5 Things Every Business Leader Should Know About Social Media

BoardroomIt’s the new elephant in the room.   Boardrooms and conference rooms, that is.

Businesses have been wrestling with this thing called Social Media for several years now, and while some have entered the fray,  it’s still an enigma to many.

Is it friend or foe?  A great benefit , or a horrible nuisance?  Do we dive straight in, stick our toe in the water, or just put our head in the sand and hope it goes away?

Because this elephant can take on so many faces, there is a good chance that all of those points of view exist within the management ranks of many companies – even the ones that already have some kind of SM presence.

So what to do? If you are a leader in one of these companies, or just someone who’s looking for answers, let’s go over what I consider the business basics – those “truths” that help you cast out the elephant and provide your team with some clarity.

Social Media has certainly hit a state of pervasiveness, so you better do something.   A majority of your customers and employees are frequently communicating on this platform, so there’s a lot of information flowing that way that you should be tapping into.   Ignore it at your peril.

Social Media isn’t a panacea. It will not cure all of your ills, just because you’ve set up shop among the cool kids on the block.  It’s another form of communicating, but it shouldn’t be the primary way- direct human interaction (via face-to-face or by telephone) still rules.  In fact, if you’re really, really good at that face-to-face stuff, you may be better off just being a toe dipper.

Social Media will require you to address its usage among your employees . Another feature of this medium is its addictiveness. If your employees have access to the internet during working hours, chances are they are on some SM platform during that time.  You need to set some ground rules and establish a usage policy, or perhaps end up scratching your head about the productivity declines.

Social Media has its own language protocol, and “company-speak” isn’t one of them . The users of SM have their “BS meters” usually cranked up to 10. If you are adept at plain English with a heavy accent of friendliness, then you’ll be fine if you decide to engage there.  Don’t expect to thrive with what’s usually on corporate memos and press releases.

Social Media demands truth, and usually gets it. Be careful with this one.  I’m not saying that all the information on SM is truthful – far from it.  What you need to understand, however, is that lies can be exposed very easily there, and once you are exposed, the verdicts can be very, very harsh.  A classic business example would be to exclaim on SM that you are “focused on exceptional customer service”, but yet your customers are posting hundreds of examples of when you were not.

And here’s a bonus – Social Media isn’t going away, so you need to learn to be pretty good at it. Regardless of which direction your company chooses to go, you should personally learn this medium.  Pick an interest totally separate from your company to practice with.  For example, say you love Chocolate.  Blog about it.  Learn some SEO, Twitter and Facebook tricks to attract other Chocolate lovers.  Meet some of the other Chocolate bloggers and Tweeters who have become popular.  Ask them questions.   Learn more.   Practice more.  Believe me, your knowledge and savvy will pay off, especially when it comes time to apply them in the business arena.

And you’ll eat a lot of mighty fine chocolate….  🙂


  1. says

    It’s funny to me how boardrooms are now addressing a subject that grassroots marketers and small business owners have adopted ahead of time. I agree with all of your points – social media is important, but not all-important. But it has certainly leveled the playing field to some degree.

  2. says

    Excellent, Terry. I would add one more thing to tell business leaders – you will NEVER understand the true potential of social media if you keep it at arms length. The only way to understand what people are doing and why they are doing it is to jump into social media yourself and rub elbows with folks – keep your finger on the pulse of SM. Only then can you truly leverage your value platform in unique and creative ways using social media. The goal is for others to look at what you and your company are doing with SM, scratch their heads, and be forced to play catch-up. You don’t want to pursue competitive parity with SM in this time of remarkable opportunity. Keep up the great work! Bret

  3. says

    Hi Terry.

    I’d add this: Social media is a tool. Whether or not it works for your business depends on how you use it. And be careful with the sharp end 🙂

    Maybe that falls under your second point. Anyway, thanks for the list.

  4. says

    Hi Terry.

    I’d add also that Social Media “is.” It’s truly up to each organization, individual or business to define what it is going to be to/for them. If you walk into the playground with a preconceived notion of which castles you should be building, you may not end up creating something entirely novel yourself…so novel in fact that other playgrounds may want to copy you.

  5. Hal Rutenberg says

    Hello Terry:
    Your arguments are all valid and businesses should take heed. One point not addressed in this article is how the SM “jargon” has made its way into formal business communication. Increasingly, I’m told by business representatives on my advisory boards how new employees cannot (or won’t) write a complete or grammatically correct sentence in an e-mail or memo. Most businesses still value the written word and the use of SM jargon is a threat to that standard. As today’s students enter tomorrow’s workforce, this situation will only become more pervasive.

  6. says

    Thanks Brandon, Bret, Ben, Chad, Hal and Jen for your comments!

    Brandon, good point about leveling the playing field; SM has indeed opened up many more possibilities for the small business owner.

    Bret, I agree with you, but as I noted in my post, there should be different degrees of “jumping in”.

    Ben, it is certainly a tool, and yes, it can have a sharp end! I tend to look at its Utility, rather than a ROI.

    Chad, you point is spot-on – there is no “one size fits all” in Social Media.

    Hal, you are so right; there is a danger here that the craft of writing and the use of proper English will be permanently compromised by the looser “training” we get on SM. We must do our best to guard against that.

    Jen, rock on! (and thanks).

    Thanks again to all of you, and all the best!

  7. says

    I like the approach to “business leaders,” Terry. Great stuff within! Two points I would add. 1) Business leaders need to start including social media strategy as a part of their business strategy. Period. It has implications from customer service to marketing to sales to HR and beyond. 2) I’d be careful to not scare business leaders with your point #3 about employees using social media at work. If businesses are savvy they can leverage employees familiarity with social media tools to help their business grow. Look at the positives first when developing usage policies.

    LOVE your cautions on “company speak” and the social media “truth meter.” Great stuff! If we could only get more business leaders to listen?

  8. says

    Hi Terry: A balanced call to action, well done. Great point about “company speak” too—weaning some companies away from it can be a difficult cultural adjustment to make, especially when there’s resistance among those who should be SM champions; namely, the communicators and senior leaders in the organization. A sizable number of communicators still have not explored the inherent possibilities of two-way collaboration offered by social media channels. Also, they’re not using social media outside of work so they’re not comfortable using it in the workplace. They should blog about chocolate. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. says

    Yeah, “Social media isn’t going away.” That’s probably the biggest wake-up call of all. I serve on the board of a small-ish bank, and at our board meeting yesterday the CEO announced that they were marching towards a social media strategy. Three cheers for the marketing department, who I knew was chasing this. It will be interesting to watch it roll out – the awkwardness of it all. But it’s a step.

    Nice post, Starbucker!


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