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No CEOs: You're Wrong

(Image from Forbes January 5, 2012)

Mark Evans thinks CEOs are finally getting on the social media bandwagon. Referring to IBM's recently released global CEO study called Leading Through Connections, Mark points out that:

According to an IBM survey of 1,709 CEOs in 64 countries and 18 business sectors, social media will become the second-most popular way to interact with customers, behind face-to-face meetings. Right now, social media is sixth behind face-to-face, Websites, channel partners, traditional media and advisory groups.

The operative word of course is the future tense of the verb to be: 'will'. As Mark points out, the social web has been around at least five years (longer, in fact, if you take as a nominal starting point the publication of The Cluetrain Manifesto in 1999) and he (and I) wonders why CEOs are still using the future tense. 

Parse the study closely and you find comments like this:

"Of course we need better information and insight, but what we need most is the capability to act on it.”

and

“Our business will continue to be ‘face to face,’ just on a different medium. How service gets delivered will change, and we will need to take advantage of different forms of social media.”

The problem with the first is it assumes there is already universal understanding among CEOs that the social web can provide insight into the consumer as an individual. There isn't. And it implies that understanding, which comes out of a relationship, which is what the social web can create for you, is of a lesser order than finding ways to move markets.

With the second, it is talking as if the social technologies are yet to come or that we don't already know how to use them. They are here and we know what they can do.

So, Mark, our problem is still that many executives are not looking closely enough at what the social web is capable of and is doing when best practices are applied. I'm not convinced the study shows us anything different from what a study two years ago might have concluded.

(A toss-off observation . . . I note that only 13% of the CEOs surveyed see corporate social responsibility as a key source of sustained economic value, 12th out of a list of 13. Mmmh . . . doesn't bode well for my friends working in corporate CSR departments.)

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