Social media: why are so many big business leaders still holding back?

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Social media

We know that social media is seriously important to every business, no matter what the size. The days when companies would block social media access, calling it a productivity killer, are fast disappearing.

It’s easy to believe that studies like the one by research company Millward-Brown, which showed that there was a direct correlation between how successful a company is and how well it uses social media, and the one from eMarketer that suggests that brands can profit dramatically from a well-executed social campaign, are becoming accepted wisdom. But they aren’t.

In fact, a recent poll by Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management Review conducted among more than 3 400 leaders and managers globally, showed that while 52% of respondents believe that social media is important to the running of their businesses, a large number are still holding back. Their reasons for doing so are varied, but are they valid?

Deloitte consultant and regular Memeburn contributor David Graham presents these points in debate format, presenting counters to the most common reasons given by big business leaders for holding back on their social media strategy:

Point — Wait and see
Many companies have invested a lot of time and money on social technologies without significant results. We’ll wait until a demonstrated business case emerges for our industry.

Counter point — Start now, but start smart
Leaders who hold back now could have a hard time catching up later. Start by thinking through how social business can support the business strategy and focus efforts there.

Point — It’s a big distraction
Social business is a big, expensive diversion from time-tested communication channels. We’ve built a strong market presence with traditional customer research and advertising – there’s no reason to jump ship. As for employee communication and collaboration, email works just fine.

Counter point — It enhances the business
Social business can provide deeper insight into what employees and customers say about companies and products, which can complement more traditional channels.

Point — Our plates are full
Executives don’t have time to participate in collaborative forums. They can’t even keep up with their emails. How do you expect them to find time to read and comment on a social network?

Counter point — Social business can be a leadership tool
Some business leaders use social business software as a tool to generate innovative ideas from employees, gain feedback and build a more collaborative culture.

Point — It’s too risky. We’d lose control
Social business networks don’t have a role in our workplace. The potential threat of viruses and data leakage is just too great. And, in any case, how can you control what employees may say in a public forum?

Counter point — It’s risky to not do anything
Some employees may already be talking about their work in their social networks – and your competitors may be listening. A broad social business plan should incorporate training, data security and controls that allow you to participate in conversations, rather than ignore them.

Deloitte consulting principal Doug Palmer meanwhile is optimistic that more and more business leaders will adopt social media as a viable business strategy:

Enterprise leaders are just beginning to embrace social business, and the survey indicates that many are enthusiastic about its value – especially in the media and technology industries. While others are cautious, more than 80% of survey respondents acknowledge that social business is likely to be at least somewhat important to their organization three years from now. If that’s the case, it’s important that leaders get to work now.

Here are his recommendations for getting started:

Align social business to strategy
How can social technologies and networks help you better serve customers, gain a competitive edge and achieve the business strategy? Design social business initiatives that directly support your business goals, but don’t expect an immediate return on investment. You should look to continually pilot new projects, measure results and adapt strategies to build the business case.

Assess where you are today — and where you want to be
Monitor and track what your employees, consumers and influencers say about your organization, brands, customer service and competition. Explore how business analytics can connect social data with enterprise data. This can help your organization move beyond understanding to influencing and anticipating behaviours.

Support effective adoption
Provide clear guidelines and training for employees so they know what they can and cannot say through external social media channels. Executives should also be trained on social technologies to help them more effectively sponsor social initiatives and use social tools to shape the organization’s culture to promote innovation and collaboration.

Prepare to act
Social conversations are likely to reveal brand, product and employee issues. Provide processes and resources for appropriate and quick responses.

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