Social Media Explained for the CEO or CxO


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This is an update to a post I published way back in January 2009 – Explaining Social Media

Social media is something that we’ve been talking about for a few years now. For most companies and business leaders its still a mystery – a dangerous “thing” that is best left alone.

Explaining social media in a way that is simple and easy to digest has been a challenge for many reasons. There has been a number of diagram’s doing the rounds – basically purporting to explain social media in a way that makes sense for the layperson.

The most common diagram is this one:

Brian Solis - The conversation Prism

Whilst I get the intent of this diagram, every time I’ve shown it to Chief Executives or business leaders I can count to 3 and then watch their eye’s roll back into their heads.

As much as I like the diagram, my issue is that it’s almost impossible to use this to help explain social media to an executive, and to then take them the next step – understanding what bits of social media are relevant.

Smart Social Media set out to do the following:

  1. Provide a simple framework so that a business leader could look at the thousands of tools, products, services etc and categorise them into easy to understand buckets
  2. Take these categories/buckets and then determine which are most relevant to their business and their business goals.

Determining what is relevant or not is a core part of a comprehensive social media strategy. So a company in say consumer health services would use a different combination of buckets to a B2B engineering products company.

Simplifying Social Media

I have defined the nine categories as follows:

  1. Social Networks
  2. Listening Tools
  3. Blogs
  4. Wiki’s
  5. Forums
  6. Multi-media
  7. Social Bookmarks
  8. Live chat and micro-blogging
  9. Rating and user reviews

In really simple terms, the categories can be represented as follows

Social Media Explained in 9 Key Categories

If you’re starting out with social media, you’ll firstly be investing time in a strategy. So as you do that, use this diagram by adding in aspects such as:

  1. Distribution/syndication of content – how do we position content once it’s created
  2. Social Search – aligning our social media efforts with our search strategy
  3. Measurement/ROI – aligning our social media efforts with definable, measurable ROI expectations.

The Categories in More Detail

Here’s what these buckets mean

  1. Social Networks – in simple terms they represent the systemisation of your network of contacts (be they business or personal).
    • Examples – Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, and now Google+ are the most prominent social networks. Group buying sites like Groupon also fit into this category
    • Watch out for – time wasters, information leaks, and a general lack of knowledge as to how information (like bad news) spreads via social networks
  2. Listening – refers to Social Media Monitoring – Listening is still the most important activity for any company wanting to harness the social sphere. Social media monitoring has evolved from the useful Google Alerts service into professional tools that monitor an incredible array of information sources
    • Example – Google Alerts is the place to start – but only really captures the tip of the iceberg. Professional tools like SocialMention, Jive’s JME, Radian6, and Spiral16 are the next step
    • Should You? Absolutely. Social media monitoring can be used to not only listen to your customers but also your market place, competitors, and industry issues
  3. Blogs – A blog is a website that contains content that visitors can then comment on, or contribute to. Blogs are used to enhance the communication channels of an organisation and to humanise a corporate brand.
    • Examples – popular blogging platforms include WordPress, Blogger, and Drupal
    • Keep this in mind – once you start blogging you need to keep at it. A dormant or inactive blog is worse than no blog at all
  4. Wiki’s – are tools that allow users to collaborate around content that might be business processes, project documents, procedures, or sales/marketing content. Wiki’s have matured tremendously in the past year and are now very end-user friendly.
    • Examples – the 2010 version of SharePoint, Huddle (web based wiki) or Confluence from Atlassian
    • Focus on – tools that are very easy for end-users to learn and use. Without end user take-up the wiki will fail. Also look for mobile capability
  5. Forums – Forums like Wiki’s are maturing rapidly and are a key tool for service, R&D, and sales. No longer text based, next generation forums allow multi-media content and the integration of other social data.
    • Examples – Acquia Drupal Commons and are examples of next generation forums
    • Key Point – Will require dedicated resources to moderate and build momentum. Forums are excellent for building your search engine footprint.
  6. Multi-Media – this is a bit of a catchall and refers to services like YouTube, SlideShare, Flickr, iStockPhoto, Scribd, etc. Your core goal – use these services professionally to put content out there for the public to find and consume.
    • Examples – YouTube, SlideShare, and Flickr are popular examples
    • Watch for – the growth of video as a powerful, affordable highly interactive tool used across the enterprise.
  7. Social Bookmarks – provide a use with the ability to track, share, and organise web based content. Very useful for situations where you want to recall or use external content.
    • Examples – and StumbleUpon are two high profile examples.
    • Business Value – high, as most of the services are free and it’s always useful to collect knowledge
  8. Live Chat and Micro-Blogging – Live chat has been around for a while and is still highly valued. Micro-blogging is the new black with Twitter dominating much of the public discussion on social media
    • Examples – Twitter, Yammer, Yahoo Chat, Windows Live, and Skype
    • My thoughts – Whilst Twitter dominates debate, monumental work needs to be done to fix core issues with the platform. You should also be investigating how Yammer can help internal communications
  9. Ratings and User Reviews – a lot of community sites now allow users to rate content or add reviews. A powerful way to tap into the feedback loop. Facebook and LinkedIn recently embraced this through the “Share” and “Like” functions
    • Examples – Google Places,, and TripAdvisor are a number of common Australian examples. Watch out for the growth of location based services like Foursquare.
    • Be wary of – the masses going feral. Sometimes ratings and reviews can be taken out of context

How Would I Use This Information

The goal in creating these buckets is to provide a leadership team with a simple reference guide so they can understand some of the hype and prioritise how and where the business should be focused.

In talking to Executive’s, my point is to use these categories to help them understand what is going to be relevant for their industry and business. This is particularly useful when attempting to manage internal demands to do this or do that.

What do I mean? If I was the CEO of an industrial products company marketing and selling to middle age technical experts, then Twitter has little relevance. So I would advise them to not spend any time or effort with this tool but focus their efforts on a blog, a wiki, and multi-media content across their business.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mark Parker
Mark Parker is the founder of Smart Selling, and the specialist business unit – Smart Social Media. The core aim of both businesses is to help companies become better sales organisations by utilising the ideas, tools, and practices of Sales 2. and social media.


  1. Thanks for the mention Mark! Also, I really like the way you’ve organized this into 9 different categories. Then again, I’m also a fan of perfect squares: 1, 4, 9, Spiral16, etc… 😉

    All in all, great post!



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