I recently looked at a study showing that most business leaders just don’t get social media. I wanted to follow this up by looking at the more important question: why?

A study by The Economist Intelligence Unit and PulsePoint helps to shed some light on this. While the report showed that 81% of executives thought that social media increased market share, it also highlighted some roadblocks:

  • 45%: inability to prove ROI
  • 33%: legal or regulatory concerns
  • 32%: an unclear strategy for change

These are just the top three; I’ve not listed them all, simply for brevity.

I think these are legitimate concerns for any responsible CEO. But having concerns doesn’t mean that these concerns are fact.

Proving ROI

The first one, inability to prove ROI, is the easiest to overcome – since it’s not actually difficult at all. The nature of social media (ie, online) means that analytics to activities are reasonably easy to apply.

For example, in a recent campaign for a customer, the Twitter and LinkedIn activities resulted in around 30% more followers on Twitter and around 35% increase in website traffic.

But that’s not ROI – since these aren’t linked to a sale or enquiry. But that can be done too – it’s just a question of sending people to something where there is a measurable call to action. At this point, you have to ask yourself two questions:

  • Do I insist on measuring all of my other marketing in this way?
  • Is this the best way to use/value social media?

The answers are, of course, NO and NO. So ROI is partly real and partly a sidestep. If we turn this around, we could ask the question:

  • Would I like [insert number here] people talking about my company?

There’s only one answer to this – assuming they’re saying good things (we’ll come on to that in a minute). And common sense, rather than analytics, tells us that customer buzz will lead to sales. Putting a customer dollar value on each tweet is a mistake; forging relationships with customers is a top agenda item. You don’t have to prove ROI to know something is good for business – unless you’re lacking common sense.

(I said we want customers to be saying positive things. It’s true, bad news can spread on social media as fast as good. But here’s the fact: people will say it anyway, whether you are on it or not. It’s that simple. If you are on it, you have the opportunity to do something about it. If you’re not, you don’t. And it’s not as if this is anything new – customers discuss companies and their products on the street. At least on social media you can hear them scream – and do something about it.)

Regulatory concerns

This is a fair call. CEOs do, after all, have a care of conduct to their company which is legally binding. But that doesn’t mean they shoulddo nothing. What a CEO says in a meeting, on the phone, in presentations, to the press – you name it – is no different. Should every CEO lock himself/herself away in a Howard Hughes-like way, simply to avoid litigation? No. That would be nonsense. The bottom line is that talking – communication – is part of a CEO’s job. A core part of the job. Social media is where a company’s customers aremore than anywhere else. More than half of America is on Facebook. If you’re not active on social media, you’re not really doing your job. Sorry to be harsh. Let the lawyers deal with the legal issues – use them as much as you would for anything else.

An unclear strategy for change

When you set sail across an uncharted sea, there’s limited help available. But social media is no longer an uncharted sea – plenty of people are using social media to engage with customers. OK, if your company isn’t, it may look like an uncharted sea but it’s not – it’s just one that’s uncrossed by you. So what are your options? You either explore it yourself, or you get a guide, someone who’s already explored it. Standing on the shore, looking into the distance, won’t take you one inch.

Someone once used a Star Trek analogy for how a business is run. Without going into the detail behind each character, Captain Picard, is, of course, the CEO. He has but one job: to make decisions. In the context of Star Trek being a TV show and not reality, he makes decisions which move the plot forwards.

The job of the CEO, if not to create the strategy, is to drive its creation. So not having a strategy for social media simply highlights who is responsible for that strategy – not the outside world, not the bottom team, not the middle team, not even the top team: the CEO. People below the CEO can get a company into social media, but to create real power and magic, to really move the plot forwards, only one person has the power to say: “make it so!”