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Why Business Executives Fear Social Media Marketing

angry man yelling about social mediaThis post was born out of a fascinating and revealing conversation our CEO recently had with a business executive of a prominent Minneapolis-area car dealership who absolutely refused to entertain the idea of social media marketing in general, and Twitter in particular. A marketing director, she was convinced that her fairly expensive ad spend on a local radio station was all their brand needed to reach its target demographic, 18 to 45 year-old men. Incredulous, our fearless leader tried to explain that such a group was one of the sweet-spots for social media/Twitter marketing (in fact, 70% of Twitter users are between the ages of 18-45; of these, just under half are men). The marketing exec seemed agitated. She would have none of it, and quickly changed the subject.

This experience is not an isolated one. I’ve had numerous conversations with business leaders in the over-30 crowd whose opinion of social media ranges from that of novelty item to utter abomination casting a blight over their well-ordered business universe.

Why does the mere mention of social marketing upset so many executives and business owners, anyway?


A new study authored by The Economist Intelligence Unit and Pulse Point may shed some light. The study interviewed 329 US and Canadian executives (C-level to CEO) from 19 different industries to glean their perspectives on engaging customers “in meaningful conversations-enabled by social technologies-so both parties benefit.”

While 81% of executives agreed that social engagement provides their company with tangible benefits, such as increased market share, the study highlighted 9 roadblocks to deeper social engagement:

deeper social engagement

Taking a look at the top three roadblocks, it makes sense that concerns over ROI measurability, legal issues and strategy would make executives hesitate in their adaption of a new marketing platform. Having said that, social engagement is actually quite measurable; unless someone nukes the entire planet, all legal issues surrounding the dissemination of online content are going to have to be dealt with by organizations sooner or later. Moreover, there are innumerable resources on the web for any executive or organization to bone up on social media adaptation and strategy.

Except for very small organizations, the whole lack of budget argument is a bit of a canard. Yes, there are costs associated with hiring social media staff or outsourcing the management of social media to a marketing firm, but as a general rule the efficiencies of social media outweigh the costs. If you’re unconvinced, check out the blog I wrote on P&G regarding this very topic.

Beyond the numbers, I think there are three fundamental reasons why business leaders resist embracing social for their brand:

  1. Fear of the Unknown - Many pre-Millennial execs see social as “the other.” They don’t really get it, or refuse to consider it, and they sure as heck aren’t going to let some young whippersnapper tell them how to use it. I think I was a bit like this until I realized that I was really just plain wrong.
  2. Fear of Change - Apathy is the handmaiden of stagnation. For many busy executives, it seems like a lot of work to take on a new project, let alone a whole new paradigm.
  3. Fear of Technology - A subtle but powerful roadblock, as the world embraces all things digital and techie at an exponential rate, many execs feel like they understand less and less about the underpinnings of their business.

Taken as a whole, the rise of technology has inspired the Millennials (aka Gen Y) to conduct business in a fundamentally different manner. They tend to work in an inclusive, flexible, and naturally collaborative way and are very willing to share knowledge and engage socially (at least online).¹ As the world moves toward the adaptation of Internet, social and mobile technologies at breakneck speed, these trends will only continue to gather force.


Because many business leaders’ understanding of social media is limited to casual observations made of their children’s interactions, they are unable to acknowledge the relevance (criticality) of social engagement for their business.

Perhaps they see the Internet as another channel rather than a different space to do business in; they do not understand the open and supportive ethos that underpins it. Amazon's Marketplace showing a competitor selling the same product at a lower price on its own website and customer reviews is one example of this ethos.¹

As a pre-Millennial myself, I can relate to the points highlighted above. Admittedly, though, I must say that those who resist social engagement for their brand simply must change their ways or face increased marginalization. I truly believe that for most businesses, social is no longer a novelty or a luxury, but a fundamental necessity, right up there with telecom and power.

I ask all business executives who are currently resisting social engagement to reexamine their reasons for doing so, stripping away all fear and prejudice. When analyzed in the cold light of day, I believe you are left with one stark choice: to adapt and evolve, or stagnate and face extinction.

¹ Ecadamy, "Business: Social media can only be bad for business


Join The Conversation

  • May 13 Posted 5 years ago Client_Finders

    With all due respect, I don't think you made the argument why business executives should push aside the top three concerns, especially the first one.  ROI is the top concern for business executives.  A 3:1 ratio on revenue and expenses is paramount in any marketing strategy.  ROI for social media is ambiguous and amoebic. 

    Although it is attractive to have a social media presence (aka, a public relations department), the comparative benefit between traditional marketing and social media still favors traditional marketing.  I do believe social media has a nice fit for industries such as concerts, movies or socially conscious events.  But, for industries where client interviews are essential for determining if there is a win-win outcome for both buyer and seller, social media is not the right tool.  I have not seen the evidence where buyers are purchasing based on tweets and Facebook postings, unless the product is a pure commodity (concerts, tickets) and no education is required prior to the purchase.

    Finally, small business owners are looking personality in their social media specialists.  My daily experience, as a business consultant, with the majority of social media specialists is that they are great in tweeting and posting on Facebook, but do not perform well in live, client-consultant interactions.  Small business owners are looking for the hybrid approach...people who have both social media and verbal, face-to-face business skills.

  • snouraini's picture
    May 11 Posted 5 years ago snouraini

    I totally agree with you, it is fear of unkown. In fact I wrtoe an article about this very issue citing a study by a social media scientist who asked what lies behind fear of making connections.

    I would be honored if you read it.





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