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A CEO’s Guide To Social Media In 2012

[Image: Flickr user Joe deSousa]

Fast Company wants you to have your best year yet in 2012; click for more advice and tips on how to work smarter, manage your career, and lead a more meaningful life.

As I jogged down Wall Street in New York in October through the barricades, police horses, and thousands of activists, something became clear. The masses had self-organized and social media had added yet another social movement to its résumé. At the same time, something else became clear to me. Much higher than street level, in the boardrooms of America’s largest companies, social media expertise was far from entering the résumés of most C-suites.

Why is there confusion inside these glass fortresses around the world? Senior executives are struggling to get a grasp of what to do about the social opportunity for their kingdom. But hey, it’s new, right? The kids only started signing up eight years ago. For lots of people, the biggest concern with technology is figuring out how to operate their BlackBerry in the post-trackwheel era.

But with 2012 and the New Year upon us, countless strategy and planning sessions are likely on the calendar. I’d like to take the liberty of answering the most recurring questions I hear from executives of the world’s leading brands and share my predictions, with the hope that doing so will reduce the need to answer these questions by 25% in 2012.

"Every department is telling me they own social media so it feels like it has 12 owners. How do I think about it?"

Thinking of social media as a separate effort will lead to failure and you’ll lose a year. Social media is simply an overlay that must be applied to existing business functions including marketing, customer care, e-commerce, search, HR, internal systems, legal, etc.  CEOs should understand this and ask to see specific plans to achieve business results through collaboration and smart planning. Being "good at social media" shouldn’t be your goal. Weaving social media into the fabric of your company and making your business truly social in nature will be much more valuable.

"I get pitched by 5 gurus a month. Do I need a social media leader for the business?"

Many companies have accelerated success by creating a funded internal group to lead social media across all business functions. Early adopters including Dell, Intel, and Coca-Cola are good examples. This group should be centrally funded for a minimum of 2-5 years depending on the size and complexity of the company. Part watchdog, part consultant, part teacher, and part project manager—the center of excellence should work with various business lines, bringing best in class partners to the table to ensure that all social media activities drive business results.

"My PR team is in my office constantly telling me that they own social media and wanted to be involved in everything—that doesn’t seem effective. Or does it?"

In the early days of social media, one perspective often takes hold. Usually it’s the strongest voice or presenter in the room from PR or marketing. Companies that want success will need to move past thinking about social media as solely a marketing discipline, and mandate a presence from other departments in a Social Media Center for Excellence. A multi-disciplinary approach is the key to success. The social leader for the company should have a solid business background, a strong handle on technology, a flair for engaging consumers, and must work across the business to build a killer team.

"It doesn’t seem like there’s any point in measuring results until we’ve figured out the basics. Should I even bother?"

Most companies wait too long before asking how each potential opportunity will be measured. Don’t be fooled into believing that social media "listening" is the same as program measurement. Ensure your CFO understands what is being spent, why, and what the benefits are. Different business functions, including marketing, PR, sales, and customer care, are all measured differently.

At the end of the day, the mass confusion is unwarranted. Social media doesn’t change the basics of running an organization or its functions. It simply provides a new (and often more efficient) way to deliver on objectives that are as old as mass demonstrations pitting the haves against the have-nots. 

Author Michael Scissons is the president and CEO of Syncapse

[Image: Flickr user wallyg]

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