CMOs Struggle With Social Media: Vision And Guidelines To Succeed

CMOs have recognised that changes are coming, but many admit they and their organisations are not prepared. In fact, 78% expect more complexity over the next five years, but only 48% are prepared to deal with more complexity. The four key issues found by IBM’s first-ever CMO survey are data explosion (71%), dealing with social media (68%), the growth of channel and device choices (64.5%), and shifting consumer demographics (64.5%).

Social media

When it comes to social media 82% said they plan to increase their company’s use of social media but only 25% said they needed to acquire social-media expertise and 28% said tech savviness. Company goals are contrasting with personal ones.

Another contrasting insight is that they admit consumer data and input are key to their companies’ futures, but only 26% of CMOs track blogs, 42% track third-party reviews and 48% track consumer reviews and see them as tools in shaping their marketing strategies. Instead, they are still relying on traditional sources such as market research (82%) and competitive benchmarking (80%).

“Adapt or Die” but do the right things in the right way

This is applicable to the contrasting facts from the survey. Without the right skill set, focus, understanding and change, adaptation will go slow, in the end still not surviving the fast changing and dynamic environment.

Following are guidelines for CMOs to understand social media’s impact, the approach and scope.

Open Business

Social media are doors to the outside world, not a simple channel to deliver through. They are doors to listen, ask, connect and create with people outside the org – partners, customers and experts. These doors lead to competitive advantage in marketing, communication, service- and production innovation. What these doors ultimately achieve is a better business with a better output. Because the organisation has been reconfigured to take best advantage of the social web – its ability to put the customer at the heart of everything you do.


By understanding the full scope of social media implications, the CMO can increase his influence within the organisation and across the four P’s. The lack of influence is an outcome by IBM’s survey:

Another big problem for CMOs is their lack of influence. Across the four P’s — promotion, products, place and price — CMOs are only confident of significant influence in promotion, ranking their influence much lower in other categories. IBM concluded that CMOs should strive for more influence in those areas, especially since many also believe that marketing’s financial return on investment will become a key marker of success in the next three to five years.

Social media, their data and technologies can be applied for the purpose of Engagement, Research, Change and Co-innovation.


This is where the organisation’s primary objective is to use social media to engage with external stakeholders (Marketing or PR). For many this is the focus of Social Media integration.


This is where the organisation wishes to gain insights from social media either in a monitoring or research capability (Comms, Research or Innovation). By researching, discovering and understanding –unmet- needs and hot topics, the organisation can alter the value chain(s).


This is where the organisation acknowledge it needs to change how they operate to adapt to social media. This goes beyond adapting governance, people and technologies, this means understanding the impact of Social Media on the different supply chains and value chains and adapting those accordingly.


This is where the organisation realise social media is the opportunity to co-create innovations with external stakeholders . By researching social media data, organisations can discover –unmet- needs and product/service ideas which can be used to enhance the existing portfolio or develop new products and/or services.

By understanding the full range, the CMO can act as a spill within the entire organisation, because marketing produces results and is the distinguishing, unique function of the organisation (P. Drucker).

Insight-based strategic approach at the heart of social media success

With the Open Business vision and the four purposes in mind, the MIT Centre of Digital Business explains that in order to cost-effectively solve broad business problem and co-create e.g. a new product choice, a marketing campaign or a new service experience, enterprises need to start taking advantage of the “wisdom of the crowds” available through social media data, or risk missing out on huge opportunities to boost business. 

McKinsey has described the importance of (social media) insights:

Generating rich customer insights, always central to effective marketing efforts, is more challenging and important in today’s environment. Companies must listen constantly to consumers across all touch points, analyse and deduce patterns from their behaviour, and respond quickly to signs of changing needs.

Here is where the evidence- and insight-based strategic approach kicks in. By understanding and taking advantage of the wisdom of the crowds, extracting intelligence from social media data, organisations enrich their environment understanding. It’s not only about the risk missing out on opportunities, but also to adapt cost-effectively current propositions, adapting for instance business and communication planning on what people are interacting about.

Failure or the lack of tangible value derived from social media is due to the fact that often “one-size-fits-all” social media best practices are suggested and in a later stage implemented. This is done without adapting social media to the uniquenesses of the organisation. This leads to unsustainable and unfounded executions. Ineffectiveness, unnecessary higher costs, inaccurate measuring are effects by taking this road. There’s just one way to do it, and that’s the organisation’s way (the right things in the right way).

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