When it comes to corporate leaders being social, it can be lonely at the top.
For years now many companies and CEOs have resisted the social media movement, taking a more conservative approach to their digital startup and tech-co counterparts who have dived into the Twittersphere.
A recent survey has revealed most Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence on any of the major social media channels, and it seems they’re in no hurry to make ‘friends’ in the digital space.
CEO.com’s 2016 Social CEO Report kept a close watch on the activities of Fortune 500 CEOs on top social networking platforms including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and YouTube. They found a staggering 60 per cent of CEOs still had no social media presence at all.
Only five of the leaders had a presence on four social media networks – and they were the executives at Walmart, PepsiCo, Netflix, Manpower and Live Nation – while Expedia’s CEO was the only executive with profiles on five social media networks.
For the 40 per cent of CEOs who were using social media, the LinkedIn Influencer program was cited as an incentive, while others preferred Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, or YouTube.
Some CEOs defended their lacklustre social performance, claiming they either saw no purpose in pursuing a medium that provides no concrete return on investment, they were too busy, or simply didn’t understand how it all works. Some also exposed a fear of unfiltered messaging creating havoc and confusion in the marketplace.
But ignoring almost 3 billion active social media users globally is probably not a good business strategy. This powerful wave of digital communication platforms, each with its own point of difference, has radically changed the way individuals, including investors, live and work. By not tuning into their frequencies, organisations are running the risk of not being heard, and missing out on opportunities to maximise brand potential.
To navigate this social superhighway, a McKinsey report calls for a ‘new type of leader’, one who can tap into the power of social media and deftly veer away from its pitfalls.
The report makes the comparison that the dynamics of social media demand the same qualities that have long been a staple of effective leadership, such as “strategic creativity, authentic communication, the ability to deal with a corporation’s social and political dynamics and creating an agile and responsive organisation”.
Those leaders diving into the digital deep end are changing the way corporate companies communicate. And their success demonstrates just some of the reasons why CEOs should be on social media.
Traditional management models are typically hierarchical and keep tight controls on communication. And sometimes, you can appreciate why. There have been several high profile examples of social media mishaps for CEOs, like when Apple chief executive Tim Cook was ridiculed for tweeting a blurry iPhone photo from the Super Bowl. But a strategic approach and carefully considered execution of social media use can be both safe and beneficial for CEOs and their companies.
Social media is a unique form of communication and engagement that can expand and benefit from collaboration and teamwork. CEOs have the capacity to throw the net far and wide to capture high profile collaborators who can help elevate messaging, leverage off trends and broadcast messages widely. Tesla’s Elon Musk is known for his influential tweets and fast-moving network. His simple Tweet about a ‘major new Tesla product line’ saw the company’s market value boosted by $1-billion almost instantly.
Buzz spreads the word
McKinsey examined the purchase decisions of 20,000 European consumers, across 30 product areas and more than 100 brands, and concluded that buzz plays a greater role than previously thought in getting consumers to buy. Traditionally known as ‘word of mouth’, buzz refers to the sharing of experiences about products and services, recommendations and being influenced by others experiences – all powerful dynamics in the digital social media space and one which CEOs would do well to note. Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn loves the buzz consumers create, especially when it comes to launching new products. He says he is constantly chatting with customers who are “always proposing and telling you what to do” and feels this is great “because it allows you to enhance your product and develop at a much faster pace, and we are much more accurate than before”.
Be seen, not just heard
The 2014 Global Social CEO Survey found 82% of respondents believed a CEO’s active engagement on social media enhanced their reputation as forward-thinking, trend-setting leaders. This reinforces the demand for corporate messaging coming straight from the top. For those willing to take the leap, videos are becoming a popular new tool for companies and CEOs to broadcast their ideas and build on company reputation.
Communications technologies are changing the way people connect so rapidly, that any attempts to stay out of the limelight may mean being left to stumble around in the dark.
