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Understanding social media: a guide for senior management

Allan Biggar explores how social media is replacing traditional media sources, and shares some tips on why it matters to a CEO or a senior management team

The last month has been relentless shuttling back and forth between the UAE, Ukraine and India. But there’s enormous energy in all these markets which excites me, challenges my assumptions on the way we look at marketing communications and teaches me something new almost every day. Without exception, much shared conversation revolves around social media and how we all engage with it.

Most of the news updates I receive when travelling do not come from the obligatory newspaper offered when stepping on to a flight or from the repetitive news bulletins on BBC World. I realised on my latest trip that the majority of news I receive is through my Facebook, Twitter or BBC Online email updates. In other words, social media has made everything much more immediate, and friends and colleagues are effectively becoming media outlets in their own right as they retweet messages or provide summaries of news updates.

On one of my flights I read an interesting and convincing paper on the advice about how to make social media work, especially for senior management. I’ve shared it with colleagues so I’m now sharing with you those findings.

Go where the people are

First things first - making the case for social media. In terms of seriousness, there’s no question that Twitter has its share of pointless babble and that Facebook users witter at equal length. But both social networks have their serious sides and both have permeated public consciousness, and blogs have evolved to become an important source of news and information.

When it comes down to it, the people of this world speak social media, which means a CEO or senior management needs to be fluent in social media in order to keep their companies relevant and connected. That doesn’t necessarily mean he has to use social media, but there should be an understanding of why it matters and identify what level of engagement is appropriate for your business.

Invest in people

Most of us who are socially savvy recognize the value of relationships, but for busy CEOs, the relationship side of social media takes time, and time is money. For social media to work, you need to invest in it because it is exactly as it is named - social. Social media is about relationships and it’s about engaging and interacting which earns the attention - and loyalty - of fellow social media users.

So, including links to Twitter, blogs and other web materials and updates to an email footer, say, drives home the notion that he is in interested in the people side of the business.

Be a subject matter expert

Be focused! CEOs may have many views and opinions on many topics (they often have to!), but to be truly valuable - and interesting - it’s best for a CEO to try to establish herself as a fascinating subject-matter expert.

The test for her social media efforts is whether people find what she posts so fascinating that they retweet it. And retweeting is probably the sincerest form of flattery nowadays.

Make it personal

Probably the most important tip is to be transparent and authentic to who you are. If a CEO uses social media to simply push an agenda, a product or a cause she will not realize the true benefits that these tools provide. Just as social media is about relationships, there’s also humanity behind each and every Tweet and Facebook status update. The CEO that can make it personal can connect with the individual beyond the medium. And it can be in the most personal, and sometimes the most routine of behaviours that can inspire other social media followers.

Don’t neglect internal social media

Social media can be an excellent way of remaining connected to employees, especially in disparate locations. It allows for a much more informal mechanism to provide certain communication among staff. Clearly not suitable for all communication, but it can be a huge enabler of fostering relationships between senior management and their wider employee base.

The traditional media sector is not only changing beyond recognition, it is ultimately in its final death throes and social media is hastening that demise. As strange and uncomfortable as it is for many of us, it’s timely that we all begin to understand how we can all better employ social media.

For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit www.freshbusinessthinking.com