Social CEO – A Commitment, not a Campaign

Whether it is Stephen Harper using his Twitter account to share photos from Flickr of a #dayinthelife as our Prime Minister or Commander Chris Hadfield sharing YouTube videos on Facebook from the International Space Station, social media has changed the way in which we interact with the most influential people of our generation. But while we have come to expect that prime ministers, presidents and even the British Monarchy to be active on social media, most C-suite executives are lagging behind.

Last year’s report of social media use for CEOs of Fortune 500 companies revealed that only 5.6% of CEOs were using Twitter, although 27.9% were active on LinkedIn. Having C-suite executives participate in social media help humanize a brand. It allows them to show a behind the scenes look at a company and connect directly with consumers and employees.

The value of social media for C-suite executives ought to be intuitive. While consumers benefit immensely from behind the scenes access to individuals they might not otherwise ever know, executives can use social media to interact directly with their consumers, shareholders and potential investors without any filter. Simply put, having your CEO on social media can help humanize your brand and put a face and a personality to a name typically only seen in business reports and newscasts.

There is no question this is one of the great values that politicians across the world have learned and many have embraced. Jamie Stein, Director of Social Media for ING Direct Canada, lists Tony Clement, Canada’s President of the Treasury Board, as one example of how executives can “create a two-way dialogue with [his] audience in addition to providing great insights into how… [they] operate.” Whether it is his use of Twitter to host Google hang outs for new government initiatives, or interacting with fellow concert-goers, Clement is just one example of how social media can be used to give followers interactive access to both his personal and professional lives.

It is undeniable that most of the top CEOs using social media are those who have either founded or are running tech companies. But that should not be used as a scapegoat for why your executives do not belong online. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Arianna Huffington (AOL) and Marissa Mayer (Yahoo) are two of the most influential CEOs on twitter. They both have embraced that they can and are the face of their company online. But a recent study of the most influential CEOs on social media had them both behind Virgin Group’s Richard Branson.

Branson is widely considered as one of if not the top social media influencer amongst CEOs worldwide. “He’s managed to create an interesting persona that people admire and they want to follow him,” says Valerie Stachurski, Founder and President at Charming Media. “He is all about offering advice as well as promoting his company. He is really doing it perfectly.”

Social media has only furthered and amplified Branson’s image as the brand ambassador for Virgin. When consumers interact with the Virgin brand, they are often interacting directly with Branson himself.

The advantage of having your executives as the ambassador of your brand online allows them to share their vision directly to their consumers. “Social media allows me to develop deeper, more meaningful relationships with my followers and highlight the humanity behind our logo,” says Rhiannon Traill, CEO of the Economic Club of Canada.

Having your CEO or other C-suite executives online can do great things for humanizing your brand or being an influencer within your industry. But to do this effectively requires that these executives have a thorough understanding of how each social platform works and the do’s and don’ts of each. It is even more important that executives grasp that consistency and continuity are far more important in building influence and awareness online than anything else.

“It is important to ensure that each executive is properly educated before they start participating in social media,” says Stein of ING Direct. “Participating in social media is a commitment, not a campaign, so once executives receive the proper education, they must continue to receive support to help them succeed and grow.”

Many executives fear that their lack of understanding of social media will result in embarrassment online. “I often question what I should or shouldn’t share because of a fear that a single tweet might be taken out of context. It’s a slippery slope but the positive outweighs the negative,” says Traill. Guiding an executive through the process is the most important part and helping them understand each new platform will only amplify their success.

Once you convey the benefits to your executives of them using social media, most will open up their minds to the possibility. Just ensure they understand what it is they are getting themselves into and it is very important that you are realistic with them from the start. All executives would be wise to heed this very simply advice from Jamie Stein: “Set goals for yourself – it is important to understand what you are trying to achieve when you elect to join the conversation. But most importantly, be genuine and authentic.” CBJ

Follower suggestions

Notable CEOs to follow online include Richard Branson (Virgin), Peter Aceto (ING Direct), Kristine Stewart (Twitter Canada), Gary Vanyerchuk (Vanyer Media)
And make sure to follow Jaime Stein, Valerie Starchuski and Rhiannon Traill.”
Nataleigh Ballantyne is a Technology Coach and co-host on Coral Tv.