The ‘Social CEO’: Why CEOs should engage via Social Media

The ‘Social CEO’: Why CEOs should engage via Social Media
24. August 2018 Falk Rehkopf

The ‘Social CEO’: Why CEOs should engage via Social Media

In recent years, we’ve seen societies across the globe getting increasingly digitised and with it, usage of social media shooting through the roof. While celebrities and entertainers have long been capitalising on social media, entrepreneurs and other business leaders are now increasingly jumping on the bandwagon too – giving rise to more Social CEOs.

However, that’s not to say that all CEOs are embracing social media. While CEOs are increasingly becoming more comfortable with using social media, the bulk of these folks still aren’t making it a priority. According to statistics, 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs are not active on any major social network. And out of all the CEOs on Twitter, half of them tweet once a month or less.

What makes a CEO a “Social CEO”?

Before we explore the benefits and challenges of being a Social CEO, let’s talk about what this term exactly means. First and foremost, according to a study that analysed the presence of 100 CEOs from across 13 industries, most high-performing social CEOs have two or more social media accounts.  

This same study also found that Social CEOs post more and that they have more followers with whom they engage with on a deeper level. On average, Social CEOs have 400,000+ followers across all their social media accounts. On top of that, Social CEOs have a greater tendency to post about personal anecdotes whereas low-performing CEOs are less likely to do the same.

CEOs vs celebrities on social media

It’s common for celebrities, artists and other entertainers to chronicle their professional and personal lives on social media. Now that CEOs are taking to social media as well, this begs the question: should a CEO handle their social media accounts any different compared to celebrities?

There are certain parallels that can be drawn here – for example, a celebrity might use their social media account to promote their latest project or media appearance and a CEO might use their account to promote their product launch.

That said, celebrities generally have more flexibility when it comes to social media. If they’re known for being a controversial figure, for example, their followers wouldn’t expect them to censor themselves on social media. CEOs, on the other hand, owe it to their board of directors and investors to not cross the line when it comes to social media. Bearing this in mind, CEOs have to be more careful of the messages that they’re communicating via social media.

Benefits of Social CEOs

Building brands

CEOs routinely use their social media accounts to build their brand and gain exposure for their company. Here’s how John Legere, the sometimes controversial CEO of T-Mobile, puts it: “I have more than 3 million followers and because many of them are famous people (including Oprah), I have enormous reach via retweets. We did an analysis of this and it’s not unusual for one of my tweets to get 150 million impressions. This is no game. It’s a way of driving my business.

Recruiting talent

In this day and age, hiring is very much a social media-driven activity. The smartest CEOs aren’t just relying on traditional avenues such as online job portals – they’re also turning to social media to recruit the best and brightest talent. One such example? Jerome Ternynck, founder and CEO of SmartRecruiters, says that he keeps up with high-potential individuals so that he has a pipeline of candidates for whenever he needs to hire.

Staying up-to-date

When CEOs are active on social media, they’re essentially keeping themselves updated about key developments in their industry. This helps them stay agile and react more quickly. Who wouldn’t like to have that first-mover advantage?

Connecting with employees

The numbers don’t lie: 80% of employees say that they prefer to work with Social CEOs and 81% believe that CEOs who engage in social media are better equipped to lead companies in the digital world.

Social media doesn’t just help CEOs gather insights about their customers – it lets them do the same about their employees and internal stakeholders as well. Because employees will naturally gravitate towards Social CEOs who are more empathetic and attuned to their needs, we see this as a win-win.

Measure the success of your social media efforts

How do Social CEOs measure the success of their social media efforts? That depends on the objectives of their social media strategy. If you’re new to the game, the focus should be on building your numbers. Set a target number of followers to hit (per week or per month) and make sure you’re reaching your goal.

If you have an established account, on the other hand, you might concentrate on driving traffic to your site through your social media account. Feature Calls To Action in your posts using trackable links, so that you can analyse exactly how many followers click through and check out your website.

Challenges associated with CEOs on social media

There are several challenges that Social CEOs have to face. First and foremost, there’s the risk of getting hacked. Famous business personalities who have been hacked include Twitter’s Jack Dorsey, Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer and even Google’s Sundar Pichai. In order to reduce the likelihood of their accounts being compromised, CEOs should invest in cybersecurity and undergo training wherever necessary.

On top of that, CEOs often find themselves at a loss as to how to respond during company crises. Many CEOs end up communicating an overly-corporate statement that’s been drafted by their legal team, but as you might imagine, this is highly ineffective and incurs even more wrath from consumers and other stakeholders. Instead, CEOs should describe how the company is taking action and take responsibility for the crisis. Of course, they should also apologise appropriately (if the company has done something wrong) and sometimes a good apology can actually be turned into an advantage.

The best and worst social media channels

While LinkedIn and Facebook are the most popular social networks for CEOs, a CEO should really look to their target audience to identify what channels will be the most effective for them. CEOs who head brands which advertise to millennials, for example, might find more success on Instagram than Facebook. Generally, Google+ and Instagram are the least popular options with notable exceptions such as Jess Lee, former CEO of Polyvore (see below) and a partner at Sequoia Capital.

Social media strategies: Do’s and Dont’s

DON’T: Make this a one-way conversation

Rather than just talking at your followers, engage in a back-and-forth conversation with them. Ask them questions, solicit feedback from them and post Q&A videos to show them that you’re committed to addressing their concerns.

DON’T: Post sporadically

The key to winning over your followers is to post consistently. Regardless of whether it’s one post per day or one per week, decide on a schedule, then stick to it.

DO: Post a variety of content

Out of the 86% of consumers who follow brands on social media, 60% get annoyed when they see brands post too much promotional content. Switch it up with behind-the-scenes content, anecdotes about your personal life and don’t get too salesy or aggressive.

DO: Engage with media

Social media isn’t just about connecting with customers: you can use it to build relationships with the media as well! Apart from sharing your company updates on social media, go ahead and tweet press kits, soundbites and other relevant information at journalists, reporters and influencers.

Real-life examples of CEOs on social media

The good: Satya Nadella

After Satya Nadella took over as Microsoft’s CEO in 2014, he put in place a strategy of using social media to connect and interact with Microsoft’s customers and investors. This strategy proved to be invaluable; in just three and a half years, Microsoft’s market value soared by $250 billion. Specialists say that Nadella’s willingness to talk about his personal struggles (including his son’s cerebral palsy) demonstrated his openness and empathy, which had a positive spillover effect on how consumers looked at Microsoft as a company.

The bad: Elon Musk

Elon Musk is known for lashing out on Twitter and one of his most recent fiascos took place during the Thailand cave rescue just a few months ago. Here’s how it all started: Elon Musk volunteered a micro-submarine for the rescue mission and the leader of the rescue operation rejected it as being unsuitable for the task. Musk took to Twitter to say that this leader was “not the subject matter expert” and Vern Unsworth, a British caver who played a key role in the rescue effort, retorted by telling Musk to “stick it where it hurts”.

This is where things get interesting: Musk tweeted again, accusing Unsworth of being a pedophile. The public reacted with outrage and Tesla shares fell over 3.5% immediately following Musk’s offensive tweet. All in all, the stock sell-off knocked off almost $2 billion off Tesla’s market value.

The Social CEO – what’s next?

It’s crystal-clear that companies with Social CEOs have a significant advantage over companies whose CEOs aren’t comfortable with social media. Think of social media as yet another touch point that you can use to reach out to your customers and other stakeholders. There’s really no excuse for CEOs to not be on social media anymore.

Chief Marketing Officer