Wake up, executives: if you don’t embrace social media within the next five years, you’re likely to lose your job. That’s the provocative conclusion of Mark Fidelman, a fellow Forbes blogger and author of the new Socialized! How the Most Successful Businesses Harness the Power of Social. Social media provides “a more visible leadership – you’ve proven you can influence people internally and externally,” he says. “I can’t see how somebody who lacks that demonstrated leadership and the ability to influence people on social networks can go up against somebody who has it.”
To address this pervasive shift, Fidelman calls for companies to hire “Chief Social Strategists” – who shouldn’t be simply embedded in the marketing department. “I don’t see social as just a marketing function,” he says. “I see it as embedding itself in every aspect of an organization. There’s no reason everything – HR, finance, sales, engineering, internal, external – shouldn’t be involved. It won’t even be called ‘social’ in five years; it’ll just be how it’s done.”
Fidelman stresses the distinction between being using social media, which almost every company does to some extent these days, and truly becoming a social business. “I think social media is the tactics, where social business is the strategy,” he says, citing examples like IBM, Dell, and Coca-Cola, which he believes excel. “The question is, have you set up the [online] infrastructure so it aligns closely with the goals of the business? I hope most companies aren’t doing social because it’s trendy. There should be a through-line to profitability, or cutting costs, or more awareness about your cause if you’re a nonprofit. It’s aligning all the social media tactics and culture and tools, and making sure they align specifically with your business objectives.”
A true social business, he says, recognizes the value of social for internal purposes, as well as for reaching customers. “It’s unfortunate when people think of social business as only external,” he says. “I think it’s important to create a social network internally, so people are more aware of their colleagues and what they’re capable of. They can find experts, leverage their talents to accomplish tasks and be more innovative, and get more people involved in helping to create a product.”
And in this new era, companies should relax about employees’ use of social media. “In today’s paradigm, the whole command-and-control structure, it’s a threat to people who have built a career on the old playbook,” says Fidelman, who is also the Conference Director of the January 2013 BusinessNext Social conference in Las Vegas. (I’ll also be speaking at the event.) Brand ambassadors, he believes, are critical. “There should be a number of people in your organization who build up a reputation [via social media] internally and externally, and when people think about whether to do business with you or a competitor, they’ll think about those relationships. And all things being equal, most people will go toward the organization they have those relationships with.”
Is your company a social business? What’s your strategic approach? And do you agree that executives will need to get social – or get out?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on November 13, 2012.
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.