Social Business Starts at the Top: Why You Must Have C-Suite Buy-InBy Eleanor Pierce

I want to start by defining the term “social business,” because I think there’s sometimes disagreement about what we’re talking about when we use the term.

I found this definition from author, social business expert and soon-to-be-former president of SideraWorks, Amber Naslund quite helpful.

(Amber was also involved in a great conversation about social business here.)

At its most simplistic level, social media are the platforms and tools that people use to communicate interactively. Social business is the process of adapting to the impact (of) social media and optimizing your business accordingly, whether it’s better collaboration internally or sharing information better with customers or partners, for the benefit of everyone involved. That has implications across the board, from culture to process to even organizational design.

So, social media activity isn’t the end result of social business. The concept of social business is really about making sure you’re getting as much as you give on social, and that what you learn through social media is incorporated into how you do business.

There are plenty of benefits of being a social business.

According to IBM, social business is about driving loyalty, anticipating the problems your customers will have, and even saving money on customer support.

It’s about giving your employees the leeway to treat your customers like humans.

It’s also about engaging your employees and making them feel like they matter.

Not the Intern

But to go from a “business with a Facebook page” to a “social business” takes much more than just having folks on board who “do social.” Especially if your “social media team” is your entry level staff, a couple of interns, or even a social media strategist who doesn’t have a seat at the leadership table.

If you’re going to have a social business and really see the benefits of social media taking root in your business structure and decisions, you have to have genuine leadership buy-in from the very top.

I’m talking about C-suite buy-in.

The problem is if you judge by CEO participation in social, a vast number don’t appear to be totally sold on social media.

One small example: Only about five percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are active on Twitter (compared with roughly 19 percent of adult Internet users, according to Pew).

Fortunately, there is higher adoption among CEOs of LinkedIn.

And it’s not hard to project why CEOs hold back on social media. These are busy people we’re talking about, without a lot of free time for chatting online or building an audience.

Better Leadership

But consider, too, the results of a study by Weber Shandwick of more than 600 executives.

Of these executives surveyed, 70 percent said that having a CEO who’s active on social has a positive effect on business results, 64 percent said a CEO who’s active on social helps find and attract customers, and 76 percent said it helps show that “our company is innovative.”

In the same vein, A BrandFog survey found 75 percent of U.S. respondents agreed with the statement, “CEO participation in social media leads to better leadership.”

And I think it’s important to note that they weren’t just saying that it’s a sign of strong leadership—they were actually saying they thought the CEO’s participation on social causes better leadership.

How could that be?

Social Business Starts at the Top

Let’s think again about that definition of social business.

If your C-suite executives are a representation of your brand (and they are—ask our own Shallow Figurehead), what better way to demonstrate your dedication to being a social business than by having the CEO participate in social conversations with customers, prospects, and employees?

And how, exactly, is a company going to demonstrate to employees that listening to and participating with your publics via social is important if the CEO won’t take time to do it herself?

CEO participation on social media is it’s not the end-all, be-all of becoming a social business, especially for a larger company.

We’re talking about an enterprise-wide endeavor.

Nonetheless, it’s an important component, one that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Eleanor Pierce

Eleanor Pierce is a recovering journalist who can't decide which part of the country to call home. She's happiest when she's reading, though she also really likes writing, baking, dogs, and sarcasm. No, seriously.

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