Three Things Every Executive Should Know about Social Media

John M. Mann, Associate Director

I recently spoke with a Chief Marketing Officer who is a guru on leveraging social media for branding and business development. My guru confirmed my long held belief that social media, once thought of as the preferred method of contact of tweens pining for he said/she said drama and popularity, is not only for the benefit of those who have curfews. In fact, a recent study reported that the average Facebook user is 38 years old, the average Twitter user is 39, and the average Linked-In user is 44.  Social media has become the big 2000 lb elephant in the room that is not going away. Consider that in 2004, Facebook was nothing more than a way for a college sophomore, Mark Zuckerberg and his friends, to stay connected.

Fast forward to today to find Facebook is now a neck-in-neck contender with Google in number of page hits. Facebook has over 500 million subscribers—0 to 500 million in six years! In fact, if Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest country in the world. Social media have proved to be more than a fad—it is relevant and sustaining. If you are a marketing executive it is necessary—perhaps as necessary as the 10-key adding machine and Excel are to an accountant.

That said, we all know executives who know little—if anything—about Facebook, Twitter or Linked-In. They have not tried it, or they have logged in once and that was one too many times. The Sun, a British tabloid, reported this year that Bill Gates had quit his half-hour-a-day Facebook habit, partly because he was getting more than 8,000 “friend” requests daily, but also because he was finding “weird fan sites about him.”

So what is the resistance to Facebook and other social media? Many corporate executives either dismiss social networking as a time-wasting distraction or regard it as a risk management problem. Much of their fear has focused on potential risks like security breaches and data privacy. eMarketer, an online research firm, conducted a study that shows executives are increasingly subscribing to the benefits of social media, with 60% of responding executives reporting that they are using social media for networking purposes. However, more than 50% of those executives say they have security concerns regarding its use. Some executives are trying various social network vehicles to see the best way to get their message and brand across.

Six months after Bill Gates left Facebook, he appeared on Twitter using the site to direct readers to his blog about his humanitarian efforts. Similarly, Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, has thousands of followers on both Twitter and his blog. Zappos also counts more than 10,000 fans on its Facebook page. The company has made social media platforms and the values they foster part of its corporate culture. In early 2009, Fortune ranked Zappos 23rd in its annual list of the 100 best companies to work for. Many executives are slowly putting their proverbial big toe in the social media pool. As one executive told us, “I don’t like being that visible but all of our firm clients are on Facebook and I don’t want to date myself by not having a presence there.”

We are at a pivotal point as social media continues to evolve and grow exponentially with Facebook leading in popularity followed by Linked-In and Twitter. One consultant characterized MySpace as the social media equivalent to the virtual bar, Linked-In as the office, Twitter as party with more people you don’t know than know and Facebook as the backyard. Regardless of the characterization, those who haven’t tried it–both individuals and companies–need to think about spending time in our virtual social media office, backyard, party, or even the bar.

The following are 3 quick tips to get you started:

1. LinkedIN requires the least time commitment. Complete the profile, add a business picture and reach out to a small circle of friends. With LinkedIn, the rest will take care of itself. If you fill in your past school and employers people will easily find you.


2..For your Facebook account, ask a friend or your child to help you if you are not sure how to set it up. Restrict your privacy settings so that you can learn how to use it without being bombarded with friend requests. Add a more casual picture that shows you as the type of person you envision being. It is very uncool not to have a picture on Facebook. Decide if you want your Facebook page to be a branding tool or merely a tool to share pictures with friends and family. If it is a branding tool, post articles from time to time that tell people who you are. One CEO we know posts quotes on leadership and management. His quotes are so good, many people want to be his friend who don’t even know him because they learn something from his quotes. He also posts pictures from his company’s overseas offices—a great way to share culture and bring employees together. If you are going to be on Facebook, it is important that you from time to time read what others are posting and reply if moved.

3.Use a Twitter account for two reasons: to follow great thought leaders such as Jack Welch, Steve Case and even President Obama or to try to get other people following you, because you are a great thought leader. If the later is your goal, it will take some time and commitment to posting “tweets” often. You should also have a regular blog to which to tie your tweets.

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