This was a response made in the comments section of a Forbes article entitled: “CEOs Afraid of Going Social are doing Shareholders a Massive Disservice.” Below, we discuss why CEOs should have a social media presence.
You make some good points – and very eloquently(!) – but your conclusions miss the mark, with respect. It’s a mistake too many people make about social media, that is, separating it as a quirkily, non-serious communication means as compared to other vehicles, letters, public speaking, email, company intranets, company newsletters, etc. Social media platforms are simply new communication and information channels – like email once was or cable TV once was. Social media happens to be an incredibly efficient way to touch a large and targeted audience (if you so choose). If your audience (employees, customers, key influencers, etc.) aren’t using these venues then don’t use them.
The catch is, there are fewer and fewer instances where this statement is true. Facing facts, Twitter – though there are clearly many, many more, in fact thousands of social platforms, is the best source of breaking news – bar none. I repeat, Twitter is the best source of breaking news bar none. Anyone interested in being at the front of news should have a twitter account. Following influential journalists, industry experts, key market influencers can provide incomparable market, economic, and/or geopolitical intelligence for starters, often before it’s appeared, nicely edited in mainstream outlets.
I would perhaps boldly suggest that every CEO in technology, healthcare, media, consumer products, financial services should have at least some presence – even if that’s only to “listen”. Add to that, CEO’s whose personal brand is synonymous with or as important as their corporate brand. People do business with their companies because of the service or product they deliver but also because of the personality, character, and values of the person who stands behind the company – Donald Trump understands this, so does Bill Gross, as does Richard Branson. There is perhaps no better way for a CEO looking to add a common touch to his persona than to add a more informal approach to his communications, tough to do with email – just doesn’t win on the “look & feel” side, virtually impossible to do with internal newsletters. The obviously spontaneous post picked up by employees while a CEO is on holiday and mulling the big picture can give a welcome window into a CEO’s human-ess and how they come to the decisions they come to. An old CEO of mine used to do this sort of thing in the form of a folksy memo from time to time. It was always read with great interest by staff and added more glue to the working relationship. If social media existed during his tenure, no doubt he would have employed it judiciously.
CEO’s who care about whether their image, inside and outside of the company, is modern and, shall we say “youthful” will certainly not appear that way if they have little or no presence. More than half of University graduates judged the desirability of their prospective place of employment on their social media policy, i.e., their ability to use social media while at work. The CEO that doesn’t use social media is often the same CEO who has a lock down mentality when it comes to social media use at the office. How many times did we hear the following a decade or two ago: “[innovation?], John doesn’t even know how to use email!” No CEO, in any industry, wants to be tarred with this brush in the age of innovation.
Social media platforms can add immediacy and, dare I say, an intimacy to relationships difficult to achieve otherwise because of sheer numbers. Whether or not every post or tweet is written by the Executive is somewhat irrelevant. It can of course be more powerful when the CEO is writing his own content but, like in speech making, the most important point is that there is clear editorial direction, content that reflects honestly and accurately what he or she is thinking about.
Lastly, there are quite a few prominent CEO’s who are giving it quite a go: Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Greg Brown, John Donahoe, Peter Aceto, Martha Stewart, John Makey, Mark Zuckerberg, Donald Trump, Mark Bertolini, Alan Sugar, Bill Gross and Mohammed El-Erian. Each have a very active social media presence. They may not write every post but they add enough personality and direction that it’s clear that they are involved.