May 8th, 2009 by George Colony, Founder and CEO of Forrester Research

By George Colony, CEO, Forrester Research

Quickly: The only way CEOs can understand social technologies is by using them.

Twitter_logo_headerI’ve got bad news for you. You can’t understand Twitter, Facebook, or blogging by reading an article in a magazine or a report from your CMO. Sure, they can tell you what they are, but you won’t be able to truly understand how they could change your business unless you actually use them.

Social is like sex. It’s fun to talk about and read about, but you can’t truly comprehend unless you do it.

Here’s a story. Forrester’s COO, Charles Rutstein, and I made fun of Twitter when it came out. Twitter is the technology that enables you to send short messages (of approximately 25 words) to people who elect to monitor you on their PCs or cell phones. We instantly pronounced the whole concept to be brain dead. A few months later, Forrester bought JupiterResearch.

Charles said to me, shortly after we bought the company, “Hey, those analysts at Jupiter like being part of Forrester.” I said, “How do you know?” He said that he was watching their Twitter streams and the feedback was positive.

I signed up for Twitter the next day.

The CEO of Zappos.com, Tony Hsieh, uses social extensively and now has 300 customer service reps at the company on Twitter. Why? As Tony says, “People don’t relate to companies, they relate to people.” This is important insight. You, the 57-year-old CEO, may not use social, but that doesn’t mean that your customers don’t use social. You are not your customer.

Yes, much of the social technology is a titanic time-waster. And yes, much of the technology is crap. But there may be real value here for your company — something that you can’t grasp unless you engage with social.

I’ll have future posts on how the CEO can get on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks to learn the most in the shortest amount of time. If you like books, Forrester has a good one out on the topic — Groundswell — and a related blog collecting Forrester’s latest thinking regarding social. It’s a little techie, but full of good stories about how real companies have used social to their advantage.

As founder and CEO of Forrester Research, George Colony is one of the most influential thought leaders in the world of business and technology. During his nearly 30-year career, George has become a trusted advisor to CEOs of leading global companies by providing forward-looking and pragmatic analysis on the impact of technology change on business. His regular blog is The Counterintuitive CEO, where this post originally appeared.

[Editors' Note: CRM magazine's June 2009 issue is dedicated to social media and its imapct on the CRM industry. Subscribers will receive the issue during the last week of May, and the material will be online beginning June 1.]

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