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The CEO’s social conundrum

4 min read

Marketing Strategy

SmartBrief on Social Media, the daily snapshot of social media news and insights, has relaunched as SmartBrief on Social Business. This new focus reflects the broad changes to business in the social media era, from marketing to customer service to revenue models. As part of the relaunch, we’ve asked industry leaders to give their thoughts on what it means to be a social business. Today’s post is from Andrew Eklund, founder and CEO of Ciceron.

The CEO should be at the center of emerging social business models. But before I get into that argument, some level-setting on terminology is grossly needed. “Social business” as a term is one that began to sneak into our lexicon as a result of fatigue over social media being abused by individuals, departments and agencies.

I have never been a fan of the term social media. While technically true, the term media has too much association to the advertising industry. For years, these folks have been desperately trying to make social channels into comfortable, familiar broadcast channels. As we all know now, they’re not.

As a result, social networks have had their business potential devalued. But through dramatic and urgent evolution, the conversation about social media’s impact on business is upon us. What’s next? We need to redefine the term “social media” for what it really is — networks of people.

With this understanding, we can then look at all networks — consumers, employees, business partners — as having both unique and interconnected potential. When networks of individuals connect together to share ideas, experiences, and solve problems, magic happens. When they aren’t or are left to stifle away in non-connected silos, potential is drained. The network — not the individual or the media — is the ace in the hole. The network has scale. The network achieves ROI.

For reasons of principle, I am going to refer to all of these networked people as customers. Gifted and talented companies are now rewiring their synapses to understand exactly how these networked customers are driving us to new levels of understanding about our brands and the experiences we provide. No marketing department can be or should be in charge of this effort. The networked customer is demanding that the entire organization to take notice.

As such, the networked customer has forced the CEO’s hand into the game. The only person who must have his or her eyes on the overall diagnostics of the organization is the CEO. If networks of customers create real-time data that magnify performance across the entire business spectrum, then the CEO must be the leader of that effort. The CEO, armed with a keen understanding that these networks provide unparalleled access into actual business performance, then turns to his or her loyal lieutenants to convert these data into action.

The noble CEO recognizes that the vast network of connected consumers provides scaled and timely insights into how the company’s products and services are actually performing in the marketplace. He or she instructs product development leaders to listen and respond as though the network is the world’s largest focus group. Just better and more actionable.

The CEO recognizes that the networked customer can create entire pools of advocacy, which can unlock new markets with much greater efficiency. She instructs her CMO to identify these influential customers and create experiences, connections, and opportunities for them to sell the brand in natural ways to their networks of like-minded and like-needs people.

The CEO is the person who understands that the networked customer freely shares ideas for how the brand can support them more effectively, so the CEO instructs CIOs to build out infrastructure that allows for information to flow more freely, for insiders to have greater access to these networks of real humans, and to bring critical customer-facing business processes online.

I’m not asking the CEO to push the tweet button, fuel the company Facebook newsfeed,  upload Instagram photos, or update the company LinkedIn page. That’s ludicrous. (Having said that, many enlightened CEOs are choosing on their own to participate in these networks, bringing transparency and real humanness to their leadership.) But the CEO would be remiss in allowing such a rich and unprecedented source of data that harbors real human connection to go untapped under his or her watch.

Is social data the end all, be all of business data? Of course not. Just as there’s never been a single source of actionable business data. But is social data some of the most underestimated, underappreciated, underfunded, and under-resourced trove of business intelligence? Absolutely. As as such, these data require the highest level of leadership investment to bring to life its importance and potential.

Andrew Eklund is the founder and CEO of Ciceron.