Social Business: “This is not just a drill, people”

July 15, 2013 Comments
Social Business: “This is not just a drill, people”


I sometimes get the feeling that some of today’s leadership, are just waiting for “this whole social media thing” to pass.  I get the sense that leading a conversation for whole-hearted, organization-wide adoption of social tools and principles, seems idealistic, unrealistic, and that the best solution might be just to “wait it out” and “see where it all goes.”

I’m sorry to be the one to do it (though I’m sure there are others who came before me), but I have to deliver the wake up call.  This is not some cute little trend that the kids are doing.  This is not the wave to let pass.

This is not a drill.

The World Changed Underneath Their Feet

I couldn’t find an exact number, but according to one study I found, the median age for an S&P 500 CEO is 55.  If we take that to assume most CEOs across the globe are between 40 and 80, we can see one of the reasons why many CEOs may have trouble grasping what is going on.

The world looks a lot different than it did even 5 years ago, and remarkably different than it did 10 years ago.  Go back even further to consider what it looked like during the current CEO’s childhood and we’re obviously “not in kansas anymore.”  In fact, compared to the average CEO’s childhood, the world couldn’t be much more different than the Land of Oz.

  • The average (55) CEO, was born in 1958.  This is a person that was alive for nearly 40 years before the internet became a significant part of their lives, and that’s if they were early adopters.
  • This is a person that was alive for nearly 50 years before the birth of the true smartphone movement (I’m looking at you iPhone).
  • The entire concept of a social business model only emerged in the most recent 25% of the average CEOs lifetime, and that’s if they were even paying attention.1

How can we not expect skepticism when the world is so fundamentally different than what many CEOs have dealt with for the majority of their entire lives.

How BIG is the shift?

I would contend that the shift in the world is so massive that, like an ant looking at a shoe, it’s almost unrecognizable.  When you look at the numbers, it’s staggering.  I mean, can we really comprehend what an exabyte is, much less what 2-5 of them per day is?  Because according to a variety of sources, that’s about how much data is being generated by humans, everyday, and it’s increasing.  The tidal wave of that data is user-generated.

We’re in the midst of an industrial renaissance just to build computing machines capable of parsing through such massive piles of data to make any meaning out of it at all.

And it’s not just data, it’s connectivity.  It’s humans being more loosely connected than ever before and communicating with one another in fundamentally new ways; ways that have only emerged over the last 5 years.

Much like the invention of the printing press, steam engine, combustion motor, assembly line, or alternating current electricity (AC), social technologies have initiated a change in the world, and popular adoption has happened far more rapidly than any of those other inventions.

The speed of communication is accelerating.  The speed of technology is increasing.  People are now finding ways to get the things they want and need in new ways.  They have a larger, more amplified voice than they ever have in the past.  In turn, this is shifting how people behave on a daily basis.

Adaptation and Survival

This is not a fad, the genie will not go back in the bottle.  In order to adapt to the massive shift that is taking place, businesses need to start over and rethink their businesses from the inside-out.

Today’s business needs to consider, not just social media marketing (which is the baby step), but even bigger, how the global environment of social affects everything.

  • It means looking at the business as part of the world, not just a separate profit-entity.  What is the company giving back to the world?
  • It means creating a company culture that resembles the world around it, one in which everyone collectively benefits from by being given the freedom to speak up, contribute and share.
  • It means having a business that is designed to meet the needs of a more active, vocal and fast paced customer.  Do you have enough touch points?
  • It means building a culture where the business is constantly disrupting itself to meet the needs of the marketplace through active listening, engagement and adaptation.
  • It means overcoming the challenge of aligning the entire team behind a purpose so that the organization can move quickly, effectively and maintain as much influence over the brand as possible.

The business that wants to be around in the next 5-10 years needs to do this work.  There needs to be a push for strategy, and constant assessment.

It may sound scary to rethink the business in these ways, but I repeat, this is not a drill.

1. Cluetrain Manifesto – affiliate link


  • Sanjay Abraham

    :) well Baby Boomers are too busy planning for their retirements….then how could they spearhead change:)? Its the law of inertia. It takes energy ( an courage too) to try new ways. I know leaders who are 50+ years age but still believe social business could change how we do business. They are visionaries but unfortunately all of them are not. Simple facts- Social Intranet is improving internal collaboration. Right or Wrong? Customer communities are helping customers and adding to customer delight. Right or Wrong?. Social Business has made business in many organisations more effective& profitable. Right or Wrong? Answer to all of these is a big RIGHT. If people are impeding Social Business in an organisation its because of their own vested interests. This will change. After all, No one can stop the idea whose time has come.

    • Jeff Gibbard

      Well said Sanjay. “No one can stop the idea whose time has come.”

  • Ville Kilkku

    I think the view presented in this post is a bit extreme, although it does ring true in some regards.

    The age of the CEO does not determine how up-to-date they are regarding change. In my work on social business, I have worked with managers in their 60s who get it, and managers in their 40s that don’t. There probably is negative correlation as age rises, but that is not causation.

    Hey, I grew up in a world without cell phones and the internet, and I am only in my 30s. A lot has changed since my early adulthood as well.

    Furthermore, although I do agree with your points on the needed change in general, it really is not the case that all businesses that do not become social will fail in the next 5-10 years. Have all top-down organizations failed yet? No, and that change has been in the making for decades.

    Yes, becoming a social business now has certain potential to increase market share and profitability. Yes, failing to do so will cause some companies to fail in the next 5-10 years. However, as a general rule, no it won’t. It depends a lot in what kind of business you are in.

    Even though I am sympathetic to your goals, I think that doomsday scenarios like this one will only serve to position social business in the “latest fad” category, which is a shame, as I believe there are significant benefits to be realized from becoming one. The benefits and downsides need to be examined more critically in order to really convince thoughtful CEOs.

    • Jeff Gibbard


      So sorry for the delayed response to your comment, apparently I wasn’t signed up for notifications.

      I agree with you about the age of the CEO having nothing to do with how up-to-date they might be, however, statistically, usage of social networks declines as age increases. I’m not saying it’s a rule so much as a tendency. I do think it helps when looking at the situation from a macro level.

      I also want to clarify that I don’t think all businesses that fail to embrace social technologies will close their doors in the next decade. However, in almost every case, the adoption of social tools, technologies and processes, or at least the understanding of how they impact the business, is smart to consider. I’m not trying to provide doomsday scenarios, rather a wake up call to those that are not yet considering it.

  • Michael Green

    Jeff, Nice one! I did a similar post the other day talking to the implications to CEOs “At this point in our human history, we are witnessing an unprecedented shift in human values.
    Millions of people all over the world are demanding their voices be heard, not just in how our nations are governed, but also in how our organisations are run.” … more here:

  • Jessica Barnes

    BLOOM Worldwide COO, Jay Cooper was at the #TweetsFromTheTop Twitter event last week which was designed to build the case for C-Suite to actively participate in social media (Twitter in particular) on a personal and professional level. It generated a really interesting debate amoungst some of the UK’s top executives, some of whom were for and some against personal participation in social media. You can see a useful summary of the online conversation here:

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