David Nour, the founder of Relationship Economics, publishes an interesting and articulate newsletter. I don’t always agree with him but even when I don’t we aren’t that far apart. His latest post on “Tomorrow’s Social CEO” is an example.
Nour correctly observes (and laments) that few of the current batch of corporate leaders is socially connected. According to his post, “Eric Schmidt (Google) is an infrequent Twitterer and not a blogger; Steve Ballmer (Microsoft) does not blog or have a Twitter account; Michael Dell is on Twitter but is not an external blogger. It is also remarkable that neither Steve Jobs (Apple) nor Larry Ellison (Oracle) have a Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or blog presence that we could find.”
My facile observation: Yes, and look where it’s gotten them.
Seriously, though, I agree that the executive of tomorrow will be much more of a social animal but as they say in court rooms from time to time, absence of proof is not proof of absence. What I mean, and this is almost pure hypothesis, is that organizations are becoming more social but perhaps the right application hasn’t come along yet to enable a CEO to be more social in a professional setting.
To borrow a regrettable phrase, the CEO is the decider. He or she spends the day making decisions for the organization so that it can continue on its mission of maximizing shareholder value and serving the customer. Other people in the enterprise do the social work for the organization for a very obvious reason—doing it right requires capturing a mountain of data, analyzing it and only then taking action. CEOs don’t have the time.
CEOs are great at analyzing data once it’s captured and presented to them. I once knew a guy who could scan a balance sheet, no matter how complex, and in a matter of moments begin making cogent observations and recommendations. He was murder on finding misspellings on a lunch menu too.
I think the blog might be the natural social medium for today’s CEO. Since Reagan, even U.S. presidents have made weekly radio broadcasts—a social outreach, albeit one way—a standard part of the job. My preference would be to change that to a weekly newspaper column though. Written words are more accessible and longer lasting and enable you to elaborate a complex idea but that’s a subject for another time.
So, why aren’t CEO’s more social? If it’s because the right social medium hasn’t come along yet, there’s good news on the horizon in the form of a new generation of collaboration software and I think of Chatter from salesforce.com as the example. Though currently only available as a tool for filtering the social stream within an enterprise, I can see a day when that restriction is lifted.
A collaboration product like Chatter does the necessary work of filtering the social stream so that only what’s most important to the decider gets in front of him or her. That makes socializing the CEO possible.
Eric Schmidt is on friendly terms with Marc Benioff, who is very much socially adept, and I don’t know if Schmidt has tried Chatter. Michael Dell already has a Chatter deployment measured in the tens of thousands at Dell, which is a big Salesforce customer. It’s hard to say if there’s a possibility of Steve Jobs adopting Chatter and, of course, Larry Ellison and Steve Ballmer will likely have their own brands of collaboration software before they’d use Salesforce.
So my mild disagreement with Nour is really one of timing. Yes tomorrow’s CEO will need to be social and maybe collaboration software is the way they’ll get there.
It’s often hard to maintain high visibility in the marketplace if you happen to be a private company and for good reason. Private companies tend to be small and they often do not attract the attention of the financial press precisely because the financial press thrives on the transparency and numbers that small companies prefer to keep to themselves.
But some of the most interesting large companies can also be privately held and while they might be known to the press and analyst community they give the finance guys little to write about. Too bad too, because you can miss a lot if all you’re looking for is numbers for the shareholders.
Take SAS Institute for example. Founded in 1976, SAS is a pioneer of the analytics market, has a thirty four percent share—more than any other vendor—generates about $2.3 billion in revenues, never had a down year and has always made a profit. But they’re private so the numbers don’t get the same attention a public company’s numbers would get because you can’t buy the stock.
According to the company, SAS spends about twenty-four percent of its considerable revenues on research and development, and their eleven-thousand plus employees in over four hundred global offices treat customers like customers think they should be treated. This alone should be enough to draw some attention but then if you add in the recent award from Fortune magazine for being the best company in the U.S. to work for you get serious wow factor.
James Goodnight co-founded the company with three other people, two of whom left the party early, too bad for them. Goodnight is the CEO and technical soul of the operation and this week I had the good fortune to attend an analyst and media briefing at their headquarters in Cary, NC. That was followed by something called the Premier Business Leadership Series event in Las Vegas, a business conference presented by SAS that brings together more than 600 attendees from the public and private sectors to share ideas on critical business issues.
I know what you’re thinking, but it’s been more than three hardware generations since I’ve been to Vegas and I routinely avoid conferences there but I went this time because SAS had some interesting things to say. First off, they made two product announcements that I can resonate with because they involve social media and more importantly, they make great strides in helping people use social technologies for business purposes.
I’ve been a fan of social networking since 2003 when I wrote about the the Kevin Bacon game and the original research by Harvard University psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960’s that began it all. But social networking and its enabler, social media, entered a lag period at about that time and they didn’t emerge from it until Facebook overtook MySpace. Meanwhile blogs became popular and we learned to wiki, which begat an orgy of tweeting and the rest as they say is history.
Lost in the social frenzy, in my humble… is the idea that social technology is a good listening tool, or ought to be. Social technology after all is a surrogate for an interaction with someone, a way to be present when you are not. In short it is a way to gather input from other people before launching our latest discourse about our favorite subject—us. SAS gives me hope that this might actually happen.
Exhibits A and B come in the form of two SAS product announcements—SAS Conversation Center and SAS for Customer Experience Analytics.
SAS Conversation Center most interests me. The conversation center measures the level of influence that a Tweeter has by analyzing the volume of content the person generates as well as how often the person is included in conversations. It then compares this information with a company’s taxonomy of topics to determine which area of the business the tweet is aligned with.
This analysis can help a company to determine what’s being said about it and determine which topics to pay attention to and to address. It may not be as good as a direct conversation but doesn’t have to be. It need only filter out the majority of tweets that are not relevant and it will be a powerful tool.
I would like to see the conversation center quickly evolve to track other social media, especially Facebook and it would be nice if a control center evolved with it so that a single interface could monitor the social sphere. We’ll see.
The second announcement, SAS for Customer Experience Analytics is a cloud based application aimed at providing predictive analytics to help companies present customers with the best offers at the right time. That sounds easy but it is not. Customers, especially when surfing have short attention spans and one chance may be all a vendor gets so the stakes are high. While other companies have similar offerings, one that has the SAS analytics engine behind it will be an interesting addition.
SAS for Customer Experience Analytics is the latest addition to the SAS cloud suite which includes 19 other analytic applications including SAS Social Media Analytics and SAS OnDemand: Campaign Management.
These products come along at a good time for the evolution of social technologies. In addition to new products SAS announced the results of a significant study it sponsored. Conducted with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, the study’s findings are too long to list here so check the company’s web site. One example will have to suffice till the next time. Despite social media’s potential to enable companies to listen to and understand their customers, 75 percent of the companies surveyed did not know where their most valuable customers were talking about them, or what was said.
More than anything, these results show that social media is still clearly still in its infancy but solutions like these may be the killer apps that turn social curiosities into the tools we always believed they could be.