Communications leading social business

The best communications leaders have long been strategic generals inside their organizations. They often serve as a right hand to a CEO and counsel the overall leadership through crisis and tough issues and tell them how to leverage advocacy.

The best communications leaders have long been strategic generals inside their organizations. They often serve as a right hand to a CEO and counsel the overall leadership through crisis and tough issues and tell them how to leverage advocacy. In short, they manage reputation. Too often that is defined as a defensive exercise. Communications SVPs are on the lookout for problems while trying to build as strong a foundation of positive feelings from stakeholders and influencers as possible. How about selling? How about creating tangible business value today?

Communications can do that. Communications leaders can deliver that.

As more companies embrace the idea of social business, PR leaders have the opportunity to lead change within their organization. They can deliver real business value in an innovative way. They can get off their backfoot-stance and become the inspiring and business-minded leader for change. Many are doing this. Too many are not.

Social business is stronger than social media
The jockeying that stills go on today between marketing departments and PR departments in some companies over who owns which part of social media strategy and use is wasted effort. If social media is a term that describes the behavior enabled by new technology, social business describes how you are going to produce business value from that behavior. Becoming a social business leader within your organization is a much more impactful and “leaderly” role.

Lead the horizontal collaboration at the top
We cannot ignore the potential impact on business from new social behaviors and technologies. Our job as leaders is to manage the risks of empowered advocates and detractors, rigorously pursue the rewards, and find the distilled business value that lies between risk and reward. A first step a communications leader can take to define and put in action a social business strategy is to pull the right people to the table and walk-the-walk of horizontal collaboration.

While every organization is different, it is likely that you have marketing leaders, sales leaders, human-resource leaders, legal affairs, technology leaders, and communication leaders at the top. Ideally, you would convene a project with all of these, including the ultimate C-Suite – CEO, CFO, and COO. The project output is a social business strategy. This must be right for your business and should promise to return the value mentioned above. This strategy is as much about what you are not going to do as what you will do. Digital and social innovation is a non-stop flood of new companies, trends, and possibilities. Social business strategy will help place smart bets and get staff focused. It is how you will rally an organization's worth of individuals to use social media in a purposeful and productive way. Look at how companies like IBM, Nestle, Ford, and others are doing just that. IBM has made a choice that their social business strategy focuses on enabling their experts. That simple decision will help them determine all sorts of actions from how they will use Facebook and LinkedIn to staffing choices in the years to come to how they will evaluate success.

Find your best ally
If the complete leadership is not ready to take this on, conspire with the CMO. In my experience, he or she is often the most likely to share your motivation to reach higher for business value. With CMO tenures being what they are, anchoring his or her job in appreciable business value in addition to sales is a good thing. Good for him and good for you.    

John Bell is global managing director of Social@Ogilvy.

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