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Can your C-Suite Tweet?

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Can your C-Suite Tweet?

South African CEOs and MDs can no longer get away with not being digitally savvy: a new survey shows more than 90% of companies expect their head honchos to be up to date with the latest advances in the digital and social media space, as the online environment becomes more critical to sustaining a successful business.


According to Jack Hammer Executive Headhunters, which polled firms in the traditionally conservative financial services, engineering, FMCG and manufacturing sectors, nearly all assume that the Head of the organisation will at least have an understanding of the importance of digital technology for the company, even if they personally do not engage in online or social media.


“Your CEO might not tweet or even have a Facebook account,” says Debbie Goodman-Bhyat of Jack Hammer, “but he or she must be far-sighted enough to see the potential benefit of these channels for the business. Obviously some industries are more likely to engage with such media but the days of ignoring the online space as ‘irrelevant to our core business and customers’ or ‘for the youngsters’ are over. As more and more South Africans get connected to the Internet and share information, so there are more and more chances for a company’s reputation and market share to be made – or broken.”


She strongly cautions against handing over your company’s digital presence to “a junior who seems to know they’re doing because they spend all day on their iPhone.


“You wouldn’t make someone straight out of school with Matric maths your CFO, so don’t fall into the same trap when it comes to your social media. There are numerous brands which had to put expensive PR campaigns in place to win back customers because an inexperienced person was at the helm of their social media accounts. There are seasoned professionals who are intimately familiar with the opportunities and challenges of the online environment - and they should be recruited into your strategic communications mix.


“Before hiring someone to drive your social media strategy (either internally or as an outsourced agency partner), make sure you’ve cut through the digital jargon, and have fully understood the individual’s background, their track record with similar initiatives in the past, and the impact, scope and cost of the project or strategy they are recommending – the same fundamentals you would use for any other strategic hire”, cautions Goodman-Bhyat.


“It’s quite easy to get swept up with the hype of new media and to feel compelled to participate in costly digital campaigns purely because ‘everyone else is doing it’. Just as a traditional Marketing Executive is expected to demonstrate a business case and tracking measures for marketing expenditure, so too the Online Strategist should have the skills and experience to do the same.”


Goodman-Bhyat says executives need to see digital media as “word of mouth… on steroids. News of great customer service or a poor product can spread within seconds and reach some of your most desirable clients and consumers. Many local companies have been burnt because they underestimated the power of social media. What you and your team took years to build up could be harmed within minutes if you don’t have a comprehensive digital media strategy and competent manager in place.”


And while reducing their business insights into 140 characters may be intimidating to some MBA graduates who run million-dollar multinationals, she points out that more and more CEOs and MDs are taking the plunge – and building up loyal followings at the same time.


“Visionaries like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Richard Branson (Virgin), Jack Welch (General Electric) and Martha Stewart (Martha Stewart Living) all maintain lively Twitter profiles. Even Zwelinzima Vavi, the secretary-general of Cosatu, has taken to the twittersphere.


“Modern consumers expect to have two-way conversations with brands via Facebook, blogs, forums, Twitter and even YouTube. As the head of the brand, you need to ensure that your team is empowered to harness these channels. With CEOs and MDs getting younger – the Jack Hammer Executive Report for 2012/13 shows that the youngest South African Top40 company CEO is only 41 - the time when PAs printed out emails and took down dictated responses to them is truly past!”


International surveys show that consumers who engage with brands digitally spend more than those who don’t. Research by The Economist Intelligence Unit shows that at least two-thirds of the organisations achieving the highest returns reported that their C-suites are “active advocates” of social media.


“Think of it as another way of getting more people to be loyal to your brand – the more loyalty, the better your bottom line,” says Goodman-Bhyat.

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat

Debbie entered the field of recruitment in 1998 with a financial services headhunting firm, and within one year she was one of the top billers in executive search in SA. In 2000 she established her own executive search firm, diversified the industry focus, and then partnered with Fusion Consulting in 2001. As the founder and Managing Director of JACKHAMMER, she is an industry-leading headhunter, placing top executives in SA's leading corporates for more than eight years. Her unique style and vision may come from her somewhat unconventional background as an award-winning contemporary dance choreographer, director and dancer! Now, as an entrepreneur in the business world, she maintains her passion for work and relentless drive to get it right.


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