When it comes to digital and social media, companies have made tremendous strides. You'd be hard pressed to find a company that doesn't have a corporate website, or even a Twitter handle. Yet CEOs still have a long way to go in becoming truly "social."
Given today's consumer-driven, always-on digital landscape, social media usage among CEOs is critical to maintain and govern a brand's reputation, build and deepen relationships with customers and employees, and drive innovation that can lead to rapid business growth.
No matter what industry, location, or size, every company must be a technology company. That means the company and its leaders must be present and findable where their customers are researching, interacting, and transacting-which is largely online and on social media.
For the skeptics, who all too often dismiss social media as being "unproven" or "too time consuming", it's never too late to get started. In 2013, Warren Buffett tweeted his first tweet at 82. What did he tweet? "Warren is in the house"--one of the most re-tweeted tweets. (In all fairness, Buffet has only tweeted a total of seven more times.)
The Increasing-But Gradual-Rise in Social Media Use by CEOs
Once considered "too risky", social media is increasingly becoming a key communication channel for leaders. In a 2015 study, Weber Shandwick found that eight in 10 CEOs now participate in social media, mostly through their company pages. And as with any communication tool, social media becomes a liability if not handled with care. But more often than not, it can be a liability for companies whose leaders are not active on social media.
Here's an example of social media strategy at play:
Following the crash of AirAsia Flight QZ8501, AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes leveraged the power of social media in crisis management. For example, her wrote "To all my staff Airasia all stars be strong, continue to be the best. Pray hard. Continue to do your best for all our guests. See u all soon." By taking to Twitter following the aftermath, Fernandes was able to turn an extremely difficult situation into a less damaging one by opening up the lines of communication via social media and offering the transparency and support that his employees and customers so desperately needed.
Who is a Social CEO?
A 2015 Weber Shandwick study of company executives found that CEOs who engage on social media are seen as good communicators, and are among the most well-regarded. CEOs are considered "social" if he or she does at least one of the following:
- Is active on at least one social media network
- Engages with customers and employees via a company website through email, video, or audio
- Authors thought leadership content on a company's blog
Actively engaged Social CEOs include Richard Branson (@richardbranson) of Virgin Group, and Marissa Mayer (@marissamayer) of Yahoo, each with millions of social media followers across LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr.
Who is the most engaged CEO on the Fortune 500 list? Jack Salzwedel (@AmFamJack) of American Family Insurance, with over 7,000 followers and 8,000 tweets.
Benefits of Becoming a Social CEO
In The Social Business Imperative: Adapting Your Business Model to the Always-Connected Consumer, Hearsay Social CEO and Starbucks board member, Clara Shih, says social business unlocks key insights that can have profound changes to an organization's bottom line, which must be initiated and driven by company leadership.
Here are several benefits of "going social" outlined in Shih's book:
- Puts a face to the name of a company and helps to humanize the brand
- Provides an avenue for two-way communication to share messages, solicit feedback, and listen to what customer, employees, and the public are saying on social networks
- Boosts the reputation of the company as a brand and the CEO as a thought leader
- Fosters a culture of openness and transparency that ultimately empowers both employees and customers
- Sends the message that social media is important and necessary
- Boosts employee morale and demonstrates that the CEO is open to change and innovation
- Helps resolve crisis issues quicker and better, helping to manage reputational risk
Steps for Becoming a Social CEO
Consumers increasingly look for brands and company leaders to engage with them online and on social media. They expect companies to provide them with real-time answers to real life problems -- whenever, wherever -- and show up throughout their entire customer journey.
Here are six actionable ways for CEOs to become more actively engaged through social media:
- Take personal ownership of social media strategy--It's been said that social and digital are everyone's job. CEOs must take personal ownership to drive social media success across their organization--starting with understanding the significance of social media business strategy. Otherwise, digital transformation and innovation simply won't take place. This requires more that setting up a Twitter handle; but rather active engagement and accountability for what's being said and shared across the social media ecosystem.
- Listen to what your customers, employees, and prospects are sharing online--It's important to step back, and take stock of insights about your company, industry, and products that are being shared by customers, employees, and prospects on social media. It's not uncommon for people to share life moments such as marriage, career changes, and community involvement on social media. Company leaders can use these insights to connect with customers and employees are the right time, with the right message.
- Be active on at least one social media platform--It's not enough to simply set up a Facebook account by adding a bio and photo. Effective CEOs have to actively engage on social networks to reap the true benefits of social media. LinkedIn, used by the majority of CEOs, is a good starting point, followed by Twitter and Facebook. The key is to start with one account and select the platform that's right for you.
- Share compelling stories--Having a social media presence, no matter how small, puts CEOs in a better position to share their company's story and connect with a large audience. While there are no hard and fast rules, CEOs can reap the rewards of social media by telling a great story and offering something of value. This includes sharing stories that are both personal and professional in nature, and limiting the amount of things you say about the company's particular product or service.
- Emulate the success of others--While not everyone can be as social as Richard Branson or Marissa Mayer, CEOs looking to become more socially literate can learn from the successes of others. Follow the Twitter handles of CEOs who are posting content on a regular basis, and see what types of content they are sharing, what time they are sharing it, and how much people are engaging with it (for example, through "shares" and "likes").
- Be authentic--To be successful on social media, it's important that CEOs remain authentic and transparent, and avoid outsourcing social media tasks to marketing team members. One tip: In every communication, use casual language, free of industry jargon, like you're talking to a friend. Resist the urge to delegate your social media account to junior staff-your customers and employees want to hear from you, and they can tell a fake from a mile away.
It's clear that companies can not afford to have their leaders missing from the digital and social media platforms that our world revolves around. Today, CEOs and management team members must personally engage and carefully strategize to include social media strategy in the company's overall mission and vision to stay relevant in the digital age.
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