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How social is the CEO of the future?

Very few CEOs in the U.S. are active on any social media platform, as this survey from Domo and CEO.com points out. And, this Australian Financial Review article from late last year suggests the same pattern is true in this neck of the woods. It also provides some great insights into why CEOs are avoiding social media activity altogether:

"CEOs appear to be fearful that a presence on social media will harm their own reputations and that of the companies they run. [They] are questioning whether any commercial advantage can be gained from posting their thoughts on Twitter".

Fear of negative reactions, particularly from the markets, is a genuine issue and it's something leaders and their communications advisors should carefully consider. Think of Myer CEO Bernie Brooks tweeting without restraint a few months ago only to reveal a jarring ideological disconnect with his brand’s constituents – and the resounding social media slap that ensued. Not great.

However, platforms like Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook are not just social media sites. They're now also news networks, community hubs, sales channels and customer service portals. As such, people of all generations spend an increasing proportion of their time (both at home and at work) engaging with others, making purchasing decisions and publishing content through social sites.

Social media is now an extension of the workplace and the marketplace for many of us. So, why are so few CEOs present there? If we accept that a large part of a CEO's job is to promote, guide and show leadership to their organisation, being absent where so many customers and employees are present is hardly an effective strategy. Politicians know this is true. And they know social platforms connect them directly with the ‘common’ folk – the people whom will ultimately seal their fate at the polls. The most recent election in the U.S. showed how important social strategy is to election campaigns. And, during the first Leaders' Debate in the current Australian election, Twitter recorded some 2000 tweets per minute during the closing statements and some 75,000 tweets under the official hash-tags they were following. By any standards, this is a huge response. Many people were using Twitter to augment and extend their engagement in the event, and it's happening in more places every day.

We know that social media platforms are now adjunct to the way in which viewers and purchasers consume traditional media. We also know it's being used to inform buying decisions at the point of sale. Social media are ever-present in our lives. It has become a critical battleground for the hearts and minds of voters, customers and staff. The trouble is, how do communicators guide their senior leaders through this brave new world?

The most popular strategy for those CEOs courageous enough to go there has largely been to simply set up an account (a Twitter handle, for example) and then have the Marketing or Corporate Communications team post very, very rarely. Comments are almost never replied to and any abrasive or abusive responses are simply ignored. It's generally the old "no comment" approach.

In this way, many CEOs and the teams managing these accounts on their behalf are simply using platforms like Twitter (if they're using them at all) as a broadcasting platform. Or, to put it another way, they're using them as you'd expect to use conventional media. And, this is both a waste of the social opportunity as well as a sure-fire way to annoy savvy customers and staff using the platform for genuine reasons.

If you – CEO or otherwise – are going to be there, you need to be ready to engage. And this is what CEOs are simply not accustomed to. So, how can communicators lead the way? What can we do to show CEOs and other senior leaders in our organisations to be more present in this new workplace and marketplace, and how can we ensure it's worth their investment?

by Most Contentious

4 thoughts on “How social is the CEO of the future?

  1. Perhaps the best place for CEOs and senior execs to start their social media journey is by getting involved in other conversations that are happening. If your company has internal social media capability, commenting on employees’ updates and posts is a stress-free way to get comfortable in the space. And it’s a great way to show that the CEO is listening to the buzz, and not trying to talk over the top of it.

  2. Thanks Megan. This raises an interesting question we often hear. If you’re company is running Yammer or a similar internal discussion forum, should the CEO and exec get involved and, if so, what should they be wary of?

  3. One company I worked for had a very active Yammer community. I was really impressed with how it was being used to share information and get feedback on product ideas and features so I told the CEO and his exec team about it. Before I knew it, the whole exec team signed up and I watched in horror as conversation dried up immediately as everyone watched to see what would happen next. But when it became apparent that the exec team wasn’t interested in closing conversations down or turning Yammer into some kind of corporate spin machine, conversation started up again and flourished once more. So yes, they should get involved but they should keep it real.

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