What Do Managers Today Need to Know About Social Media?

Social media is a fast-growing phenomenon that is transforming life around the globe. By 2009, the social networking site Facebook had reached 150 million users in just four years. That’s a very fast adoption rate by historical standards: The cellphone reached the 150-million user milestone 14 years after its introduction, and television and the landline telephone took 38 years and 86 years, respectively.1

Social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, however, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to social media. There are hundreds of online tools for sharing news, photos, writing, video, audio and more for collaborating on projects.

If social media were just a fad, one might expect to see it influencing a narrow set of social mores. Instead, we are seeing it transform local, regional and international commerce, not just consumer behavior. Social networking tools have become a significant force driving the evolution of today’s organizations.

Within businesses, leaders are using social networking tools to mobilize innovative ideas from previously overlooked sources and to forge new relationships and higher levels of engagement among staff. They’re using these tools to enhance their ability to understand, connect with and direct their organizations. Networking tools are helping enterprises improve relationships with customers, suppliers and strategic partners – helping to identify and respond to needs and problems faster and more effectively. As a result, organizations are becoming more agile, collaborative, humble and open.

But using social networking tools can be risky.

Although many studies have demonstrated the utility of implementing social networking tools within and across business functions, ceding control to customers does increase a company’s vulnerability to criticism. Loosening controls around information elevates privacy/security concerns and can threaten management’s authority. Delivering ineffective social media engagements can be worse than no engagement at all. And the return on investment for social media is still under debate.

Achieving the promise of social media is a complicated process. It requires specific skills, capabilities and, more importantly, a new mindset toward managerial control — control of information, control of people, control of ideas.

Having published on social media topics for more than ten years, MIT Sloan Management Review is uniquely positioned to help managers at all levels understand best practices and leadership pitfalls in this new era of the socially networked organization.

The MIT SMR Social Business hub will focus on related management issues. We’ll use a multi-phase, multi-dimensional approach. The first phase will involve a strategic partnership with Deloitte Consulting, with whom we will develop research reports based on surveys of thousands managers engaged in social media initiatives. As the first of these reports is developed, additional content will be sourced from a variety of places, including but not limited to MIT SMR submissions, blog items, webinars and case studies.

— David Kiron, Executive Editor, Innovation Hubs



1. J. Hempel, "How Facebook is taking over our lives,” March 11, 2009, money.cnn.com.