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Two recent studies seem to confirm what most of us already suspected: business leaders are generally clueless about social media.

The first study, conducted by Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law, surveyed senior US marketing, management and HR executives. The executive summary and whitepaper are available at http://www.russellherder.com/SocialMediaResearch/, but some key statistics culled from the report are telling:

  • 81% believe social media has the power to enhance customer and client relationships
  • 81% agree it can build brand reputation
  • 69% feel social networking has value in recruitment
  • 64% see is as a customer service tool
  • 46% feel it can enhance employee morale

There’s a giant “but.”

Despite these overall positive feelings about the intrinsic value of social media, both intra-office and from a branding and strategy standpoint:

  • 51% fear social media could be detrimental to employee productivity
  • 49% fear social media could damage company reputation

This reluctance to implement social media into corporate strategy has a cascading effect on HR and IT policy: less than 1/3 of respondents report that their organization has incorporated an acceptable use policy for social media, and only one in ten has conducted employee training in this regard.

To that end:

  • 40% block employee social media access
  • 40% are concerned about confidentiality and/or security
  • 37% fear a loss of employee productivity

The other study, conducted by UberCEO.com surveyed Fortune’s 2009 list of the top 100 CEOs to discover how many were using Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Wikipedia, or had a blog.

The summary and whitepaper are available at UberCEO.com, but the thumbnail sketch is telling. It seems like these results should be shocking, but somehow they’re not.

Of these 100 business leaders:

  • 2 (that’s TWO) had Twitter accounts
  • 19% had personal Facebook pages
  • 13 had profiles on LinkedIn
  • 0 (as in zero, goose-egg, nada) had a blog

It’s hardly surprising that large companies are either slow to get on board, or are often misguided when they do. Effective implementation of strategy, social media or otherwise, requires buy-in and approval from the top down.

When corporate honchos are content to remain disconnected from not just their customer base but their own employees as well, adoption of new media and methods for communicating and connecting moves at a stereotypically glacial pace.

Business leadership needs to adjust to the idea that your brand is as much what your customers say it is as what you say it is.

A quick look at my previous post bears this out: an unknown musician made a video criticizing United Airlines and proceeded to crush their limited social media efforts, and brought out all the angry torch-bearing villagers to boot.

Customer perception is a powerful thing, as the amount of money companies spend to massage public opinion demonstrates. As a business there is no sense in cutting your own legs out from under you by letting your customers have the last–or only–word.

Use that money wisely and get into the game, or sit alone in the bleachers when the team bus leaves without you.

Coming up in part two: “It’s Your Company, Now Own It.”

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