Do CFOs act as ‘invisible users’ like GCs do?

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Readers of this blog are well acquainted with the “In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey,” the study that Greentarget conducts with consultant Zeughauser Group and InsideCounsel. Since we first published the study in 2010, the survey has shown a significant, year-over-year increase in in-house counsel’s use of new media. Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of in-house counsel reported using new media tools in 2013, compared to only 57 percent just three years ago.

We recently compared our survey’s results with those from “Social Media Risks and Rewards,” a survey of senior level executives at public and private companies conducted by Financial Executive Research Foundation (FERF) and accounting firm Grant Thornton, to see where the habits of in-house counsel may overlap with their senior colleagues in the finance department.  We published our observations in the article, “New Media Takes Center Stage in Corporate America,” for the current issue of Financial Executive magazine.

If there’s only one take-away from the “In-House Counsel New Media Engagement Survey,” it’s this: new media in the legal realm are here to stay — and three types of media rise to the top: LinkedIn, blogs and Wikipedia.

Two-thirds of respondents reported they visited LinkedIn in the previous week to obtain information, deepen professional networks and search for job opportunities, among other reasons. As much as 53 percent of respondents reported that they see a future in which well executed professional blogs may influence their hiring decisions. And more than two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) said Wikipedia is a legitimate professional tool—up from only 51 percent in 2012.

It’s interesting to remember, however, that in-house counsel tend to consume almost all of these new media as “invisible users,” a description Greentarget first coined in its 2012 survey. The invisible user is one who consumes information on the web in a listen-only mode—not contributing to the conversation via comments or joining groups, but simply seeking out and absorbing the information relevant to their professional work.

Are financial executives doing the same? FERF’s “Social Media Risk and Rewards” study confirms what our survey revealed about the corporate legal industry’s social media habits: social media usage is on the rise and companies are responding to this increase.

According to FERF’s respondents, 68 percent said they felt social media will be critical for all corporate efforts or an important component in those efforts going forward. Thirty-eight percent say their companies use social media sites such as LinkedIn and Facebook to create brand awareness, while nearly one-third of them (27 percent) use these sites for recruiting new talent. Additionally, two-thirds of executives envision their companies’ uses of social media increasing in the next 12 months.

The FERF study includes additional, salient points regarding financial executives’ concern for the increased risk inherent in active social media engagement, and their attentiveness to opportunities to mitigate these risks.

The personal new media habits of the senior financial executive remain unexplored.  While much ink has been spilled about senior managers’ reluctance to broadcast via new media channels, little is known about how they are consuming information in these channels.

While in-house counsel may not join the conversation online, Greentarget’s survey underscores the idea that content is critical in their new media consumption. “Invisible users” go online to find trustworthy sources for quality information and use that information to make decisions.  We know GCs are doing this and expect CFOs are doing so as well.  Proper usage of all new media tools—including social media sites, blogs and Wikipedia—can allow content providers to engage their readers, not necessarily through “risky” dialog or discussion, but through relationship building. And an understanding of the new media consumption habits of the financial executive can help them by moving content producers towards more meaningful, targeted, and useful content.