He points to the data showing that social media will be the 2nd most important form of customer communication in five years (behind face-to-face), and poses a sensible question: given this, why are only 16% of CEOs currently on social media? And why do only .06% of them blog?
I know why: it’s damn hard to integrate social media into one’s communication program when “communication” is a combination of a carefully choreographed public position statements and behind-closed-doors politics. Social media is too fast, too open to interpretation… and too risky.
It’s understandable. What if a CEO tweets, “Having a great day!” at 6pm, when her CHRO has been negotiating with a union all day? What if you saw your CEO post about the lousy experience he had as a “mystery shopper” in your store? What if your CEO tweets a photo of him and the VP of Sales at a ball game, beers in hand, and 2 hours later the VP gets cited for a DUI? (Hat tip to William Tincup on that last “what if.”) The implications of these situations could be big.
They also could be… a paper tiger. The problems highlighted above are the result of superimposing new, social media-infused communication behaviors atop existing communication norms. Which is where most CEOs seem to be. As CEOs change their communication practices—that is, as their perspective, values, and judgments about communication change, their behavior on social media will change accordingly.
For instance, that “Great day!” tweet stops being problematic if the CEO develops a habit of tweeting personal insights about his or her day. Making social engagement profersonal reduces the chance that every single note will be construed as a coded work message. Similarly, the mystery shopper post may sting, but in a culture of transparency, it’s the kind of sting that’s accepted as part of a drive to be better (as opposed to an embarrassing call-out to be hidden). And the DUI? That’s actually not a social media problem at all, now, is it?
The Red Cross had a rogue tweet problem a couple of years ago. What? You didn’t hear about it? That’s because they took it in stride, and rather than make a federal case about it (which gaffes in the current communication often are), dealt with it for what it was: a 140 character goof.
Branson’s plea is dead on. One of the reasons he’s been successful is because he’s been quick to embrace change. For many others, change will come more slowly because they first have to recalibrate their global perspective about business communication.
It’s one of those things that should be easy, but often isn’t… for a host of reasons that are completely irrational and yet deeply engrained into the human condition.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.