To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

In July 2012 McKinsey Global Institute’s “The Social Economy: Unlocking Value and Productivity Through Social Technologies” report showed that a majority of the estimated $1.3 trillion in untapped value from social technologies lies in “improved communications and collaboration within and across enterprises.”

When Gary Vaynerchuk launched in 1997, he grew his family business from $3 million to $60 million in seven years using online marketing techniques. Now the co-founder and CEO of VaynerMedia, a social media brand consulting agency, thinks it’s time for other senior leaders to follow in his footsteps and change the way they collaborate with the workforce.

Should senior leaders make themselves accessible via social media?
No, but let me explain. I don’t think every single senior leader should because the fact of the matter is social media is a mirror and gateway into who a person is. There are some people in senior leadership in different companies that are very introverted, not comfortable around people, not people-skill oriented, might have too zingy of a tongue and are probably more detrimental to be out there than positive. That being said, I do think 90 percent of people in organizations have value to bring.

For those who should and do engage in social media, what’s the risk?
There’s always a risk to anything, but overall, the risks are no different than any other form of communication that executives do in their daily lives. I’ve seen a hell of a lot more issues from an email an executive has written than a tweet or Facebook status update. People are more hypersensitive to a tweet or Facebook status update because it’s new today, much like they were with email 15 years ago. The risk of social is going to be greater in 10 years than it is today, mainly because people are going to get comfortable, bring their guard down and start saying silly things, which will bring negative PR to a company.

Should senior leaders post on social media themselves or have more familiar assistants do it for them?
Anybody that I’ve ever interacted with has gotten a scolding if they’ve ever approached the idea of having somebody else do it for them, but the reality is I’m sure it’s happening. Everybody is now in the media game to some level because of social media, and I would be highly disappointed if I thought I was having a conversation with the chief marketing officer of FedEx, to only find out later it was an intern for the summer. It would be devastating, and it would create a different context and completely different flavor in my mouth about that person and the organization. There’s a lot of risk to faking the funk, and I would highly recommend a much better alternative of not doing it at all versus pretending.

For those who get on the bandwagon, what’s the value?
The same value that doing television, radio, newspaper or magazine interviews brings. It creates an ability to create context with the end consumer. Back in the day, you would do an interview. It would take you an hour, and you’d hope for 10 million viewers on that morning show. That made a lot of sense for people in terms of an ROI of their time. Times have changed, but people are making decisions on the value of time all the time.

I think we’re about to live through the greatest era of people appreciating effort and interaction. Interacting with stakeholders is kind of like exercise. You’ve got to have some of it in your repertoire. I’m blown away that many people feel they don’t need any of it.

How does this type of transparency relate to employee engagement or retention?
When you start humanizing things, everything becomes warmer. That to me is the real fascination of this. When you start humanizing things, there are a lot of residual aspects that are not so black and white that impact businesses, and to me that’s where social media comes in. A CEO that’s taking time to answer somebody’s problem on social media impacts everyone underneath him or her, and that’s the greater aspect of this stuff. Employees then get inspired. They think, “If the CEO is going to take the time to fix somebody’s bad delivery, then who am I not to?” That’s how you see the scale of the impact of the religion over the action.

Is there a company that’s doing this particularly well?
Look at Tony Hsieh and what he was doing at Zappos in 2007. He was getting on Twitter and interacting with people. Looking at today, I feel like I have a warmer relationship with Fox and The Wall Street Journal because Rupert Murdoch is literally responding to people who are complaining about The Wall Street Journal not being delivered at the right address. I know for a fact that he’s actually doing it. Changes my entire respect meter for him and it’s bringing a warmer feeling to me towards his publication and business. This is an emotional intelligence thing more than an IQ thing. People are underestimating it and not necessarily seeing it, but it’s a huge deal.

What tips do you have for senior leaders looking to join social media outlets?
First, get a Twitter account and start following points of interest just to see how it works. You don’t have to say anything, but it’s a great way to get your toe in the water. Follow 20-30 Facebook fan pages in your competitive set. Download Instagram on your phone and follow 5-10 businesses or personalities. Do a lot of listening. You have to first get into the pool to learn to be a good swimmer.

After following, how do you know what to say?
It’s no different than being at a cocktail party, in a board room, at a conference or in your company’s halls. Just act human. You say the things you would say in other settings, and you’ll find your way towards what works based on the type of audience you’re attracting. It’s not one-size-fits-all. Some people are witty, some people are reverent; you’ve got a variety of different personalities. You have to let the chips fall where they may based on the skills and nuances of your personality.

You don’t have to participate in it, but you’re going to have to have a very strong knowledge of how it’s impacting business in the world. Underestimating the impact of the evolution of human communication feels like a very good way to go out of business. Principles haven’t changed. The platforms where people are communicating and stories are being told are changing. I see direct correlations between posts from on Facebook and Twitter to actual sales on the site. It’s not hard to justify the ROI.

There were a lot of smart people who pooh-poohed Henry Ford’s invention and doubled down on horse transportation. There were a lot of smart people who made a decision at Blockbuster that Netflix wasn’t a smart competitor. There were a lot of smart people at Yahoo that didn’t think Google was a problem and at Google that didn’t think Facebook was a problem and at Facebook that didn’t think Twitter was a problem.

Innovation has continuously and historically proved to us that it will impact your business if you don’t respect it. I’m dumbfounded and perplexed at how many people are disrespecting the innovation we’re living through, considering it’s one of the fiercest and most impactful we’ve ever seen. Don’t end up on the wrong side of history.

Rethink That Social Media Policy
The National Labor Relations Board says workers have a right to discuss work conditions freely and without fear of retribution, whether the discussion takes place at the office or on Facebook.

In 2011, 73 percent of Fortune 500 companies were active on Twitter, and more than 80 percent of executives believed social media engagement led to increased sales.

Pope Turns to Twitter
Former Pope Benedict XVI dispatched his first Twitter message in December. Benedict, who writes in longhand, posted messages on Twitter in eight languages under the handle @pontifex, a Latin term for pope. The Vatican said the pope was using Twitter to engage with the Roman Catholic Church’s 1.2 billion followers.