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Why Everyone Is Going Social

The hype surrounding social media is, indeed, astounding. Its adherents claim it will do everything except cure cancer. But the folks at Gartner who have studied this phenomenon at hundreds of companies caution business leaders against dismissing its possibilities out of hand, or worse trying to capitalize on this technology in a ham-fisted way.

A new book, The Social Organization, by two Gartner analysts, Anthony Bradley and Mark McDonald, sums up the popular conceptions of social media (SM) technology since its emergence at the beginning of the last decade.

Social media doesn’t deliver real business value and can waste a lot of employee time. Social media poses unacceptable risks to privacy, IP protection, regulatory compliance, HR infractions and customer service. Social media is just another marketing channel. Get a Facebook page, open a Twitter account, give your CEO a blog, and load some cool videos on YouTube and you’re done. All you need to do is provide social media technology and the rest will happen on its own. After all, that’s how it happens on the Internet. You don’t need a business justification for social media because it’s so cheap and you can’t anticipate or measure the benefits anyway.

The hype surrounding social media is, indeed, astounding. Its adherents claim it will do everything except cure cancer. But the folks at Gartner who have studied this phenomenon at hundreds of companies caution business leaders against dismissing its possibilities out of hand, or worse trying to capitalize on this technology in a ham-fisted way. True, it can deliver little value and waste time if one goes about it the wrong way. Yes, it can pose risks, but these can be mitigated and managed like any other. Bradley and McDonald argue that SM isn’t just another marketing channel but that success requires a lot more than flogging the technology itself. And, most importantly, one can measure the benefits, which is good because it can be a lot more expensive than it appears.

This brings me to this issue’s cover story, which seeks to open a conversation about how leaders can best get their arms around this beast we call social media. (See CEO and Social Media) As the story underscores, many CEOs are frustrated by their inability to incorporate the technology into their business strategy in ways that are familiar or compute the standard ROI analysis. Nonetheless, big bets are being made. As we reported in an earlier cover story on Ford’s Alan Mulally last November, Ford earmarked a fourth of its marketing budget to advance its brand through social media and reaped big rewards in selling its Fiesta.

We aim to pursue this conversation about this and related technologies, including mobility and cloud computing at our CEOtech conference, “The CEO’s Role in Harnessing Emerging Technology,” to be held on October 18 and 19 on the campus of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business in Palo Alto, Calif. Speakers such as eBay’s John Donahoe, San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer, MicroStrategy’s Michael Saylor and Kaiser Permanente’s George Halvorson will be on hand to share experiences and insights in leveraging these technologies in ways that improve customer relationships, raise operational efficiencies and advance sales and marketing goals in ways that are new and cost effective. The time to register is now: www.ChiefExecutive.net/CEOtech. Hope to see you there.

About JP Donlon

JP Donlon is the Editor-in-Chief of Chief Executive magazine.