Social Networking: The Ultimate Weapon

When I read one of the major findings in a recent report by {complink 2470|IBM Corp.} — that technology is the most critical factor impacting corporations today — my first thought was: “Duh.” But as I continued to read, it became clear that this was not a “Dog Bites Man” story. The technology that IBM talks about is not just focused on the software or hardware that helps build better widgets. Rather, the most useful technology these days is the technology that brings people together: social networking.

The report, “Leading Through Connections: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study” (PDF), is based on face-to-face conversations with more than 1,700 CEOs worldwide. Since IBM began the bi-annual study in 2004, technology has risen from No. 6 to the top spot. It's now ranked higher than people skills and market factors.

“As we looked across the whole of CEOs' responses, one consistent theme emerged: an overwhelming focus on changes in how people engage with the organization,” the report says. “The view that technology is primarily a driver of efficiency is outdated; CEOs now see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships — those essential connections that fuel creativity and innovation.”

A key to business success will be how effectively companies can connect and collaborate — with customers, their own employees, and partners. In fact, the ability to collaborate was the most commonly cited trait CEOs wanted from their employees.

With customers and business partners, CEOs see social media as a key enabler. More than half expect social channels to be a primary way of engaging customers within five years. Companies are also investing in data analytics to convert customer data into insights and insights into action. More than 70 percent of the CEOs are looking for ways to understand customers and improve responsiveness. CEOs, particularly those in the electronics (86 percent) and automotive (80 percent) sectors, are making major changes to respond better to individual customer needs. “This is now a continuous feedback kind of world,” said one CEO. “We need the organizational nimbleness to respond.”

This feedback loop will include business partners, for better or worse, according to the report. “In a world of increased transparency and instantly disseminated social media, organizations are often judged by their partners' actions, not just their own.” CEOs expect the use of partnerships to increase more than 50 percent over the next three to five years. And those partnerships need to be deeper, more integrated, and stronger than ever. The ideal is that collaboration and communication is so tight among partners that any shift in consumer needs or desires is felt and draws an immediate reaction all along the supply chain.

In the report, an electronics industry CEO from Japan discussed how his company is helping its B2B customers innovate by “incorporating the end user's voice directly into product development.”

The bottom line: Technology is making more and deeper connections among people and corporations possible. Those companies that recognize and use these connections effectively stand to gain a competitive edge.

19 comments on “Social Networking: The Ultimate Weapon

  1. Houngbo_Hospice
    May 29, 2012

    “In a world of increased transparency and instantly disseminated social media, organizations are often judged by their partners' actions, not just their own.”

    Apple and its main supplier Foxconn are very well aware of that now. Social media have indeed helped a lot in the dissemination of information on  the working conditions in some of Foxconn's manufacturing plants in China. Social media is a weapon that activists, governments and companies are using today to their benefit.

  2. Cryptoman
    May 29, 2012

    Social networking is the ultimate means for exercising freedom of expression. Any kind of information can be exchanged, commented on and shared by anyone. With the fast dissemination power of social media, nothing can remain hidden from public these days for long.

    This can be a bliss for companies who are good at what they do and play fairly. However, it can spell diseaster for those who break the rules and act unethically. Social networks are like the “Big Brother” with an enhanced sensory system because they have millions of pairs of eyes watching your every move !


  3. Anna Young
    May 29, 2012

    “The view that technology is primarily a driver of efficiency is outdated; CEOs now see technology as an enabler of collaboration and relationships — those essential connections that fuel creativity and innovation.”

    It's good to know that CEO's are now aware of the impact of social networking and view the technology as an enabler of collaboration. I certainly agree. The power of this technology is awesome. More so, the efficiency of global connectivity, the impact and benefits of this technology is immense. It's a powerful tool indeed.

  4. _hm
    May 29, 2012

    I see social networking as a one more new tool, very effective and low in cost. It is good for many industries and looks good. But time will tell its fallouts in due course. I like it as new tool, but overemphasis and devoting majority of your time to it may be little futile excercise.


    May 30, 2012

    I wonder what many of the older non-technical CEOs might say about this.  I do agree with the article to some extent but I know a lot of CEOs that don't even know how to write emails.

  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    May 30, 2012

    The most impressive thing about the social networking ( though those social networking sites ), is the speed of information dissemination and the speed of the gathering of feedback on a particular action. 


    What would have taken months or sometimes years for those market research companies earlier is now possible to get within a matter of days.


    Social Networking has also made people proactive in responding to the sensitive issues. That is a plus point as nobody now fears to express his/her opinion about an event.



  7. Wale Bakare
    May 30, 2012

    Social networks are like the “Big Brother” with an enhanced sensory system because they have millions of pairs of eyes watching your every move !

