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Are CEOs getting the social media thing?

IBM says a study it did of some 1,700 Chief Executive Officers worldwide found that many indeed - or should be -- grasping social media as a key enabler of collaboration and innovation.

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According to the IBM CEO study, the companies that outperform their peers are 30% more likely to identify what IBM called "openness" as a key way to influence the growth of their organization. Openess in the IBM lexicon means embracing social media and better use of collaboration. The idea is to a certain extent to "tap into the collective intelligence of an organization to devise new ideas and solutions for increased profitability and growth," IBM stated.

Some of the interesting items in the IBM CEO survey included:

• To forge closer connections with customers, partners and a new generation of employees in the future, CEOs will shift their focus from using e-mail and the phone as primary communication vehicles to using social networks as a new path for direct engagement. Today, only 16% of CEOs are using social business platforms to connect with customers, but that number is poised to spike to 57% within the next three to five years. While social media is the least utilized of all customer interaction methods today, it stands to become the No. 2 organizational engagement method within the next five years.

• More than half of CEOs (53%) are planning to use technology to facilitate greater partnering and collaboration with outside organizations, while 52% are shifting their attention to promoting internal collaboration.

• Greater openness is not without risks. Openness increases vulnerability. The Internet - especially through social networks - can provide a worldwide stage to any employee interaction, positive or negative. For organizations to operate effectively in this environment, employees must internalize and embody the organization's values and mission. Championing collaborative innovation is not something CEOs are delegating to their HR leaders. According to the study findings, the business executives are interested in leading by example.

• CEOs regard interpersonal skills of collaboration (75%), communication (67%), creativity (61%) and flexibility (61%) as key drivers of employee success to operate in a more complex, interconnected environment.

• The trend toward greater collaboration extends beyond the corporation to external partnering relationships. Partnering is now at an all-time high. In 2008, slightly more than half of the CEOs IBM interviewed planned to partner extensively. Now, more than two-thirds intend to do so, IBM said.

• A majority (71%) of global CEOs regard technology as the No.1 factor to impact an organization's future over the next three years - considered to be a bigger change agent than shifting economic and market conditions.

• CEOs recognize the need for more sophisticated business analytics to mine the data being tracked online, on mobile phones and social media sites. The traditional approach to understanding customers better has been to consolidate and analyze transactions and activities from across the entire organization. However, to remain relevant, CEOs must piece together a more holistic view of the customer based on how he engages the rest of the world, not just their organization. The ability to drive value from data is strongly correlated with performance. Outperforming organizations are twice as good as underperformers at accessing and drawing insights from data.

"Rather than repeating the familiar lament about de-personalizing human relationships, this view leans heavily in favor of deepening them, and using dynamic social networks to harness collective intelligence to unlock new models of collaboration," said Bridget van Kralingen, senior vice president, IBM Global Business Services.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8 and on Facebook

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