I’ve been thinking about the value of micro-blogging applications for CEOs, and it seemstwitterto me that the use of Twitter (or Yammer, the micro-blogging service for internal corporate applications) for a CEO or anyone else in the corporate space becomes an issue of engagement, culture and two-way communication. I believe two-way communication, by definition, is an intelligent effort to incorporate employee feedback into corporate decision-making. So the use of Twitter becomes an issue of a CEO’s comfort level with consensual decision-making (wisdom of the masses) as opposed to the top-down, cascaded messaging prevalent at most companies whose businesses were built by traditional means.

But there’s an important distinction to be made; namely, that the use of Twitter at companies like Zappos is a reflection of their business model and culture. Zappos use of a next-generation communication platform like Twitter makes perfect sense because their business model was built online — they sell shoes over the Internet. What legacy-based organizations have to overcome is the cultural perception that their business model was built without reference to these new communication tools and platforms.

You get my point: It makes sense for the CEO of a new media firm to send out tweets during the day about how she’s meeting with venture capitalists, or how he’s working on a hot new product that will jump start sales in this sluggish economy. His communication with employees is direct, unfiltered and and in real time. This holds great promise and possibility for employee engagement. And President Obama obviously understood the value of this platform in directly connecting with Millennials during the last election — many felt connected to the Obama cause, even if, in some cases, it was only a staffer who sent the Tweet, and not Mr. Obama himself.

But for Twitter or any Web 2.0 next-gen medium to work the organization must be committed to open dialoguing, direct connection and two-way communication that leads to consensual decision-making. To me that’s the real issue: how transparent does the CEO or organization want to be? I think generally, owing mostly to generational preferences/differences, there is a definite line drawn in the sand when it comes to transparency at most legacy-based organizations. The openness has its limits — whereas outside the firewall, no such limits exist. Legacy-based organizations may not be as comfortable making decisions based exclusively on the wisdom of the group, or waiting for complete consensus.

I’ve heard consensus-driven decision-making explained this way: Google works by arranging the organic searches that receive the most hits in their order of precedence. So… if there is a consensus that Twitter is the top organic search result returned for those who Google the search term “micro-blogging,” well then, Twitter, by consensus, must be the leader and best choice in micro-blogging. It seems to extend to other areas of life as well, at least for Millennials. Rather than “deferring to the expert,” as Baby Boomers (and Gen-x cuspers like me) were trained to do, Millennials bow to the consensus of the masses. They won’t move forward until there is a consensus.

I would say that trying to deploy a Twitter-like application (or any social networking strategy) at a company that does not have buy-in at the top for consensual decision-making and transparency is like, in the immortal words of Seth Godin, trying to put a meatball on an ice cream sundae. My feeling is that increasing and encouraging two-way communication through vehicles like Twitter will only be successful if senior leadership is committed to acting on the wisdom of the preponderance of employee feedback.

Photo credit: xotoko’s photostream licensed by Creative Commons.

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