Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Murdoch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Social, Strategy, and the Mystery of the C-Suite.
My first job – before college – was in a finance company. Customers sent in longhand letters saying they were moving house. In the basement was the high-security “computer room,” with men (sic) in white coats and banks of tape machines that lived on such info. The analog/digital go-between: me. Deciphering the letters, agonizing over how to fit the addresses into 16 squares and four lines on the input form, calling banks (illegally) to track down missing account numbers, and later sticking labels spat out by “The Computer” on the several separate sets of manual files the company still maintained. IT has come a long way since 1970. But if only 4% of CIOs blog, 10% tweet, and –wait for it – fully 74% report through the CFO, it still has a long way to go.
In light of these remarkably low levels of participation by the CIO, it may be less surprising that very occupants of the CEO’s office are personally engaged in social media. The evidence is clear that the culture of the C-Suite is one of nearly unanimous detachment from public social media. The facts are astonishing. Only 16 out of the F500 CEOs have Twitter accounts; and of those 16, hardly any use Twitter regularly. (When I last checked, one of the 16 was Warren Buffet. He had tweeted once.)
One who does, of course, is @rupertmurdoch. But we shall come to him.
What is stunning is the vast gulf between the personal engagement in “social” by the key C-Suite decision-makers, and the mounting evidence – clear, now even to non-techies, non-geeks, and late adopters – that “social” is a key to value. Vast value.
But first, let me head off a comment that 484 CEOs are making as they read this blog. It really is not enough to hire people to handle these things. Especially, typically, young people very junior people, in customer relations roles. The whole point about social is that it’s like saying you’re sorry; you can’t have someone do it for you. We have CEOs and CIOs, effectively, entirely disengaged from the most potent value-driving force on the planet. And part of their disengagement is the idea that hiring kids to monitor this stuff will do the trick. What a fail whale.
So: Latest input that one would have thought would get even the most inert analog executive mind moving: The McKinsey report suggesting up to $1.3 trillion can be released through companies’ forthright engagement with social media has drawn attention in the past week or two. It would however be interesting to note whether there has been an uptick in C-Suite engagement with Twitter, which seems to me to be the touchstone of “getting it” where social is concerned. Further down the totem pole all kinds of social media engagement is in progress (though remarkably there is still a big minority of companies who make no use at all). It’s strategic engagement that counts, and that will come only when the CEO and CIO are setting the pace – and giving evidence that they get it.
That’s why @rupertmurdoch’s joining Twitter at the start of the year was so revealing. Here we have one of the smartest, most controversial, and (face it) also oldest CEOs jumping in. With both feet. As his erratic typing and often unpolished tweets reveal, this is Rupert himself. Not a PR functionary. And he is not just pumping out opinions from on high. He reads the incoming (“watch the language,” he tweeted one time.) And he often answers (he has answered me). He’s found a way to break out of the gilded tower in which corporate leaders are imprisoned to read what his critics are saying, to catch the latest memes, to learn from the 24/7 cocktail party that is Twitter.
At the same time, lower down the organization, it’s plain social media is slowly catching on. Even here the slowness is staggering – 50% of utilities do not even have Facebook page? The headline on this report refers to companies’ widespread take-up of social, but it seems to me it has been slow, sporadic, and – as I have pointed out – almost entirely to the exclusion of the CEOs and CIOs who are the ones most able to develop a strategic understanding of the social revolution underway around them. Point is: Social is not about adding some new media opportunity to marketing, or handling a new customer relations channel. Yes, these are real; but they are far down the list of what is interesting and important.
One well-informed source responded to this argument with the claim that many C-Suite officers are actively engaged in Yammer-like private, secure networks within their organizations. This may well be true, though I have not seen figures. But in fact it adds to the problem. There is a vast gulf between the CEO chatting with CMO and CIO on Yammer, and what @rupertmurdoch and a handful of others have begun to do on Twitter. And if the C-Suite view is that “social” is about Yammer for private chat and marketing/customer relations channels lower down, the net result is a disaster for strategic decision-making.
There’s no doubt that certain types of personality adjust far quicker to social media than others; and age is not the only factor at play (as Murdoch has neatly demonstrated). It’s now a serious question whether those unable to adapt are fit occupants of their C-Suite offices. Well, in respect of the CIO, I don’t think it’s any longer a question. Time for house-cleaning.