The wide-ranging impact that social media has had on American culture in the past decade is remarkable. It’s naturally a big deal in business, and a potential avenue for CEOs to promote their companies’ brands, along with sharing their own viewpoints.
As with many things related to social media, there are good and bad elements for CEOs to consider. Making a connection through the various networks — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, etc. — can provide a boost to a business’ reputation and attract new customers. Potential dangers include oversharing, fallout from expressing political views, the dreaded spelling and grammar errors and making attempts at humor that could potentially offend people.
Some CEOs choose to stay away. A 2016 survey by CEO.com showed that a significant portion of Fortune 500 CEOs — 60 percent — did not have a presence on the social networks.
As Daniel Newman puts it in a story for Forbes, “Social media done poorly can be harmful to a brand.”
“If an executive or their representative screws up a branded Tweet, the company may attempt damage control,” Newman writes. “However, the world will remember and may not forgive a CEO for a social media gaffe of that nature.”
For business leaders that do want to engage, there are a variety of potential benefits. Take T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who had this to say in a story by Dave Kerpen for Inc.com:
“Our lawyers said it was a terrible idea for me to tweet, but I ignored them. … This is no game. It’s a way of driving my business. Much of what I do online is listen to customers, and social media is perfect for that.”
Here’s a look at ways for CEOs to take advantage of social networking.
Organization and planning
Getting organized applies to every aspect in business, and social media is no exception. Executives looking to expand their voice will need to examine the platforms available and consult experienced users on how to best approach each one. It could be that just a few particular social media outlets are ideal for the business, and the leadership may need advice on narrowing down that list. Zac Carman, CEO of ConsumerAffairs, explores this in a story for Entrepreneur.
“There are so many social media channels, and they all serve a different purpose,” he writes. “… Your business’ social media plan shouldn’t be an afterthought. Really take the time to decide on your social media voice, platform and the type of ideas and information you want to share to engage with your audience. From there, an editorial calendar keeps your content relevant, consistent and true to your brand’s voice.”
Social media activity can have a connection to leadership abilities. A story by Stephanie Neal for CNBC focused on DDI’s “High Resolution Leadership” study, an effort to understand these connections in 250 candidates for CEO positions. Among the results, as Neal reports:
- 89 percent of candidates who are active on social media are “better at empowering others” than those who don’t engage in social networking.
- 52 percent are “stronger at compelling communication.”
- 46 percent are “more influential.”
- 36 percent are “better at cultivating networks.”
- 19 percent are “more passionate for results.”
- 16 percent are “better at making decisions.”
Be in tune with customer chatter
The old “comment box” concept lives on, though in a much different form. Feedback can make an enormous difference for business leaders, both in what a particular company is doing well and in what areas it should improve. Twenty years ago, the notion of having an abundance of this kind of unsolicited material might have seemed absurd (not to mention the idea of it constantly arriving on your phone). Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, describes his approach in a story for Fast Company, writing that he starts each day by examining mentions of his company on Twitter.
“On a typical morning, I see plenty of raw, unfiltered commentary from users on what we’re doing right and, of course, what we’re doing wrong: requests for new features, complaints about the odd bug, product support questions, even the occasional high-five for a job well done,” he says. “While this may not sound earth-shattering, getting insight like this used to require professional focus groups and analysis. Social media now gives CEOs a direct pipeline into what their customers are thinking and doing — in real time, with no spin from publicists or middle managers. Better still, it takes minimal time and effort. A minute of flipping through a Twitter stream, and I have my finger on the pulse of our customers.”
Break out of ‘comfort zones’
For those who have not yet dabbled in social media, there may be a sense of trepidation. After all, why would CEOs who have reached their lofty levels without social media suddenly have to adopt it as an everyday part of business? In Kerpen’s story for Inc.com, he acknowledges the generational differences at play.
“I get it,” he writes, “most CEOs of larger companies are from a different generation, and for them, social media doesn’t come naturally. But they have a choice: embrace this obviously new powerful, omnipresent form of communication or hide from it. Can you imagine in the late 1800s, someone saying to CEOs: ‘Avoid this new telephone communication, it’s scary and uncertain and you might be recorded saying the wrong thing.’ Or in the late 1900s someone saying to CEOs: ‘Avoid email, it could get you into big trouble.’ That’s absurd. And so is avoiding social media just because it’s uncomfortable.”
Spread the good cheer
Good news spreads positivity, but sharing it can be challenging for businesses outside of social media. It may not be optimal to purchase advertising space or to rely on an internal newsletter to explain why a company is doing well, or to describe its appreciation for customers and employees. As Carman writes for Entrepreneur, Instagram is ideal for “memorializing company events.”
“We use it to promote our company as a great place to work,” he explains. “I share proactively about why niche leaders would want to work with ConsumerAffairs. For example, I might upload a picture of my company and write, ‘This is what it looks like when you crush quarterly earnings,’ or I’ll post a staff photo on Instagram where we are all engaged in a team-building exercise or attending a company-wide event. All of this showcases the unique culture and environment we have created.”
The more that a CEO makes his or her voice available, the more it could possibly connect with others. People may want to follow business leaders on social media for tips on running their companies, words of inspiration or their take on trends and technology. Or they might just want to understand more about the person behind the title. Becoming more relatable can be a substantial benefit for CEOs on social media. Joanna Belbey writes about this for Forbes, in an interview with Amy McIlwain of Hootsuite.
“When a Fortune 500 CEO was promoted into his new role, he was told, ‘Congratulations, you’re now feared and revered,’” McIlwain recalled in the story. “When he heard that, he thought ‘I don’t want to be feared. I want to find a way to change this mindset and be more relatable and connect more deeply with my employees and peers.’ After defining his goals and brand, he started using social media. He engages as a LinkedIn Influencer and is 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 makes him relatable and human. … People are now taking selfies with him when he visits the office. They’re very happy and approach him, ask him about his bike trips. It’s helping attract talent and helping keep employees more engaged.”