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An Interview with Stephen Bates, Oracle Public Sector Director of Business Strategy, on Social Media, Public Companies, and Advice for CEOs


Stephen Bates is the Director of Business Strategy for Oracle Public Sector, one of the largest technology companies in the world. In this role, he drives program capture to enlarge Oracle’s hardware and software footprint within DoD, Federal Civilian agencies, Canada, and both state and local.

Stephen Bates, twitter: @batess

Q. What is the general consensus among public companies regarding social media? 

SB: Most publicly traded companies have fairly well defined guidance regarding the use of social media. As you know, publicly traded companies are regulated by the SEC regarding disclosure of material information. There is necessary due diligence that must be done regarding public communications. More and more companies are discovering social media as a way to harness their internal intellectual capital, but the free two-way exchange of information via social media remains a concern for a variety of reasons. Most companies will use social media as a marketing tool, allowing them to carefully craft both message and the medium. Others do an extraordinary job of customer service through Twitter (think Starwood Preferred Guest, Zappos, American Express, and JetBlue).

Q. Who are the CEOs who embrace social media?

SB: Aaron Stout has a list of Fortune 500 CEOs on Twitter.

Michael Hyatt, Tony Hsiesh, Scott McNealy, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Mark Cuban, Jack Welch, Sir Richard Branson, Schmidt, Tim O’Reilly, Fred Wilson.

The WSJ ran an article recently in the Careers section discussing the decline of resumes. Union Square Ventures, headed by Fred Wilson, simply asked prospective candidates to send them links to their web presence. I would imagine Klout scores weighing more heavily in future job prospects.

Q. Who would you like to see using social media?

SB: Firms that are customer-focused. I would love to see Jeff Smisek of United. There are HIGH RISKS, however. Consider the following:

CEOs are busy people with tons of demands on their time.

The stakes are high. If you make a mistake, you can end up in the front page of the Wall Street Journal. And not in a good way.

Financial risk makes it tricky to talk about meaningful drivers to the business (the SEC doesn’t take kindly to potential insider information).

Twitter is hard to learn, so learning “on the job”  — while the world is watching — can be unnerving.

Q. What are best practices for firms to leverage social media?

SB: Be personal. American Express is superb at this. They put a name to their company Twitter account. The Army CIO-G6 also does this; she tweets herself unless tweets are prefaced by “staff.”

Be consistent across all forms of social media.

Be timely and accurate.

Q. You worked as a General Manager at Apple for four years. What are your thoughts about Apple and social networking?

SB: If you recall, Apple wanted to partner with FB, but Mark Z’s terms and conditions were too onerous (See the 7 Nov 11 cover of Forbes magazine.) Apple wanted to buy Dropbox, and while not social, it did round out the ecosystem. Look at how deeply Twitter is embedded into the iOS. Phil Schiller tweets, but Steve Jobs did not nor did Tim Cook. Speculation on Apple’s future product plans is generally a fool’s errand.

Q. What do you see as the next big revolution in social media?

SB: Social overtaking and/or disrupting search. Search will be social. And the marketing metrics will get tighter and more effective. Look at Klout, ComScore, ListenLogic, Radian6 as examples of increasing measurement, but for business and consumer.

Q. Will Facebook exist in 5 years? 

SB: Absolutely, but mainly due to the lack of a credible alternative. I had high hopes for Google+, but I think Timeline was such game changer that few are going to make a similar such an investment in Google+, at least in the short term. That may change in the longer term for those that don’t have such an investment in FB.

Q. If you were hired as the CEO for a startup social media company, what are the first three key issues you would address?

SB: A CEO has two major priorities: Set strategic vision and focus on talent. Delegate everything else to your top managers. Do I have enough projected capital to execute my strategic vision while paying above market rates for my employees? If not, how do I raise and what is the appropriate debt and equity structure? What’s my exit plan? Are my metrics meaningful? Are my employees as fanatically devoted to customer service as I am to them? I spend quite a bit of time in the hiring andvetting process and would train managers accordingly. Employee churn kills companies.

 

Lisa Chau has been involved with Web 2.0 since graduate school at Dartmouth College, where she completed an independent study on blogging. She was subsequently highlighted as a woman blogger in Wellesley Magazine, published by her alma mater. Since 2009, Lisa has worked as an Assistant Director at the Tuck School of Business. In 2012, she launched GothamGreen212 to pursue social media strategy projects. Follow her on twitter.

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