I'm wary of surveys, even when my own company is conducting them, but this one confirmed me in my view that social media, for all their popularity, are not the answer to everything.
Uncontrollable and Unpredictable
One of the problems with social media is that they are as uncontrollable as they are unpredictable in their repercussions. China is the exception, where the government still applies a high degree of censorship to its social media, along with all Internet access. Nonetheless China now has Renren, its own highly successful equivalent of Facebook, hugely popular among students and now trading on the New York Stock Exchange, as well as Kaixin, a version aimed at white-collar workers. References to the Tiananmen massacre and other controversies are banned, but social networking is spreading remorselessly.
Censorship is not a serious option for global business anyway. So what should we do? Must we all have a Facebook presence? Must we all tweet? Should we insist that all our managers and executives join LinkedIn or some equivalent network? Is collaboration the only way to do business nowadays?
By no means. But we certainly should not follow the example of the old British Steel Corporation, which in the mid-1990s banned graduates from using e-mail in their first year on the grounds that "they would spend the whole time talking to each other"!
The point about all these new networks is that you can sign up if you like. But you do not have to. I was reassured to learn recently that the political editor of The Economist, although he cites Twitter as his primary source of information, has never tweeted in his life and isn't about to start. And I was full of admiration for some bright spark at Easyjet who decided to monitor all Easyjet-related tweets and join in as necessary, simply so that the company could hear and respond to any customer requests or complaints before they could turn into crises. As I write, Easyjet shares have just rocketed in response to another set of impressive figures.
I'm sure that many other companies are doing the same thing, and good luck to them. But these are not, on the whole, developments with major strategic implications; nor will they help you to bring off the next big deal that could decide your company's future.
Social media are about making connections, and the more connections your people make, the greater their openness to new ideas, the stronger their ability to see trouble coming. But in the end, there are only so many connections any individual can make. And the big decisions often come down to individuals.
Besides, when the herd is running, I know where I want to be - and that is riding alongside, lasso in hand.
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