Why Most CEOs and Top Execs Don’t Get Social Media

This past week I attended The World Business Forum Reception at The Yale Club in NYC. The participants included some leading CEOs and VCs from powerful companies. They had a couple of presenters covering the topic of social media, so naturally I was interested in hearing what they had to say to an elite crowd. I was extremely disappointed!

The two presenters were obviously very knowledgeable and had rich social media experience … not fly by night consultants with snake oil to sell. But they missed a golden opportunity to drive the importance of social media, because they could not present social in a simplistic manner that is easy to understand and digest. This continues to be the number one problem defining why social media does not get the appropriate attention from the C-Suite of companies.

A recent Booz & Company / Buddy Media study provides relevant data. Only 1/3 of companies have a senior executive responsible for social media.


Social media requires attention and responsibility at a high level in organizations. And if we look at CEOs specifically, far too low of a rate have it on their agenda.


I was so bothered by the fact that two well qualified, experienced, sharp social media professionals missed a golden opportunity that I tweeted the following on my train ride home:

Ironically, I then caught up on the day’s news and learned of the passing of Steve Jobs and tweeted:

Now the Steve Jobs reference is quite relevant. Besides all the accolades he deservingly has received for his creativity, drive, and all around pure genius, Steve forced SIMPLISTIC innovation.

I remember being a high school senior in the fall of 1979 in my first computer class. We used a time share system with a telephone placed in a teletype cradle to gain access to a massive computer in some distant land. (Not really that far away.) Our instructor brought this thing in called an Apple Computer on a cart that typically held an overhead projector and said, “This is a computer. It is all in there.” Needless to say, we were amazed. A huge time share computing device was simplified down to that.

Another example of Jobs’ simplicity (and there are many) is the iPod. His instructions to his engineers were to develop a portable music device that had no switches or controls. Thus the simplicity of the fly wheel and push button of the iPod.

I have been to more social media presentations than Bruce Springsteen concerts (50 plus) and I think I have seen maybe a half dozen good ones (social media presentations). Good ones because I see the audience’s body language that says they understand. The good ones are simple. Social media really is not that complicated. Neither is driving social success. Steve Jobs showed his brilliance by producing simplicity.

I have described and presented social media many times in what I hope are simple terms. You can be the judge of that. Here are some examples:

* Before You Start with Social Media
* Simplifying Social Media
* Measuring the Value of Social Media
* 7 Things You Need to do to Turn Social Media Successful Results
* 4 Ingredients to a Winning Content Strategy
* Content is Super Important !!! (But Not King)
* Integrating Owned Media, Earned Media, and Paid Media
* Marketing Leadership (with a hint of Social Media)
* The Most Important Word for Marketing
* Forget Social Media – Let’s First Start with Social
* Where is the WOW in Social Media?
* Social Media Model that Defines the End of the World as We Know It
* Social Media ROI – Don’t Be So Short Sighted – Think Longer Term
* How You Can Execute Social Media Successfully
* Social Media – Concentrate on How, not What
* Social Media Conversation: I Know You’re Talking, But Are You Listening?
* Using the Social Media “A-path” to Capture Ultimate Customers

I will be presenting social media at the Executive Forum Leadership Conference in at IBM’s campus in Armonk, NY. So I will shine the mirror on myself. Can social media be simplified to allow all to understand it and maybe even more importantly, what social success looks like? Definitely so!

Make It Happen!
Social Steve

PS And if you have a problem simplifying it and “making it happen,” contact me … I’ll be glad to engage and see if I can help.



Filed under CEO, change management, company organization, leadership, marketing, marketing plan, social media, social media marketing, social media organization, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

14 responses to “Why Most CEOs and Top Execs Don’t Get Social Media

  1. Good post Steve, the good presentations make people talk there and then as well as when they move away and go online.

    Simple is so hard for some to grasp. They simply need to talk and be themselves, an approachable business will get far better reaction than one broadcasting instead of talking openly to their customers,cleints,colleagues and competitors.

