Monday morning means a lot of things to me (not all of them bad!), one of which is the chance to read Lucy Kellaway’s excellent ‘On work’ column in the Financial Times.
This week she focused on the use of Twitter by senior management as a communication tool with their customers. More specifically she looked at the use of Twitter by the UK head of Starbucks, Darcy Willson-Rymer.
Her argument was that the regular use of the feed by Willson-Rymer showed how “social networking is making management focus on the wrong things” and that personally responding to hundreds of tweets was “listening gone mad”. This argument was based on three points:
1. That the manager should focus on the problem at hand rather than responding to a digital complaint about it
2. That she doubted the fact that someone with 80,000 followers tweeting about the issue would change customer behaviour
3. That issuing the “traditional formula” customer service response via Twitter rendered it “even more hollow than usual”, especially when responding to conversations not aimed directly at the Starbucks Twitter account
The article certainly raises a number of interesting points for debate, but the one I want to focus on is this – has social media changed the role of senior management?
In my opinion the answer is fundamentally no. However, that’s not to say it hasn’t added a new dimension for senior management to consider.
Managers (and CEOs particularly) have a large and complex role, but one aspect of this role is undoubtedly to be the public (and publicly accountable) face of their companies.
So if they are the public face, then does that mean that these managers should spend their days answering the Twittersphere musings on their company? Again, no, because as Kellaway points out that would be a misuse of resources and prevent them from doing other aspects of their job.
That’s not to say management should be afraid to dip their toe into the water however, and on this front Willson-Rymer’s efforts are to be applauded.
The ongoing issue of executive pay (highlighted again today), and the subsequent feeling that senior management may have lost touch with both their workforce and their customers, continues to dog businesses – easy target for the media that it is.
Managers at several large retailers (Marc Bolland and Tesco’s Laurie McIlwee among them) often speak enthusiastically of their efforts to spend regular days on the trading floor in an effort to combat this issue.
The question is, why should spending an hour or so of your day interacting with customers on Twitter be any different?