Why is the idea of corporate transparency still a groundbreaking concept?
For starters, it remains in short supply. Unlike in our personal lives where we know more about our friends and acquaintances than ever before, corporate social media rarely includes an insider view of the C-suite. Organizations that have opened their doors with these tools have shown that there is not only a demand for such transparency, but that customers, employees, and partners are responding with their business and their loyalty.
CEOs have been slow to join the social media game. But those who do have a strong social media presence — Southwest Airlines Chairman and CEO Gary Kelly and Mark Cuban among the standouts here in Dallas — demonstrate that not only can executive leadership be visible and accessible, but that their voice is welcome and needed.
CEOs have always been the chief spokesperson of an organization; social media enhances that role and extends its reach exponentially. Just like a microphone, though, it’s not the tool but the content that will cultivate connections — or sever them.
The key is to make your social media domain an inclusive environment. As a result, your audience will not only be larger, but comfortable enough to join the conversation and contribute their best ideas to your business.
Addressing the Three Primary Barriers to the Social CEO
There are three hurdles for CEOs jumping into the social media fray:
In the age of digital transformation, motivation should no longer be in question. Here’s how to address the time and know-how barriers:
Don’t go it alone.
Being great online isn’t a one-person job. Many CEOs outsource parts of the process to save on time while staying involved enough to maintain an authentic voice.
For example, notes (or voicemails/texts/links) can be handed off to a team of experts, who then cull the sentiments and create posts using real quotes. That same team can perform the necessary social listening and highlight who/what to respond to in a timely manner.
Create a strategy and style guidelines before jumping in.
As with every new business initiative, planning must come before execution. What is the overall goal (to personalize or market the company, communicate with employees, etc.)?
A personal brand style guide consistently governs things like:
- Types of posts
- What areas of personal life should be highlighted/avoided
- Frequency of posts
- Overall voice and tone
That way when inspiration strikes, it can be measured against those goals before hitting “tweet.”
Think through your platforms.
The safest (and most expected) channels for CEOs are Twitter and LinkedIn. Combining the two allows leaders to post quick notes and headlines, while also diving deep with longer thought-leadership posts.
Utilize tech tools.
Harness tech to schedule posts, track engagement, find areas for improvement, and follow other influencers.
When It Goes Sideways
What goes up doesn’t always come down in the realm of social media; we’ve all seen public figures suffer the repercussions of ill-advised posts long after they’ve been removed.
And there’s always the chance that someone will reply to a post with disparaging remarks; that’s par for the course.
There’s no need to address every complainer out there, but when your organization does make a major misstep, a social CEO is in the best position to acknowledge and apologize. With a healthy social media presence, a response is easy to disseminate and is more authentic (it becomes an extension of the ongoing conversation, not a reaction initiated in a moment of crisis).
There are a host of examples of how companies have exacerbated struggles by turning them into public relations disasters, but that shouldn’t dissuade CEOs from social engagement.
It should, however, serve as a reminder that being visible means being accountable. Every CEO who is on social media should be prepared to acknowledge and apologize when necessary. Evading the spotlight in moments of crisis is not an appropriate response, and, in fact, it will serve to complicate the issue at hand. This is a prime example of when a qualified support team earns its stripes.
What’s the Worth?
It’s difficult for anyone to gauge a return on time investment for social media — for some it becomes an addictive time suck, and for others it just feels discouraging and fruitless. But those are regular people. CEOs are not regular people — they’re the face, the driver, the human behind a company.
Who wants to hear what they have to say? Everyone: think employees, partners, investors, customers, competitors, and analysts, to start. According to research by Weber Shandwick, “71 percent of consumers consider a company more trustworthy if its leadership team uses social media to openly communicate about its core mission, values, and purpose.” These people consider time spent connecting via social media constructive and worthwhile.
Social media will continue to be a tricky arena, but with the right tools and team, every CEO can benefit from opening up that line of communication and engaging with their customers, employees, and partners. It’s time to start the conversation.