  2. The behaviour you witnessed is typical for an idea that is still not mainstream. CEO folk are interested in the fish caught not the minutiae of the process. Presenters at this level have to tell a story. It needs a hook that relates to the world of the CEO. And it needs focus (Driving shareholder value, maintaining market share, growing market share, opening new markets in dustant lands, understanding influence…whatever…). Choose one main theme, with some sub strands, and then the wow moment. Name it: Targets were beaten by 141%, market share doubled in 1 year, from x to y, the company rating in the World Most Admired Companies rose for 4th to 1st. This is what gets people excited and attracts budget.

    • Simon – Your comments make sense, but the challenge is to get the CEOs and executives on board before the start of social media (when you may not have) the data that shows results yet). Therefore, it is imperative to paint an accurate picture complete with realistic outcomes (close to what you described).

      Good input! Thanks,

  3. Steve,

    You nailed this piece – too often those responsible for social media participation are not the people responsible for the bottom-line or reporting back to the Board of Directors.

    As marketers and business people, we ought to really just skip the social media jargon, and speak in plain English (like Mike Lewis describes in Social Media Leadership: How to get Off the Bench and Into the Game – and BTW I’m not pimping the book, just stating that’s exactly his point in the book).

    Social media governance is not a component of IT, customer service, finance or even marketing – rather it is corporate governance of social media, which must be overseen by the CEO of the company.

    Chatter matters to the highest levels of the organization, including the Board, whether we personally or professionally participate or not. At this very moment, social media is improving the customer support a business may need next week. It’s damaging, or enhancing, the reputations of brands and products we all use today. It’s influencing prices, political opinion, trends in fashion, travel, entertainment, and much more in the world we all live in. Right now. And right now it’s picking winners and losers in competitions we’re not even aware of.

    To quote from Lewis’ book, “Social media doesn’t stop at Facebook, and it’s not a province only for the young. It has real-world impact on every individual, and on every industry. The challenge for business is not merely to acknowledge this importance, which is fundamental. It’s not merely to become an active participant in the conversation, which is critical. The challenge is to master the total media ecosystem and use it to best position their brands in this new world of free discourse and connected consumers.”

    Companies must be willing to live in a glass house and adjust their business strategies in near-realtime, and the person in charge of those strategies is the CEO. So if the CEO doesn’t get it, the business is in trouble.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute my comments and for bringing forth this much needed topic. Wish I could be there in Armonk for your presentation. Hopefully someone will be recording it. Please share.

    Best regards,


  4. There’s two factors at play here. From a corporate performance perspective, as many have suggested, social (like television before it) is viewed as another form of advertising with unclear attribution to pipeline and sales volumes. From a personal perspective, CEOs, especially those in the F100, operate in very rarified air with well-known, well-traveled networks. The vast majority of social adopters today use social to connect to relationships, establish themselves as thought leaders to progress their careers, and/or make business and personal recruiting relationships. Many CEOs don’t need these virtual networks and are more protective of their personal situations. By not participating personally in social, these CEOs have less understanding of social’s impact on business.

    • Great added points John. Social is not advertising and CEOs need to let their company go beyond their isolated network. Go where people are talking and influence can be captured. Best,

  5. Time is really a factor.. but I guess, time management. You definitely raised a good point.

  6. Peregrine

    Steve, once again you speak truly! One exec, after I explained/simplified the concepts, said to me,”But it CAN’T be that simple.” Yes, it can! One of the big problems I see is that there are so many tools out there, and people are putting the tools or media (FB, Twitter, et al) ahead of the message. Communications 101: What do you want to say? To whom? When? What outlets will help deliver that? What do I do to manage risk/PR/negatives? People forget that these are communications media. You’re trying to say something, or you want to hear what people are saying, or both.

    These are exciting times, but we need to remember: At one time, the phone was a big deal. There was a day when the fax was king. Then along came e-mail. We find new ways to relate news or send messages all the time. We just need to settle down a bit and look at the picture without anxiety.

    • Peregrine – always enjoy hearing from you! I agree with your comments. I would just add that the tools that are really important and that need more “maturity” are the ones that help measure KPIs. One example would be a good and accurate sentiment tool. Granted, numerous social technology providers will fall off, but we definitely need some advancements in automating metrics and creating dashboards that report meaningful results. In my work, I am doing much of this manually.


  7. Getting Executives comfortable on social media (first in private) is what gets social media on their radar screen. The other issue is how they measure ROI. Your insight is so helpful in demystifying the social media experience. Keep writing and sharing – so appreciate your blog!

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