There is a game of musical chairs happening in Ireland’s boardrooms, and the head of marketing might be the one left standing when the music stops. The rise of digital technology has been accompanied by the emergence of new boardroom roles such as Chief Technical Officer, Chief Information Officer and Chief Digital Officer. They have introduced a new set of priorities to the boardroom agenda and a new language of ‘enterprise software’, ‘big data’, ‘AI’, ‘cyber risk’ and ‘the internet of things’.
This has left many marketing heads feeling exposed and in danger of being side-lined by their more technology-literate colleagues. They might find the solution in a survey commissioned by the Chartered Management Institute in the UK, which shows that ‘80% of business leaders think it important to make the most of social media but 70% admitted that their efforts are currently ineffective.’
Social media represents a battleground for influence and an opportunity for marketers. It is transforming customer service, market research, recruitment, campaigning and internal communications and encouraging the development of alternative business models and new corporate structures. It has become an integral part of our professional and private lives and dominates the leisure and professional time spent by customers, employees and other stakeholders, which is why, according to the Central Statistics Office, 67% of Irish enterprises employing 10 or more people are using social media, compared with an EU-28 average of 45%.
There is also a new generation entering the workforce that has lived most of their lives in social media – in a recent conference that I chaired, a group of students described themselves are being ‘born in the cloud.’ They are the true ‘digital natives’, armed with an intuitive technical knowledge and understanding that the rest of us can only dream of. Managing their expectations and harnessing their talents will be a major challenge for every senior manager in the decades to come.
There has never been a more important time for all of us to understand the power, potential and pitfalls of social media and there has never been a better opportunity for marketers to re-establish their influence and authority. One thing that senior marketing professionals have in their favour is their experience and intuition. The single most important skill that determines success from failure in social media is the ability to exercise judgement. This is the reason why even if they might struggle initially to master some of the technicalities, they are well placed to lead the social media debate within the boardroom. Judgement helps them know how to balance the demands of agility and compliance, and understand the importance of operating within regulatory frameworks. It provides them with an almost intuitive sense that an emerging issue being played-out in social media has the potential to turn into a reputational crisis and helps them understand how to engage multiple stakeholders through a complex array of channels.
Becoming more social media literate will also help marketers safeguard their future prospects. All of us are defined increasingly in the eyes of potential employers, stakeholders and colleagues by our social media profile and activities. Irrespective of where we are in our careers, we all need to make the effort to enhance our skills and develop and nurture our personal social media brands if we want to build effective networks, establish useful connections, lead more effectively and put ourselves in the frame for the next job or business opportunity.
So, no more excuses; no more delegating responsibility to juniors in the team; no more cynicism or complacency. It is time for Ireland’s marketers to become more social media literate, improve their knowledge, sharpen their skills and help their boardroom colleagues understand how to make the most of the opportunities and minimise the risks. Their customers expect it. Even the analysts and industry commentators following their companies are beginning to expect it. Are they ready to go native?
1 Chartered Management Institute, February 2014
2 Information Society Statistics, Central Statistics Office, 20th December 2016
3 The term ‘digital native’ was coined and popularized by education consultant Marc Prensky in his 2001 article entitled Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, to describe a new generation of students who were "native speakers" of the digital language of computers, videos, video games, social media and other sites on the internet