Ladies and Gentlemen, today we are going to talk about politics. We’ve just finished a grueling New York City Democratic mayoral primary season. The apparent winner is Bill de Blasio, an Italian who managed to get enough votes from the black community to easily defeat the leading black candidate, at least for now (avoiding a possible runoff will require a 40% plurality of the votes). How did he do it?
What was it that allowed one candidate to connect with voters in a way that others did not? According to news reports, the key factor was effective advertisements showing the personal impact of the Bloomberg stop-and-frisk policies on de Blasio’s interracial family. And how does the press know this? Social media. This campaign was based on the most impactful issues portrayed and confirmed over and over again in the worlds of Twitter and Facebook.
There is nothing new about this approach to politics. Candidates have based their positions and campaigns for years on the results of opinion polls. The difference today is that, with social networking, feedback is instantaneous.
A recent HBR blog discusses the impact of social media on senior executives http://blogs.hbr.org/schrage/2013/09/the-instant-referendum-undermi.html, pointing out that ignoring the instantaneous approval ratings of their actions can be fatal. Imagine a CEO making a tough decision the real impact of which is two years away. Yet, as soon as the decision is announced beyond the inner circle, the CEO is getting an approval rating. His or her PR team will immediately report how the decision is trending on Twitter and what is being posted on Facebook. The media will immediately pick up on this, allowing crowd-ware to color reporting of business news.
So what do CEOs do? They have their PR teams test trial balloons to see how decisions would trend in social media. Then, they take real action based on anticipated approval ratings, staying ahead of the social media game.
What’s wrong with this picture? Everything! It’s one thing to appreciate that perception may appear to be reality in the short run. It’s quite another to make perception reality by managing perception rather than showing the courage to make the tough decisions. Just as the polls have corrupted the integrity of our political system by creating a breed of politicians who find it near impossible to put their convictions on the line to voters, so social media is creating a generation of senior business executives who are increasingly looking to social media in their decision-making process. If this is how they act, they are being as spineless as middle managers who survive by making no waves while accomplishing little.Today’s generation of senior executives needs to have the courage to make the tough decisions on the merits.