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Social Networking: The Most Important Business Development of the Year

iStock_000013296501XSmallAbout 4 years ago I thought social media was a fad. I wasn’t very interested, but underneath I was intimidated. I was comfortable with traditional marketing. I was just starting to get comfortable with email marketing and search. I didn’t really understand social media. But I took a leap. I thought to myself that whether I understood social media or not, that it was growing. My clients were asking questions. I was reading more and more articles and I watched our children use it as a communications device. So I jumped in without fear, and I am glad I did for a number of reasons:

1. I am a far smarter marketer as a result and therefore can help my clients more successfully

2. I no longer fear social media and enjoy it.

3. Most importantly, I  understand its tremendous power and influence, on a personal, business and societal level. It is truly a communications  tidal wave.

I am not a social media guru, though I embrace new techniques and platforms. Most importantly as a marketer, I know that it always starts with strategy. This holds true with social media as well as traditional marketing.

In that light, today’s Struming comes from Bill George, former Chairman/ CEO of Medtronic and a Professor of Management Practice at the Harvard Business School  from the 12/27/2010 HBS Faculty on 2010’s Biggest Business Developments  with his thoughts about social networking.

Social networking is the most significant business development of 2010, topping the resurgence of the U.S. automobile industry. During the year social networking morphed from a personal communications tool for young people into a new vehicle that business leaders are using to transform communications with their employees and customers, as it shifts from one-way transmission of information to two-way interaction. That’s one reason Time magazine just named Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg Person of the Year.

A year ago many people poked fun at Facebook as a place where kids shared their latest party news. Today more than 600 million users worldwide are active on the site. The most rapidly growing demographic is people over forty. More than 300 million people spend at least one hour a day on Facebook. Approximately two hundred million people are active on Twitter in spite of—or because of—its 140-character limitation. Another 100 million use LinkedIn. None of these social networks even existed at the beginning of the decade.

Leaders like IBM’s Sam Palmisano, PepsiCo’s Indra Nooyi, Apple’s Steve Jobs, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer, Carlson’s Marilyn Nelson, and Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria are all active social network users. Why? Because these social networks are a unique way of broadly communicating real-time messages to the audiences they want to reach. They can write a message anywhere, anytime, and share it with interested parties without any public relations meddling, speech writers, airplane travel, canned videos, or voicemail messages. Now their words are much more authentic and can be remarkably empowering.

Social networking is also flattening organizations by distributing access to information. Everyone is equal on the social network. No hierarchies need get involved.

The biggest threat presented by social networks is to middle managers, who may become obsolete when layers of managers are no longer needed to convey messages up and down the organization. The key to success in the social networking era is to empower the people who do the actual work—designing products, manufacturing them, creating marketing innovations, or selling services—to step up and lead without a hierarchy.

Consumer marketing companies are lining up to use these networks to reach their tailored demographics with highly personalized messages. Already they are revolutionizing marketing by shifting dollars from purchased media advertisements to building their own outlets and content. Kraft Foods, for example, is now one of the largest publishers of food-related materials. IBM is launching thought leadership communities. PepsiCo uses social networks to reach millions of social entrepreneurs in lieu of advertising at the Super Bowl. From a leadership perspective, social networking is making authentic leadership a reality and a necessity for 21st century leaders. You can’t hide on your social network when you’re revealing who you are and what you really believe. Transparency is essential here.

Even more important, this new phenomenon is enabling business leaders to regain the trust and credibility they have lost over the last ten years. That’s why social networking is the most important business development of the year.

Are you a believer or still think social media is an overblown waste of time?




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