Groundswell, Social Media should be part of business education

I recently completed another semester of grad school (only one class and my capstone to go!). One of my classes was in Social Media and the Groundswell, the phenomenon of customers communicating with each other through social media and using that communication, instead of only what advertisers shout at them – to make buying decisions.

The course textbook was Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies, by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff. While reading this book and taking this class, two things became very apparent:

1. Tapping into this groundswell and using it to engage your customers in your brand and product is becoming an increasingly important skill set for business leaders, particularly those whose products are aimed at a younger audience.

2. Many of today’s business leaders are deficient at – if not outright lacking – this skill set.

To this end, I’m going to make the same argument here that I made in one of the class discussions – that training in social media and the groundswell should be a part of any MBA or other business undergraduate or graduate school program. It obviously is a must for communications professionals, and has been for a few years now. But this knowledge needs to be a must for business leaders as well.

It can be taught as part of an existing course. It can be taught as a new, separate course. For current business leaders done with formal education, it could be done as a workshop or series of workshops with the local chapter of the American Marketing Association or a similar entity. But it must be taught.

Tapping into the groundswell is not as easy as it seems. It requires patience. It requires strong listening skills, even when the groundswell tells you things you don’t want to hear. It takes a high degree of sincerity about caring about your audience’s needs and desires. It takes humility and a  willingness to put aside your own pride and ego and preconceived notions. And you need to know what to look for, how to interact with the groundswell and how to interpret the information you obtain.

Younger business leaders may already have these skills. And certainly the next generation of business leaders will have a greater appreciation for the groundswell than the current one. But the current generation can’t simply pass this task off on a communications agency and forget about it.

Engaging the groundswell must be done throughout the organization, from the CEO on down to the entry-level brand assistant. Everyone must be behind it and understand it or it won’t work. In fact, the CEO in particular must be tuned into the groundswell and be able to represent the business in that environment.

No question the groundswell represents a major change to the way businesses relate with customers. But like it or not, the groundswell is here. Businesses need to adjust. And undergraduate and graduate business programs need to adjust as well.

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