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Why corporate executives fear social - part 1

This article in the Wall Street Journal talks about why CEOs are frightened of Twitter and shows what can happen when things don’t go according to plan. There’s no shortage of media coverage reporting Twitter #FAILs that could sink the largest of corporate ships. You don’t need to look much further than British Gas’ recent attempt to create a dialogue with its customers via Twitter.

With consumer facing brands being the ones generally under siege it’s easy to put it all down to the meritocracy the Internet has created. Every man, woman and child (and a fair share of cats) can rock the boat if they so wish.

So, one would assume that for B2B it’s an easier tale, because when your audience is one in possession of a professional nature it’s easy to navigate your business towards a more social destination.

Finding a senior corporate executive within a B2B brand that isn’t fearful of social is like trying to find buried treasure without a map. One ill-judged photograph posted an open social channel and it’s time to walk the plank, jeered on by the board, shareholders, and the company at large.

This fear is deep rooted in the large majority of corporate executives, and actually has little to do with the misinterpretation of a photo. It is only recently that the formula for business success has changed, which it has done in an unprecedented way with the adoption of social. The key part of being a ‘modern business’ is the ability to embrace a social ethos at every level of the organisation. As esteemed author Erik Qualman has said, “We don’t have a choice on whether we DO social media, the question is how well we DO it.”

Most executives - especially those outside of Generation Y - are hardwired to value control; something that is acutely at odds with what it means to be social in business today. They see value in operating a business discreetly, behind closed doors, with authenticity manufactured as an external veneer and communication a one-way broadcast mechanism. Board meetings are scheduled, plans have timescales, and ‘responding’ to the needs of a customer is not bound by a deadline anything close to immediate.

But “in the new social world control is not as successful as influence”, and everything that has been learnt about how to build a successful, profitable and respected business effectively needs to be unlearnt.  Data, social, and mobile will form the basis of competitive advantage, and without a doubt B2B brands have to compete on social grounds if they want to survive.

Organisations are getting better and better at thinking and behaving socially, rightly creating a pressure for every other brand to follow suit. And it’ll soon become the norm that we’ll actively avoid those businesses that don’t operate in a social manner, because it’s such an incongruous behaviour.

So as the frank and immediate interaction afforded by social quickly becomes the norm, how do B2B executives turn their fear into bravery?