    Are we completely being charmed by those ” abstract” things or power of technologies are overwhelming us. An adage says ” if you cant kick it dont have it” but today opposite is the case – if you cant kick it, now become must have.  Facebook a typical example both in investment and useage

  8. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 30, 2012

    Social networking is excellent for taking the pulse of a market or industry. What people like or dislike is a roadmap for new product development. In this sense, the research is right on. I still have questions about social media and actual commerce, but that doesn't seem to be the intent of this study.

  9. Tam Harbert
    May 30, 2012

    @ Flying Scot – Interesting that you bring up the age issue. The study actually addresses that, saying that while CEOs are “dipping their toes” into social media, very few are “personally immersed.” The study says this is a dangerous position, because they are making critical judgements on a disruptive technology without having firsthand experience, instead relying on Generation Y advisors. The study quotes one CEO saying, “For the first time in my career, I feel old.” Interestingly, it does not give his age – he could be 35 for all we know!

  10. bolaji ojo
    May 30, 2012

    Tam, I've embraced social media but I'd be lying if I said there haven't been times when I wished somebody didn't invent the doggone thing!

  11. t.alex
    May 30, 2012

    FLYINGSCOT, i agree with you.  I have seen CEO who liked to write 1-line commands or instructions.

  12. elctrnx_lyf
    May 31, 2012

    Social networking is more about how do you connect with friends and other people around the world. The importance of customer is more and more put in first place by many companies which is mainly due to competetion and at the same time the power of todays communications. The good will or the bad things about any company wil go across the counties with in seconds and could improve/kill business instantly. So it is very important to connect to customers in a very loyal way to any company these days.

  13. alawson
    May 31, 2012

    First of all, how can I *LIKE* Bolaji's post on here?  🙂

    Second, great article, Tam.  I like the description of the world of 'continuous feedback'. The medium is called Social but technology growth would have fueled and necessitated something similar eventually. We have and want the ability to be real-time in all things, or at least in those things in which we choose to be so.

    I read a great related article on Sprout Social yesterday about the study…loved the teaser headline: “CEO Participation in Social Media Increases Customer Spending” — was more taken though, by this statement:

    '71 percent of customers polled said CEO participation in social media leads to improved brand image.'

    I agree. I even like to see a successful leader stumble while learning to use Twitter–figuring out hashtags and @'s vs DM's. Its fun, honest, and human. And I believe those three things describe why social media is still growing.


  14. Barbara Jorgensen
    May 31, 2012

    Fascinating stuff, Andy: social networking improving a brand image. I think there is a case to made for that. Customers would feel they are being listened to and that the CEO is an accessible human being. I've seen it work in several cases–OnStar reversed its decision on tracking users partially based on social media feedback.

  15. t.alex
    June 1, 2012

    The question is whether you would add customers on your friend list 🙂 ? I have seen people whining about customers on their facebook.

  16. alawson
    June 1, 2012

    @t.alex — That's probably not too uncommon. The answer to that question depends a lot on the grey area that exists between commerce and social connection. Should we complain openly about anyone on our friend list? If so, should they be on there?

    Social Media from the business perspective is a very different thing than having a personal Facebook page or connecting with someone you like on Google+. The business side requires constant attention, vigilance, and clarity. If you think twice about what you normally post to your personal accounts, then think 4 times really hard about what you are posting for your business.

    And if the two are mixed for someone, I would say to defer to the more stringent rule-set and make sure every post is delivering the appropriate message for your business.

  17. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 1, 2012

    @Talex: I believe that people are more likely to post a negative view than a positive one in general. I know I'm more motivated to write letters or make phone calls when something goes wrong. I try to compliment people/companies when things go right, but to follow up with a “like” on the Internet…not so much

  18. alawson
    June 1, 2012

    @Barb — Good point Barb. In my book, a 'LIKE' is just a number and I give it more freely than I would direct praise or criticism. The sad truth is that follows, likes, etc are not as personal — not taken so seriously as a testimonial, though I know that is what they are meant to stand for. But how important, really, is a mini-testimonial that you obtained because you offered someone the chance to win an iPad? What is important is what the company does once they have made the connection with you.

  19. Barbara Jorgensen
    June 4, 2012

    Hey Andy–I've started to wonder lately whether a person or organization can rack up so many “likes” that it begins to dilute the value of “likes” in the first place. I guess from a business or product standpoint, “likes” are a good thing in terms of rating the product or service. But an organization's ability to connect with these customers becomes more difficult with every addition. If an organization focuses only on the critics, it risks alienating its fans. I'm sure businesses have figured out ways to strike a blance…I'd be interested in hearing about some success stories.

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