Why business leaders with 'digital snobbery' are hurting their companies

Firms that don’t embrace change face being outmanoeuvred by their tech-savvy rivals.

By Joanne Sweeney-Burke CEO, Digital Training Institute

DURING 10 YEARS of preaching the revolution of PR, media and marketing, my message has fallen on many deaf ears.

I have had too many professional interactions with ‘digital snobs’ than I care to recount. These are people who believe that digital is a waste of time, that social media is a bubble and e-commerce is slang for pyramid schemes.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all too aware of echo chambers, multi-level marketing and trolls, but when boardroom fails to embrace the technological revolution, they are signing their own digital death warrant.

Digital transformation

Digital transformation starts at the top and its progress is helped or hampered in equal measure by CEOs and senior decision-makers.

I’ve often felt like the high-priestess of digital preaching from the pulpit in meeting rooms, trying to rouse the company’s disciples into leading the digital charge.

Often, that was my first and last meeting. They didn’t want to hear, see or speak any digital evil.

You see, I’ve studied this trait in large organisations. I’ve written about how and why police forces should embrace social media as a fundamental means of communications.

I remember a legal practitioner telling me it was “OK for somebody like you” to use social media to communicate on a many-to-many level. “But our profession; well, we are so much better than that,” she said.

I quickly reminded said practitioner that I was equally professional and educated, and that a savvy legal graduate who understood the minutiae of the internet would snap up her business if she failed to realise and respond to changing consumer behaviour.

The search and social giants

Google (search) and Facebook (social) are the Goliaths of the internet. They are the controlling agents of digital communications, and failing to understand their role will quickly put you in an underdog position in your company.

By 10am there are 1 billion searches on Google, while one in every five minutes on social media is spent on Facebook. When people search they are displaying an intent to be educated, entertained or sold to.

When people are on social they are seeking like-minded people that they can relate or aspire to. The world of digital communications has storytelling as the central cog with search and social using their shoulders to turn the wheels.

So are you a digital snob, or am I being too harsh? I know the world of the social web is a noisy place to navigate. I know there’s a lot of BS there. I know prolonged hours swiping up, down, left and right is bad for your mental well-being.

However, I’m inclined to step onto the side of digital opportunity and say that we can engage with stakeholders who can bring our organisation to the next level, who have the knowledge to fill a gap in our business or find an event that can put us in front of hundreds of potential customers.

Hell, I found myself speaking to 150 chiefs of police in Phoenix, Arizona, delivering the
keynote three years ago. This all sparked by a Twitter conversation.

Don’t be Blockbuster

There are so many stats I can throw your way to try to convince you that the power is no longer in your hands but in those of the digital-age consumer.

The smartphone has revolutionised the way we communicate, shop, travel and engage with family and friends. There is no going back. Google say we are only 1% of the way on this technological revolution, so ignoring digital transformation is not an option.

The next billion users of the internet will not just be mobile-first, they will be mobile-only – so the smartphone’s significance will continue to grow.

Your competition is not your competitor a few streets over, it’s the best mobile experience being provided to your customer.

Ready, steady, act

So are you ready, willing and able to transform? If you don’t change your mindset, the
decision will be taken out of your hands.

Let me give you some friendly advice, don’t worry about the ‘how’ right now. Your role as CEO, director or leader is to position digital front and centre in the culture and attitudes of the boardroom and then onto the shop floor.

I promise you, you will figure out the how-to. So stop scrolling and start taking action.

Joanne Sweeney-Burke is CEO of the Digital Training Institute and founder of the Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit.

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