Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Quora, Wikis — that's a lot of social media. For business and government professionals, keeping up with the social media trends may be starting to feel like juggling attache cases filled with rocks—and the pressure is getting to them.
Many business and government leaders are choosing to drop out instead of plugging in. A recent study by the University of Massachusetts finds that less than 37% of Fortune 500 companies maintained a corporate blog in 2011 — a 13 percent drop from the previous year. The biggest social media slackers are companies specializing in government services, such as contractors, subcontractors, and office administrators who have very little reason to communicate with the general public online.
According to the Dubai Chronicle, the rapid pace of social networks like Twitter and Facebook, combined with the increasingly convoluted world of technology and new media, means that for many world leaders, just keeping up is a challenge by itself —never mind having to manage shaky economies, foreign crises and campaign trails.
"Both democratic and authoritarian governments are struggling with this," Financial Times associate editor Gideon Rahman spoke during a conference at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "You wonder how they managed to storm the Bastille without Twitter."
If world leaders seem uneasy about friending social media, they have every reason to. Over the past year, protests in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and most recently Syria were facilitated in large part by protesters organizing demonstrations via Facebook.
Google marketing executive Wael Ghonim inspired a nation when he emerged from an Egyptian prison after 11 days of torture for running a Facebook group highlighting the torture of dissidents under Hosni Mubarak's regime. Ghonim was eventually released, but the lesson has not been lost by protesters and world leaders alike.
"The days of the one-way conversation are over, whether you're the prime minister or the CEO," The New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman explained during the Davos conference. "We are all in a two way conversation. The challenge for political and economic leaders is to understand the power of what can be generated from below."
It's a fine line to walk, but the message is loud and clear: social media is here to stay. But that doesn't mean world leaders shouldn't carve out time for themselves.
"You can't be a leader unless you have time to think and develop yourself." Yale University professor Robert J. Shiller said during a session at the World Economic Forum.
As the relationship between governments and social media become more complex, that's exactly what government leaders wish they could do.