Harvard Study: 30 Key Findings on How The CEO Engages With Social Media

I have recently posted articles on “9 Ways To Convince The CEO To Use Social Media and Enter The 21st Century“, as well as “28 Reasons Why The CEO Is Afraid Of Social Media“, so this study presented at Harvard University by the “Society For New Communications Research” (SNCR) in November 2009, was  a rather interesting read. I thought that a summary of their findings would be a great backdrop and  insight into how the CEO and major decison makers are using social media.

In the survey they asked questions like

  • Are professional networks being utilized by decision-makers in business?
  • Is social media typically regarded as a trustworthy source of information for professionals?
  • In what ways do professionals rely on social networks to support business decisions?
  • Will social media change the business and practice of enterprise-level operations?

The survey was administered online to 356 participants via online survey with close to a quarter (23%) are CEO of their organization, 50% are “Director” or “Manager”.

Company size ranged from less than 100 to over 50,000 full-time employees and age was well distributed with the greatest proportion in the 36-45 range, 25 countries were represented, with 58% of respondents living in the US and all respondents were either the decision makers or influenced the decision process.

So what were the “30 Key Findings”

1. Professional decision-making is becoming more social,  traditional influence cycles are being disrupted by Social Media as decision makers utilize social networks to inform and validate decisions.

2. Professionals want to be collaborative in the decision-cycle but not be marketed or sold to online, however online marketing is a preferred activity by companies.

3. The big three have emerged as leading professional networks: LinkedIn, Facebook & Twitter.

4. The average professional belongs to 3-5 online networks for business use, and LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are among the top used.

5. The convergence of Internet, mobile, and social media has taken significant shape as professionals rely on anywhere access to information, relationships and networks.

6. Professional networks are emerging as decision-support tools.

7. Decision-makers are broadening reach to gather information especially among active users.

8. Professionals trust online information almost as much as information gotten from in-person.

9. Information obtained from offline networks still have highest levels of trust with slight advantage over online (offline: 92% – combined strongly/somewhat trust; online: 83% combined strongly/somewhat trust).

10. Reliance on web-based professional networks and online communities has increased significantly over the past 3 years.

11. Three quarters of respondents rely on professional networks to support business decisions with reliance increasing essentially for all respondents over the past three years.

12. Social Media use patterns are not pre-determined by age or organizational affiliation with younger (20-35) and older professionals (55+) are more active users of social tools than middle aged professionals.

14. There are more people collaborating outside their company wall than within their organizational intranet.

15. Professionals tend to belong to “Multiple Social Networks” for business with

  • Half of respondents report participating in 3 to 5 online professional networks
  • Another three in ten participate in 6 or more professional networks
  • More than 7% used more than 10 professional networks

16. The Big Three Social Networks Have Emerged as Professional Networks, so popular social networks are now being used frequently as professional communities with

  • More than nine in ten respondents indicated that they use LinkedIn (91%)
  • Half reported using Facebook (51%)
  • Twitter followed closely with (41%)

Note: The closest next channel only scored 13%. Blogs were frequently listed as ‘professional networks’

17. Mobile Is Emerging as a Frequent Professional Networking Access Point with 94% using a PC and 44% using a Mobile.

18. Usage Of Professional Networks Is Increasing

  • Three quarters of respondents visit their social networks at least daily
  • Four in ten visit many times each day
  • All indicated that their usage has increased over the past three years
  • Those who belong to more online professional networks are more likely to visit many times per day
  • Small companies are more likely to indicate that they have increased their use significantly

19. Professional Networks Are An Increasingly Essential Decision-Support Tool

  • Three quarters of respondents rely on professional networks to support business decisions
  • Reliance has increased for essentially all respondents over the past three years

20. High Levels of Trust Exist in Information Obtained From Online Networks

  • Offline is strengthened by online engagement – to extend relationships and collaborate
  • Information obtained from offline networks still have highest levels of trust with slight advantage over online (offline: 92% – combined strongly/somewhat trust; online: 83% combined strongly/somewhat trust)

21. Connecting And Collaborating Are Key Drivers For Professional Use of Social Media.

22. More than half of respondents expect that in 1-2 years their company will increase social media use to share more content.

23. Over half  the respondents  will increase social media use to do more company-wide communications.

24. Changes in Company External Use of Social Media with More than half of respondents foresee more marketing programs and content distribution in the next one to two years.

25. Social Media is supplementing the traditional professional decision-making cycle with great affect.

26. The era of Social Media Peer Group (SMPG) has arrived and information will travel at a business velocity that has never been seen before enabled by the Internet and Web 2.0 technologies.

27. Challenges are facing marketers who endeavor to mange or control social media network content.

28. Traditional cycles of decision-making are being disrupted by Social Media Peer Group (SMPG) .. I like this new acronym!

29. Managing and influencing professional decision-making will be the major challenge as professionals often do not seek the information that marketers want to share online.

30. The greatest opportunity business has is to engage collaborative influence – via immediacy of impact through social channel.

So how are you as CEO using social media?


  • http://www.1stpositionmarketing.com Gavin Head

    You always find and post great stats. and insight Jeff! Thanks!

  • http://www.belkismarketing.com/ belkis Cardona-Rivera

    I use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter as my preferred social networks. However all three play a different role. I use Facebook to promote my business through a Fan Page; LinkedIn for having conversations with other marketing experts; Twitter to read and share interesting articles from others.

    Social media is one of those things that you need to know why you are using it and how it can benefit you in the long run.

  • http://www.centraleweb.com Serena Murphy

    I have been in the web/mobile industry for about 7 years. It is great to see that decision makers are starting to adopt.

  • http://twitter.com/mnburgess Mark Burgess


    Excellent list. Agree on the power of social media to disrupt the status quo. Factors such as increased levels of “trust” is highly significant vs declining numbers for traditional media. The advantages of each primary tool helps define its purpose.

  • http://www.backbonetechnology.com Ashley

    We find that different people and their different needs require us to be on the Big Three. Our clients want to find us in the places where they spend the most time. It also helps strengthen our customer service to be in social media.

  • http://frankbradley.tumblr.com/ Frank Bradley

    Interesting study. It certainly confirms some of the popular thought that Social Media is increasingly enabling distributed decision making among organisations. In the past while many organisations may have been willing to loosen the decision making shackles, it was not easy due to difficulties in getting relevant information to the right people. Perhaps Social Media is the catalyst that will finally make this possible.

  • http://harlowgroup.com.au/blog Steve Ludlow

    As a Director of a small business, I’ve found social media to be a great research and decision making tool when it comes to selecting suppliers as per point number one. Getting a new brand off the ground as we have in the past year, we’ve found social media particularly useful in reaching our niche target audience in sales and marketing executives in Melbourne and Sydney. I was recently interviewed on video that was broadcast on social media, and the topic was….. Social Media in corporate recruitment. See it here >> http://bit.ly/9w49eo

  • Estelle Metayer

    Great analysis, thank you. I have created a curated list of CEOs who tweet ( personally tweet…) and notice the “quality” of interaction differs widely and so their influence (measured by Peerindex) http://www.peerindex.net/competia/group/ceos_who_tweet
    Estelle Metayer http://www.competia.com

  • Frank Peters

     Interesting post, but based on a too old study (2009). 

  • Frank Peters

     Interesting post, but based on a too old study (2009). 

  • mbenek

    Who cares! This study is from 2009—three lifetimes ago in Social media!