Corporate Eye

CEOs Cite Social Media as Number 2 in Hierarchy of Customer Interaction Methods

ibm ceo study bookletTraditional marketing practice for years has placed face-to-face as the number one method of interacting with consumers with websites coming in second place. However, new research by IBM, which surveyed over 1,700 CEOs across 18 industries and 64 countries, reveals that CEOs expect social media to steal the second spot within three to five years. Traditional media will plummet to the bottom of the hierarchy of customer interaction methods during that time.

At the heart of social media is transparency, and CEOs are catching on that people expect honesty and forthrightness from brands and companies just as they expect those traits in other people. Many CEOs who responded to the IBM in-person interview research study indicated that they’re prioritizing internal openness through a more social workplace. Of the top 20% of companies included in the study (based on revenue and growth) nearly one out of two reported that they promote social workplaces and openness in an effort to increase collaboration.

However, the social media learning curve is still huge, particularly where performance measurement is concerned. The majority of CEOs indicate that they don’t have access to the data they need to make decisions. For those companies that have found ways to measure social media efforts and turn that data into strategic decision-making, there is a new understanding that engaging consumers, lengthening conversations, and listening to people can mean the difference between brand success and failure in the future.

The hierarchy of customer interaction methods looks like this today according to the IBM report:

  1. Face-to-face
  2. Websites
  3. Channel partners
  4. Call centers
  5. Traditional media
  6. Advisory groups
  7. Social media

CEOs don’t expect that hierarchy to stay the same for long. Is your brand ready for the shift? There’s no turning back now. Leave a comment and share your thoughts on the future of the hierarchy of customer interaction methods.

Image: IBM

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.