Archive for June, 2009

Do Executives Really Read Blogs?

Monday, June 29th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was talking with a former colleague about social media (or new media or web 2.0 or social networking or whatever you call it). He is now VP of sales at one of the companies in our industry and is contemplating starting a blog or doing something in social media and he wanted to get my thoughts. Early in the conversation, he asked “do executives really read blogs”?

An interesting question.

About a week ago, Forbes released a study entitled “The Rise of the Digital C-Suite – How Executives Locate and Filter Business Information” for which they surveyed 354 executives at US companies with annual sales > $1B. The results were both surprising and not surprising.

First, what was not surprising. The younger the executive, the more likely he was to use and count on the internet and social media as a resource for business related research. Whereas 56% of executives under 40 say they use Twitter daily or several times a week, only 17% of those over 50 use Twitter at all. The statistics are similarly skewed towards younger executive as regards usage of blogs, RSS feeds, social networks, and so on.

Also not surprising, the more mature social media technologies had the highest adoption rates. Irregardless of age, almost 100% of executives turn to the internet via search engines to do research before enlisting the help of their staff. The top areas of research are competitor analysis, trend analysis (customer, technology, societal, marketing, political), and corporate developments and news about mergers, acquisitions, and joint ventures. Meanwhile, 95% found links from websites, blogs, and other online content to be valuable and 82% found guidance from contacts in online communities to be valuable.

So, what was surprising? Among executives under 40, 72% maintain a work related blog, with almost two-thirds updating it at least weekly. Twitter and RSS usage was very similar. Who knew that these busy executives could find time to keep up a blog or to “waste time” on Twitter? This trend will only increase as more of Generation Netscape and Generation Youtube find their way into the executive suite.

With similar goals, UberCEO.com scoured the Internet to determine how many of the Fortune 100 CEOs were using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, or had a blog. In stark contrast to the Forbes study, the results of their research indicated that of the 100 CEOs, only 19 had personal Facebook pages, 2 had Twitter accounts, 13 had LinkedIn accounts, 75 had Wikipedia pages, and none had a blog. What could account for this difference between the two studies?

Some of the difference is due to the demographics of the two studies. Whereas UberCEO considered only Fortune 100 CEOs, Forbes looked at executives of all ranks (only 18% were CEOs) and included much smaller companies with sales > $1B. (In fact, the Fortune 100th company had sales over $20B, 20x the limit for the Forbes survey). There seems to be a greater tendency for lower-level executives and those in smaller companies to use social media. Also, the CEOs in the larger Fortune 100 companies are more likely in that 50+ range which makes them less likely to participate in social media. I also think that the UberCEO survey undercounted since they did not contact anyone directly and missed many who may just listen in on blogs and Twitter and other social media and not yet participate as content producers.

A third more in-depth datapoint was provided by Ron Ploof in his recently released eBook on How Johnson and Johnson (Fortune #47) Does New Media. Despite being in a highly regulated industry where they had every excuse not to risk adopting social media, nonetheless JnJ has been very bold and successful with 2 blogs, a Youtube channel, a Twitter account, and now a Facebook page. Apparently, many of JnJ’s executives have adopted social media.

So, back to my colleague’s original question, “do executives really read blogs,” here’s what I think. Considering that we are in a high-tech industry with technology savvy execs, who tend to be younger than the average, with companies smaller than the typical Fortune 100 … Yes, the executives that you are likely trying to reach probably do read blogs. And maybe even use Twitter (see this list of business leaders and executives on Twitter) and have a Facebook page.

But that’s just me. What do you think? I’d especially be interested to hear from any executives out there as to what tools you use, why you find them useful, and how you use them.

harry the ASIC guy