15 Questions to Ask a CEO Skeptical About Social Media


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Today I had another long discussion about social media with a fellow CEO. But this conversation gave me some new insight to why the skepticism. I guess because social media insider (like me) are asking the wrong questions!

Instead of endless explanations that 400 Million people are engaged, that Facebook is growing with more than a million per month and that this is a more effective way to improve customer relationships besides a dozen other arguments, we need to ask a very different set of questions:

  • What do you know about your customers in the social web?
  • Do you really know what customers say about you and your brand?
  • Do you know how accessible your customer base is and therefore how vulnerable you are?
  • How do you identify and work with key influencer?
  • Are you ready if your competitors go after your customers in the social web?
  • Is your team available if customers are asking questions publicly – or you don’t even know?
  • How do you embed your sales organization into the social web of customers?
  • Do you know how to leverage the social web for your support organization?
  • Do you have an idea about ROI and effectiveness of social media?
  • Do you know how to measure improvements and success in the social web?
  • Have you ever thought about empowering your team to engage?
  • Did you ever consider involving and leveraging your partners?
  • Did it occur to you that the social web may be ideal to compete for mindshare?
  • Are you able to create a social media strategy?
  • Do you have enough information to decide whether to ignore or engage?

My friend was silent after I explained to him that I can identify the majority of his customers simply by scanning the web and see what they say, what they like and what they don’t. He recognized that if I am able to do that his competitors can do that too. He said: “Axel, we talked about that quite often but you had asked me the wrong questions. Today I feel I’m completely naked. I will have an executive meeting this afternoon. What changed my thinking was not that I have some “potential” gain if I engage in social media, which even you couldn’t convince me so far—but today I understood that I’m facing quite a risk if we don’t…”

I had to promise to change the title and adjust the content of our webinars to “You don’t know what you don’t know”.

I hope this may help others to change the conversation when discussing social media with executives – I surely will.


Axel Schultze
CEO of Society3. Our S3 Buzz technology is empowering business teams to create buzz campaigns and increase mentions and reach. S3 Buzz provides specific solutions for event buzz, products and brand buzz, partner buzz and talent acquisition buzz campaigns. We helped creating campaigns with up to 100 Million in reach. Silicon Valley entrepreneur, published author, frequent speaker, and winner of the 2008 SF Entrepreneur award. Former CEO of BlueRoads, Infinigate, Computer2000. XeeMe.com/AxelS


  1. Axel, I suspect that your conversation was with a CEO more accustomed to following trends, not leading them.

    Leaders seize new opportunities. They see the upside.

    But most managers (including CEOs) are not leaders. They follow trends, fearing they’ll be left out. For followers, the risk of *not* doing something (falling behind) is a better motivator.

    The story of CRM is a case in point. Visionaries and leaders, long before it was called “CRM,” took the gamble on a new way of thinking and new technologies. They didn’t wait for the pundits to hype CRM, nor for the consultants to figure out the “best practice.”

    Vendors like Siebel came along and grew fast by helping others follow the leaders. “Hey, GE is doing CRM, you don’t want to be left behind, do you?”

    NPS is following a similar trend. Lots of lemmings going off the cliff chasing a simple formula for success.

    The same thing is happening with social media. CEOs will start Twittering so they can build a following like Zappos’ CEO Tony Hsieh, but will fail because they don’t have his customer-centric DNA.

    Yes, you pose great questions for follower-type CEOs. But real leaders are more likely to be asking *you* questions.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  2. What a great feeling when you break-through like that!

    First off, you are referring to Social Web versus Social Media. Right there I know that you understand that what we do is not even close to “media” work.

    “You don’t know what you don’t know” can be one of the best scare tactics and it approaches the client in a way that does not tell him why he should be afraid, but rather allows him to arrive at that juncture himself.

    I propose however that the number of individuals where “YDKWYDK” is effective is quite small. I will spend the first meeting or two sizing up the beast and finding out their level of business acumen. It sounds like your friend is on the top end of that scale, yet a good quantity of folks still need to be delivered “the hammer” or the Social Media equivalent like the recent video of the Dominos booger sandwich as a motivator for those CEO’s that still cannot perceive the risks to the business from User Generated Content.

    I have bookmarked this content as it does represent a positive shift in s.m. approach.

    Mike McDermott
    Bash Foo Social Media

  3. Axel: since I live and breathe questions for discovery (I catalog them on a large spreadsheet), I couldn’t help modifying the great set you’ve presented here. (Each question maps to the order you have above):

    What don’t you know about your customers?

    Do you know what your customers are thinking about your company and your brand?

    Do you know who your most valuable customers are and your risk exposure for losing them?

    How can (do) you identify the individuals who will be most influential in recommending and/or purchasing your products or services? (separate question: What is the probability that you can reach them using the tools you have in place right now?)

    What is the likelihood and impact if your competitors make an all-out effort to undermine your customer base?

    Do you know when something you sell is being asked about? Do you have a process to respond? What are the consequences to your business strategy if the answer to the first two questions are “no?”

    Does your sales organization have connections outside of your corporate boundary that are valuable to your organization and to your customers?

    Is there white space in your customer relationships that should (could) be filled by others in your company outside of the sales team?

    Do you have a targeted return on invested capital and understand social media’s contribution toward making that objective?

    Can you describe how your organization should look to your customers? How would you measure whether and how you’re delivering on this vision?

    Which team members have direct power to deliver the vision you described in the preceding question? Which ones don’t?

    When it comes to delivering value to your customers, how would you describe the community of companies and partners you work with? How are they engaged to fulfill your goals?

    What percentage of your prospective customers are aware that your company provides a solution to their business needs?

    What are your strategic objectives? Can you identify the capability gaps you have today to achieve those objectives?

    What assumptions are you making that must be true in order for your strategy to work? What information is not known that could have the greatest impact on your plans?

    If you want to get some more ideas for questions, let me know by including your email on my website

  4. @Bob – You are right there is a quite a sense of followership even on the executive bench. In particular in teams that are heavily managed by it’s board.

    @Mike – you are right on. The hammer is the right instrument for many, but then there is the question why force people to do something they only understand under pressure. A social media strategy to just have it and be ahead of the competition doesn’t guarantee success. So I’d rather go with leaders who WANT to make a difference to their CUSTOMERS not because of their board or competitor.

    @Andrew – thanks a lot for giving the questions a better spin and make them more punchy – that’s very cool!

  5. Mr. Axel:

    Thank you for these insights. I read this last week & finally had a chance to return today to digest it further. I’m drafting coorespondance to an executive team and via this information my approach was revised.

    I don’t carry a hammer, but instead hopefully anticipate a reception due to sincere motivation stemming from customer centricity versus a “stay ahead of the competitor” racing stance. I’ll let you know how it turns out.



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