fairly routine part of every company’s communications plan, but leave it to the people who have something to say, the time to say it and the skills to say it well.
P.S. If you’ve already polluted the Gulf of Mexico, blogging about it will only make things worse.