Down To Business: Are Execs Twittering Their Time Away?

Clearly, the rules of social networking engagement are still evolving. Either these tools are shedding light on business issues, or they're just a distraction.
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Rob Preston How many Facebook friends do you have? How many people are following you on Twitter? How many page views does your blog generate in a given day or week, and are other bloggers regularly linking to it? Are you highly rated on that departmental or project wiki you're expected to use?

We're all under pressure to get with this or that public or private social networking program, and some of us measure our success like schoolkids: Who's the most popular? But as professionals and business leaders, we need to get our arms around the true value of enterprise social networking, a subject InformationWeek delved into in a recent feature story.

It comes down to this: Are Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, as well as the more enterprise-focused social apps from the likes of Socialtext, IBM, and Microsoft, really helping us communicate, collaborate, solve problems, and close deals? Are they establishing executives as thought leaders and providing valuable references to third-party thinking? Or are they just forums for poseurs to primp for the adoring or drive-by masses?

Most enterprise users of social apps have jerry-rigged an ROI, mostly around cost savings and productivity improvements, but those justifications are still mostly qualitative. Meantime, skepticism abounds.

Nicholas Carr, who has made a nice living as a contrarian ("IT Doesn't Matter"), singles out Twitter as little more than a distraction. In a recent podcast with my colleague Fritz Nelson, Carr concedes that it's a "brilliant" application, but he argues that Twitter, like other Web apps, "still has that role of breaking experience, culture into the smallest possible bits and constantly interrupting us."

For every Werner Vogels, the Amazon CTO who uses Twitter and other social media to chronicle much of his professional and personal life, there are probably 100 execs reluctant to embrace Web 2.0. In an interview with me last week, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, an avid Web user, says he has resisted getting on Twitter and Facebook: "I'm really so consumed with all the stuff I do now I don't think I want any more." John Swainson, CEO of CA, says he uses Facebook and LinkedIn but communicates mostly by E-mail (much of it on his BlackBerry) and IM and hasn't felt compelled to jump into Twitter. "I don't need to publish my position daily or hourly or minutely," Swainson said in an interview, "though I'm sure my staff would consider ways for me to."

Many execs are still grappling with what information is appropriate to share on a public forum. No tech CEO had a higher blogosphere profile than Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz--that is, until people really wanted to hear from him. Once Sun had agreed to be acquired by Oracle, Schwartz's once-active blog went dormant.

Oddly, some execs seem comfortable sharing information on Twitter that they hold close to the vest in "official" communications. For example, when InformationWeek‘s John Foley contacted software startup Cassatt last week for comment on a report that it was on the verge of going out of business, Cassatt initially was mum. On Twitter, however, Cassatt VP of marketing Jay Fry (@jayfry3) already had a running thread on the company's predicament.

Clearly, the rules of social media engagement are still evolving. Where do you stand?

Rob Preston,
VP and Editor in Chief
[email protected]

To find out more about Rob Preston, please visit his page.