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Insight/ General Management

Why CMOs Avoid Social Media

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by Kimberly A. Whitler, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Marketing
University of Virginia's Darden School of Business

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CMOs believe in social media. Recent research showed three out of four said that social media has helped build their businesses. In another study, 89 percent of CMOs indicated that information gleaned from social media data has helped them generate important customer insight. And 82 percent of CMOs indicated that social media has had a discernible impact on brand awareness.

Yet, despite the empirical support for the value of leveraging social media to build brands and businesses, CMOs are not exploiting social media to build their own brands. In a recent ranking of the top CMOs who are using social media to build their own brands, only one CMO in the top 20 was from a well-known B2C firm (Beth Comstock from GE). The others appeared to be from B2B firms. As you skim down the list of the next 80, there is a dearth of CMOs from Fortune 1000 B2C firms. So this brought to mind three central questions:

  1. Why are CMOs not engaging in social media to build their own brands?
  2. Should they?
  3. If so, how can they?

In addition to talking to a few CMOs, I consulted with the following experts to gain greater insight: Christine DeYoung, a managing director at Allegis Partners Chicago, an executive search firm; Mike Kitz, prior CMO of OfficeMax; Pete Krainik, founder and CEO of The CMO Club; and Ravi Condamoor, founder and CEO of SocialNuggets, a data analytics firm.

Why Are CMOs Not Leveraging Social Media To Build Their Own Brands?
It appears that there are four main reasons why CMOs aren't using social media:

1. No Time: Consistently, CMOs indicated that they don’t have time to get through all of their daily job demands, let alone adding the incremental effort needed to begin their own social media campaigns. This is understandable and not surprising. In a world where CMOs are dealing with higher job demands and fewer resources, time is often the scarcest resource.

2. Legal Concerns: Every CMO seems to have heard a story about somebody who got fired after posting something on Facebook or Twitter. To prevent possibly saying the “wrong” thing, CMOs have taken the risk-averse path and chosen not to engage at all. As Allegis’ DeYoung indicated, “There is real fear, and rightfully so, around posting something that a company won’t like. As a result, when B2C CMOs engage in social media, it is almost always to support their company’s business. Even then, they have staff who manage the posts.”

3. No Value: Some CMOs indicate that while they see the inherent value in using social media to build their companies’ businesses, they don’t necessarily see the value in using it to build their own businesses. “I spend a lot of time advising executives on how to stay relevant and engaged outside of their current role as this is important both for their current role and for their own career,” DeYoung said. “I’ve found that it’s a lot like email was 15 years ago. If they haven’t started using it, they have no idea how easy it is to build a social media presence, stay connected, and leverage it.”

4. Don’t Know How To Start: The CMO Club’s Krainik suggests that in addition to time and legal issues, many CMOs don’t know where to start. “The number of social media channels, as well as the complexity of navigating different Web sites and learning to use the different vehicles, can be daunting,” he said. “For example, if a CMO wants to begin using Twitter, do they need to also register with a management and metrics program like Hootsuite? Do they need to understand what Klout is?” Multiply these questions across the different channels and layer on top of it integration issues, and it may seem too time-consuming to be worth the trouble.

Should CMOs Leverage Social Media To Build Their Own Brands?
Said DeYoung: “Given the high turnover that exists for today’s CMOs, creating stronger networks through Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, etc., can’t hurt. The biggest mistake top executives make is thinking they are too busy to build their own brand when they are not looking for a role. A robust Linkedin network can put you on the radar of executive recruiters, which can ultimately lead to job opportunities when CMOs need them.”

In addition to building stronger networks that can lead to faster/better job transitions, a CMO’s use of social media can also demonstrate a digital capability that executive recruiters, CEOs, and boards of directors are requiring of of their CMOs. “CMOs need to prove that they are digitally savvy,” DeYoung added. “Showing a deeper understanding of social media by demonstrating that it has been used personally helps–especially in certain industries. The key, though, is to make sure that every post is above reproach personally or professionally.”

Further, understanding and analyzing social media data can be beneficial for CMOs who want to gain insight on companies, individuals, products, or services. “There are basic and more sophisticated methods for gleaning insight from social media data,” SocialNuggets’ Condamoor said. “While companies have begun mining social media data to gather information on prospective employees, the potential is there for executives to mine social media data to evaluate prospective employers.”

Additionally, many CMOs at some point leave their big company careers and consult or teach. Kitz, who is now an instructor at Notre Dame, indicated that “both at OfficeMax and at Notre Dame, I have used LinkedIn to effectively build and maintain my network. I have reached out to specific people many, many times, when I am wrestling with an issue or looking to increase my effectiveness. I value the insight my friends and colleagues give me over any other source, and learn so much from what they post or blog."

In aggregate, social media has the potential to help CMOs transition to new jobs, demonstrate social media capability, gain insight from social media data on prospective companies, and help CMOs become successful in new, late-in-life, careers.

Next Page: 3 ways to engage.

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How Can CMOs Engage In Social Media?
If you are convinced that engaging in social media might make sense for long-term career aspirations, then now might be the time to get started. How do you do it?

1. Start Small: The first step is to invest one hour per week to get up to speed and “play” with social media. “There are hundreds of strong online webinars that are short, concise, and geared toward executives. Book the time on your calendar and make it a priority,” DeYoung said. Krainik suggested starting with one network first, such as Twitter: “Register, Google a few articles on how to get started, set up your profile, and then post one tweet per day. You can do all of this in an hour. Once you get comfortable with one channel, then move to the next one.”

2. Save Yourself Time: Once you understand the basics, you can hire a social media firm to manage this for you. Just ask Ashton Kutcher, who decided to hire a firm after he posted some inappropriate comments. Social Media Guardian, for example, offers entry-level packages that can help CMOs get started. You set up the rules, and an account person writes the posts and handles everything. So if time is the excuse, then hiring a firm for a couple hundred dollars a month can eliminate this concern.

3. Set Rules To Minimize Risk: People get into trouble when they post unfiltered comments spontaneously. There are two ways to eliminate this problem: either hire somebody to post for you–that person writes the posts and you approve them so there aren’t any off-the-cuff posts–and/or focus on the sharing of information versus sharing opinions. The key is to set principles for your brand, just like you would your company’s business. I personally use social media to share information and stay away from sharing too many opinions. Setting parameters and guidelines can prevent posting comments that are inflammatory.

As CMOs face career-changing moments, one question you might ask yourself is whether you’ve spent enough time building your own brand. Have you developed your own social network enough to be able to tap into it? Like many things in life, at the point in time that you realize you should have been building your own brand, it might be too late. “Make sure you aren’t the last one standing alone,” De Young advised.

Join the discussion: @kimwhitler

Also by Kim Whitler on CMO.com: "A Job Fit For A CMO?"

About Kimberly A. Whitler, Ph.D.

Kimberly Whitler (@kimwhitler) has spent nearly 20 years in senior marketing and general management position. A three-time CMO, she spent most of her career in brand management at Procter & Gamble, building brands including Tide, Zest, Era, Safeguard, Bounce, and Downy. More recently, she served as the CMO of David’s Bridal, the country’s leading bridal apparel retailer, the CMO of Beazer Homes, a Fortune 500 home-builder, and as an officer at PetSmart, the country’s largest pet specialty retailer.

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