Do CEOs often miss the point of social media? – it’s so much more than a ‘Gen Y’ thing

Is it me or do people in management roles often miss the point of social media?

Let me explain after that extremely broad generalisation.

In the past few months as I’ve made my way through various meetings, one of the things that’s struck me is that people are either aware of social media and embrace it – or – they essentially fob it off as a ‘Gen Y’ thing.

I’m the first to admit that until it was properly explained to me, I thought Twitter, in particular, was a ‘faddy’ toy, something you logged on to get your latest Hollywood goss in two sentences or less or whatever it was.

A brief masterclass at uni residential changed all that and that evening, back home, I was on Twitter for myself and for the NGO I headed at the time. I was a twit-skeptic no longer.

In the lead-up to Media140/Oz Politics in Canberra in a couple of weeks, I’ve been asking myself as objectively as I can – is Twitter just a playground, an electronic water cooler to gather round and speak to the same kind of people you’d like to speak to or read/watch/listen to – or is it something much more, something that is gradually making people and organisations more transparent, more open, more accountable?

If, as I think it is, it’s the latter, is that why there’s a reticence by some people not to embrace it – because of the inherent challenges social media brings with it – i.e. talking?!

My business card and email signature have on it our organisation’s Twitter handle and we’re now slowly building our work online – it’s gradual, it’s deliberate, but what we do through an email update to our networks is reflected in our website information, which is then backed up by Twitter – and our team understand how it all relates. It’s just another tool, another way of communicating for an organisation whose business is building relationships with people nationally, internationally and across a wide range of industry, government and educational sectors.

Personally, I’m drawn to the opportunities Twitter provides. For me, Twitter is a both a communication tool and these days, my primary source of news, as well as a major source for my professional reading, as well as keeping me informed of my love of provincial rugby in New Zealand, the mighty Melbourne Demons AFL team and all things café culture in Wellington and here in Melbourne – not to mention traffic updates. I don’t have to turn on the news at 6.00pm or read a hardcopy newspaper because it’s all there online – and I’m the one in control – my own news editor.

Some people I’ve met do social media really well – they understand the possibilities and opportunities. Others roll their eyes when I mention Twitter and go, ‘oh that – well, it’s just social media – we let the Gen Ys handle it’.

As we head into Australia’s first Twitter-covered election attitudes like that are not going to cut it. Social media for many organisations may just be a fad, something for the Gen Ys to do to keep them happy – until the first big crisis occurs where a company or NGO in Australia faces the wrath of the Twitter-verse for not responding or not being online.

Good issues management dictates you have plans in place – in my mind that must include social media. With so many news organisations on Twitter, so many people prepared to offer an opinion (and even in the tweeps I follow of 200-odd – there are some blunt #fail comments directed to companies – and politicians) organisations need to act now – get on Twitter, get your blog up, establish your values and be prepared to be judged on them – because like it or not, you will be.

As I type, Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse has tweeted three times in the space of a minute, including this, which underlines the value of expressing yourself as Mick does:

I wish Mark Williams well for the future, he’s a terrific bloke. It’s always a tough game when pitted against him.

Twitter’s all about the context. Twitter’s all about engaging. Twitter’s all about being open – because not being open is just as bad as not being there.

President Obama. Mick Malthouse. Cameron Schwab (Melbourne Demons CEO). Laurie Oakes. Malcolm Turnbull. Andrew Robb.  ABC CEO Mark Scott. 3AW’s Neil Mitchell. All Gen X or baby-boomers. All just tweeps I follow. All tweeting regularly.

One of the more considered responses I’ve heard recently about how NGOs, especially, consider their social media was someone who told me they didn’t necessarily understand social media but their Gen Y staffer asked for an opportunity to pitch the idea of integrating Twitter into their overall comms. A business case and comms plan was developed, along with a risk strategy. The staffer not only communicated social media effectively enough to have the plan implemented (and it’s worked) – but their boss loved it. It’s now used as an example of this organisations’s progressive external focus, and they are highly regarded – rightly – for the way they integrate their communications tools and use social media as a way of talking with their audience – not at them.

Perhaps that’s what the challenge is? Effective social media forces you to talk with your audience. That one-way street of communication which you thought you could control just got a whole lot wider. Those that widen that metaphoric social media street themselves will be much better off than those who find the social media bulldozers revving their annoyed engines and coming at them.

To close, the question [says he referencing Tourism Australia] won’t be ‘where the bloody hell are you’ when an issue emerges on Twitter and a company or NGO’s not established or unable to respond – it will be ‘why the bloody hell didn’t you get into social media earlier?’.