A question was raised recently in a professional forum that I thought deserved some further discussion.  The question involved how to get executive sponsors to use “social media” for communications, and whether anyone had quantifiable data to assist with this concept.  Although it was an interesting question,  I suspect from the lack of responses that there aren’t any clear answers immediately available and that others may be posing the same question for the same reasons.

From my perspective, however, there is a fundamental disconnect between the role and function of ‘social’ technologies versus the type of service that it enables. To me, the disconnect is aptly illustrated by the confusing use of the terms ‘social media’ and ‘social networking’ – which I believe to be two different, but related concepts. 

The question would fall into what I would define as the ‘social networking’ category. If I may paraphrase: How can you use new forms of communications provided by social networking services such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. as part of your communications strategy and plan with executive sponsors?  The answer, as simplistic as it sounds, is that these channels are simply extensions of any normal communications plan, and need to be considered in the same light.  If the constituency with whom you are dealing uses these services, then there may be an opportunity to integrate those into your communications, but that’s a big IF. For the most part, most business-focused social networking activity would take place via professional-level services such as LinkedIn, with Twitter or Facebook perceived as primarily personal/recreational services. None of these, however, are designed for the type of business communications that the question considers.  Although it would be possible to create a FB page or a LinkedIn group specific to a given project, and limit access to that information to only approved members, it is much more challenging to get executives to change their habits to use it.

We can see examples of this with the challenges many companies have had introducing collaboration software (eg. Sharepoint) into their environments – even though everyone thinks its a good idea, getting everyone to use it is another matter!  If organizations have this level of difficulty getting participation within a relatively controlled workgroup (ie. employees), I don’t think there’s much chance of achieving compliance with a group of independent, external clients – unless it’s something they are already doing.

If you want to start using this type of communication technology within a business, then initially you may want to pursue social media, which in my definition is focused on promoting, marketing and branding your business/services to constituents through the use of social networking technologies.  As these technologies mature and become more pervasive in their use within business, then gradually there will be more uptake at a senior level.  For now, though, the ‘closed’ two-way communication that would be appropriate for executive clients relating to specific work does not fit into the ‘open’, one-way communications that is typical of social networking and social media interactions.