Social Media: Bridging the Gulf Between the C-Suite and the Marketplace

This snippet from the excellent Weber Shandwick infographic on social CEOs summarizes a number of benefits the C-suite can realize from being active on social media.
This snippet from the excellent Weber Shandwick infographic on social CEOs summarizes a number of benefits both the C-suite and the brand can realize from having executives active on social media.

Despite the ever growing mesh of connections that now interweave information, interaction and (let’s face it) brand communications ever more deeply into our lives, the C-suite remains under represented in social networks. According to The Social CEO Report, a survey by CEO.com, fully 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs are absent from social media.  Surprisingly, the percentage of CMOs that are active on social media from top companies is even smaller – fewer than 20% of Fortune 250 CMOs can be found on social web.

In a word, the leaders of the brands upon we rely are outliers, not behaving as the statistics would suggest.  While the rest of the planet is eagerly connecting with each other, these folks … aren’t.

A conversation I had with the CEO of a niche medical devices events company a couple years ago shed some light into how this situation evolved.   We were discussing blogs and social media. He was asking me what I read (my Feedly is stuffed with more than 1000 blogs, lovingly categorized) and how I managed the social presences for the brand I represented at the time.

The method to my madness.  Feedly creates an organized "newspaper" out of all my favorite blogs.
The method to my madness. Feedly creates an organized “newspaper” out of all my favorite blogs.

“Why do you spend all that time reading what all those people are saying? Why don’t you just read industry press?” he asked me.

“Because those are my customers, and issues that concern them are a lot closer to my business than news article in the trades,” was my reply.

“What about social media? You don’t actually talk to those people, do you? You don’t respond to them, do you?” His incredulity was growing.

“Of course we respond to them! They are our customers and prospects!” I was equally stunned at the gulf that spanned our perceptions of our respective marketplaces.

“Well, I don’t have the time to do that,” he said.

“I don’t have the time not to do it,” I responded. “Because there is no more efficient way to stay on top of what’s going on and in touch with thousands of your customers and prospects than social channels.”

More recently, I listed to a friend (a fellow marketer, and strong social media player himself) gnash his teeth over his company’s plans for 2015. They were determined to push out a product suite that wasn’t really competitive, and didn’t perform that well. Worse, he said, was that the value proposition just didn’t jibe with customer needs.

“Has the guy running product been out on any sales calls lately?” I asked, feeling a bit sick for my friend, and wondering how the company could have gotten this far into the product if it really wasn’t a fit for the market.

“No. We were just talking about that last week. He hasn’t talked to a customer in more than a year.”

I bought him another cup of coffee, and we made jokes about buckets of whitewash and what shades of lipstick looked best on a pig. But kidding aside, this sort of marketing isn’t fun, selling products that don’t fit the market is hard, retaining customers who don’t flat out love your product is tough and no superstar designers/engineers/coders/anything want to work for a company that is obviously floundering in its marketplace.

The repercussions of not listening and talking to the marketplace at a high level within the company all but ensure the leadership will miss out on essential truths and insights that can inform product development in a fundamental way.   Social media is a lot more that a marketing exercise today. It’s a crucial form of customer communication, and a rich source of unvarnished truth. The C-suite that overlooks social puts itself at a distinct disadvantage.

The good news for execs who aren’t yet on social this: it’s not too late. I’ve penned two columns recently, the first making the case for why the C-suite needs to cultivate social media presences, and the second offering tips on how to start building an effective executive social media presence.  Today would be a great day to start!

Author Sarah Skerik is a PR, content marketing & social media strategist, specializing in integrated digital marketing and upper funnel optimization. Follow her on Twitter at@sarahskerik or connect on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/sarahskerik

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