Staff, Sales and Satisfaction
Amy McIlwain, Hootsuite’s Global Industry Principal, has travelled across the world to discuss a research collaboration between Hootsuite and LinkedIn, which traced how social media use by senior executives in Australia’s financial services sector impacted employee engagement and company revenue. The result? A 40% increase in employee engagement as a direct correlation of CEO or executive engagement. Amy says companies with ‘social CEOs’ have better overall brand perception in the marketplace, and digitally inclined CEOs are better able to capture talent and drive sales. Amy shared a great story with Forbes about a Fortune 500 CEO who was congratulated on being ‘feared and revered’ when he was promoted to his new role. Wanting to connect with his peers and appear more relatable, the CEO defined his goals and personal brand and began using social media, becoming very active on Twitter. “Part of his brand is that he’s an avid road biker and when he races, he shares photos. That’s what makes him relatable and human.”
Xinfu CEO Steve Tappin, well known as host of BBC’s CEO Guru, says there are no two ways to the debate on whether CEOs need to be on social media “because social media is no longer a thing that some people have and some people don’t, it’s now how we communicate”. He says CEOs often don’t see the relevance of being on social media if their companies are doing well, or if they don’t have the time, but insists it’s another important step to take the company from good to great. As a starting point, he suggests CEO’s delegate a lot of the work, but still produce some personal content to establish that personal connection with stakeholders.
Engagement creates wonders
Digital channels are a great way for CEOs to humanise themselves as the face of the companies they lead. And posting a message on Facebook, for instance, can have far-reaching consequences, as Netflix CEO Reed Hastings found out in 2013. He controversially posted on his personal Facebook account that the Netflix monthly online viewing had surpassed one billion hours, but failed to include the information in a press release or Form 8-K. The Netflix stock price increased from $70.45 at the time of the Facebook post to $81.72 the following day. This led to the US Securities and Exchange Commission officially approving social media use for company announcements in 2013.
Some CEOs and companies hide from social media in fear of receiving online criticism. But being proactive in the online space gives companies greater control over what is being said, and the right of reply. A digital strategy integrated across multiple channels acts like a fortress against forces that can damage company reputation and market share. If you don’t like what others are saying about you and your company, social media platforms offer a ready stage for you to take a stand. A socially active CEO is an extension of the brand, and their personal messages act as additional support structures for marketing and sales activities to build stronger brand reputation.
Socially active executives can help drive customer loyalty, and demonstrate their organisation’s commitment to customer service. Even the smallest scale acts can have positive flow-on effects for brand reputation and market confidence – particularly in the social media era.
Marriott International CEO and LinkedIn Influencer Arne Sorenson wrote about this recently in his article ‘Why I Love Social Media’. He says the best outcomes are when virtual information leads to personal connection. When their real-time social media monitoring team M-Live detected a post from a guest publicly announcing her engagement on Instagram, they directed the hotel to deliver a bottle of champagne to the happy couple. Similarly, another Marriott guest shared a photo on Instagram of the towel arrangement in their room, meticulously handcrafted into the shape of an elephant. The hotel team responded by offering more towels in a range of animal shapes, and a personal in-room lesson the following day. Those little acts of kindness are sure to create return customers – and they make for great viral content on social media.
Social media activity can also improve internal operations, and should be seen as an opportunity to raise the productivity of staff at all levels of management. Unisys CEO Ed Coleman was an early adopter of social computing, using a collaborative model for internal communications. Throughout this process, his employees and senior executives became part of a close-knit social networking system that allowed them to express needs, find solutions and keep up with innovations. The CEO led from the front, and the 138-year old tech firm is now enjoying new found synergies because of it.
Social media presents CEOs with new opportunities to innovate, drive corporate transformation, and create new platforms to influence and connect with stakeholders.
Change is happening at the blink of an eye, and being socially connected allows CEOs to be at the forefront of that change, rather than hiding from it.