Mind the gap: An executive's take on the role of social media

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Most executives know what social media is. But when it comes to understanding how to harness social media's power, the vast majority has no clue. They believe it's the job of managers in marketing or public relations.

But when you look at successful social enterprises, you'll notice that social media adoption comes from the top down. That's because success requires clear investments in building support infrastructure, educating staff, drafting smart policies and integrating social across the entire organization.

If executives continue to treat social media as a side activity with little or no brand impact, then there is no chance they will successfully scale their social presence.

One key lesson I've learned over the years is that selling social media to executives requires elevating the value of social media marketing as part of an overall integrated marketing strategy. In particular, it's critical to explain the value it brings to your brand and customer engagement.

I recently had the opportunity to interview one of our executives and one of our biggest social media champions, Thad Zylka, regional vice president at JDA Software, to get his thoughts on how he's made the leap. 

Question: Were you always a big proponent of social media for business? Why or why not?

Zylka: No. At first, I thought all this social media was just spam emails. The more I understood the social platforms and how they could be utilized, I realized that this medium was another channel of communication, collaboration and coordination of ideas, expression and knowledge.

Question: When did you get involved in social media? What was the catalyst?

Zylka: I have gotten involved in the last 12 months. The catalyst was information – being able to follow specialized information from different social media channels. I also appreciate the opportunity to engage in a two-way conversation.

Question: Why do you think it's important for executives to become social?

Zylka: It is important for executives to become social to get their message out, to understand what the world is saying about their companies and to follow trends. In addition, there is valuable information out there that can help improve our business. We have a view of what is coming because the questions being asked and the discussions around market trends, challenges and products signify early warnings.

Question: You encouraged social to be integrated across your business units. Why is this so important?

Zylka: Each business unit has different audiences and different needs and requirements. If the business is going to understand its customers, it needs to listen to them in different forms and be able to touch them in different ways. The customers are influenced across multiple touch points, and social media platforms are critical touch points where brands need to be present to listen and respond.

Question: What do marketers need to consider when engaging executives in social media?

Zylka: A lot of executives may not understand social media overall. In some cases, education and benefits discussions are needed so that an executive has a real appreciation for this channel of communication. They need to be made aware of what it means to their business. How can they sell more, service more, take care of their customers and attract new customers?

Marketers have a responsibility to understand the importance of this medium and communicate to key stakeholders, including executives, about how our customers, prospects, partners and influencers are utilizing these channels. This way, executives can understand the overall impact and value. Also, marketers need to help employees throughout the business understand how these channels can be used in their various units—sales, support, services and marketing—and help them see that social media can go beyond simple engagement and help convert those engagements into relationships and opportunities for the business. That's the ultimate Holy Grail here – when you can demonstrate impact to the business.

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