UK boards need to focus on Social Business - not Social Media

FT-ICSA Boardroom Bellwether report says UK boards ignoring social media - they need to focus on social business instead

According to the latest FT–ICSA Boardroom Bellwether report, 47% of respondents reported that their board have never discussed a social media policy, and 39% had only discussed it between one and three times. Just 7% responded that their board had discussed social media more often.


The Bellwether is a twice-yearly survey which contacts FTSE 350 company secretaries to gauge the sentiment inside UK boardrooms, and this survey was conducted in June 2014.


Perhaps more worrying was the statistic that only 26% of respondents described a social media strategy as important (or very important) to the board, with 33% as describing it as neutral and 32% even describing it as ‘unimportant’.


The particular section of the report that relates to social media is below – click for a larger view.


In my role at IBM where I lead social business consulting, I am fortunate to come into contact with Board Members, Chief Executives and their management teams on a weekly basis to talk about social business.


Some of these I am providing Executive coaching to on a 1-1 basis to ensure they understand the full benefits of social – not just social media but the full benefits of becoming a social business.


The results from the survey don’t surprise me at all – and here’s the elephant in the room… boards and many of the C-Suite are totally confused by social media. They are told constantly that they “must” be on social media (for all the right reasons), but in my experience these reasons are delivered using social media language (likes, followers, fans etc), and not the language they understand and are comfortable making a business decision based upon.


Instead, when I talk to the C-Suite, I use terms they understand, such as market research, customer satisfaction, and net promoter score. I am simply translating social speak into business speak – and it is working.


My fear however, and this is echoed by the results of the survey, is that boards ignore social because their teams are not able to articulate the benefits, and it is just “too hard” to translate into a tangible business benefit they can release funds to invest in.


The reason for this post is to highlight the opportunity for social that lies beyond “traditional” social media.


When I speak to my clients about social, I always take the discussion beyond social media (which they often equate to Twitter and Facebook and the associated noise about their brand) to social business.


My definition of a social business is below:

A social business is an organization
whose culture and systems
encourage networks of people
to create business value.


Note the 3 parts above I highlighted – culture, people, business value.  This is what executives want to hear.


Social business involves such things as social collaboration, talent management and selection, social customer care (where social signals are plugged into all parts of the business, not just marketing and PR) as well as social intelligence – think market research hypercharged with social data.


When they hear my message, backed with stories of how IBM has been transformed by social business, and how we are helping large organisations such as Tesco on their social business journey, their minds shift from disinterested to fully engaged.


Multiple times over the last few weeks, I’ve had a boardroom of senior executives standing around a projector screen at the front of the room discussing just one slide about social segmentation from psycholinguistic analysis for up to 40 minutes.


When you shift the conversation from social media to social business, and speak in terms they understand, the whole dynamic changes.

Let’s hope that when the next survey is run by FT and ICSA, it includes a review of social business not just social media.


As a postscript, some of my close friends know that my “dream job” has always been presenting to boards and the management of large companies about the benefits, and “what’s next” for social.  I think I may have just found that job.


If you’d like to have me speak to your board or leadership team and have them totally engaged about the benefits of social, then please get in touch.

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