Social media for execs: should comms people encourage or discourage it?
“Keep your executives OFF social media! It is the first place that journalists go digging for dirt.”
That was the stark, yet well-meaning advice given by the business editor of a leading national newspaper I recently heard speak.
Yet, for many senior people in business, there is an expectation from colleagues and employees, customers and clients, and in some cases the wider public, that they are open and engaging on social media. The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer found that 76% [of respondents] say CEOs should take the lead on change.
And for people in leadership roles social media – when used in a planned, intelligent way – can be a very powerful way to help meet business goals, build trust in a leadership team and an organisation and show a relatable, human face.
As a contributor to Forbes argued recently ‘CEOs are in a uniquely appropriate position to answer the consumer cry for business transparency on social media’. And according to the UK’s Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) ‘Seventy-five per cent of business decision-makers polled think the image of the CEO influences how customers feel about the organisation’.
So, is there a secret sauce to doing social well? Not really is the answer. But there are some central tenets.
The people who ‘do social’ well are those that are authentic about what they do and how they portray themselves and engage with their audiences. This approach does not mean baring their souls but being straightforward on the topics you choose to talk about. Those that do so well earn trust and a positive image over time.
It also builds ‘reputation equity’ and trusted sources have the ability to more easily shape a particular message, start a discussion, respond on a difficult topic, and help establish a company’s values and stance as well as their own.
Take for example Juergen Maier, UK CEO of Siemens, who has around 8,000 followers on Twitter and uses his account to add a personal touch to the company’s news, showcasing achievements, events and connecting with partners. The extra bit of insight, expertise or information he brings supplements the corporate channels, and builds a personal relationship with the online audience. It shows the CEO is in touch with the business, knows what’s going on outside the boardroom and is visible. Most of all, it shows transparency and personality.
Dame Helena Morrissey, Head of Personal Investing at Legal and General and founder of the 30% Club, meanwhile blends more personal content – not just business-focused – alongside posts based on professional life, insight and opinion. However, as with Jurgen Maier, her content is authentic and engaging for her followers and helps build her ‘reputation equity’ on the topics she talks about.
Not just Twitter.
The same rules apply on LinkedIn, which ditched the label as a place devoted to CVs and is a platform of people sharing news, opinions and comments. People like Doug McMillon of Walmart or Indra Nooyi Former Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo have built huge followings and use it as a way to speak directly to audiences.
For a wider reach, consider steering towards YouTube, which is the world’s second favourite search engine and second most popular social network with 1.9bn active monthly users (compared to 2.2bn Facebook and only 326m Twitter users).
Videos can be very effective, but still under-utilised by people in business. They don’t have to be over-produced, but content that is engaging and interesting does go further to retaining people’s attention.
The CEO’s social media activities are better if they adopt the same approach as you would for any other corporate communications: i.e. planning goes a long way.
It has to be aligned with business objectives. It has to include evaluation of which platforms and forums are best to use, include targets for output and engagement.
What is key, is that CEOs communicate ‘more directly and personally, modelling work/life balance, living the company’s values, and putting employees first by focusing on the issues they care about’.
Also, don’t feel like you have to reinvent the wheel – keep things simple and follow good examples from others.
There’s a sliding scale from being a company mouthpiece, through a sector commentator, up to a venture philanthropist Bill Gates/Richard Branson type.
There’s no need to aim for Twitter celebrity status, but help build reputation in some way. It’s a skill which has to be honed, yet practice makes perfect – and there is a lot of best practice out there to follow.
All of which helps understand and deliver the best return on effort.
At Fourtold, we’ve a methodology to build and develop a leader’s online brand, attuned to finding their personal style and content, and then delivering it in a planned and intelligent fashion.
Arguably, I say to that business editor, that senior leaders should be on social media so that journalists and everyone else can make up their own minds about a person rather than just what the newspapers report!
by Clem Silverman