Should CEOs be social?

By Suzie Shaw, Managing Director of We Are Social


CEOs are smart people, right?

They couldn’t have got to where they are without being switched-on, dynamic and multi-skilled.

But is it possible they have a blind spot?

Where are all the CEOs in Social?

In a world where more than 3 billion people are on the internet and 2 billion are active social media users, should CEOs not be active in Social?

At We Are Social, we recently revisited a piece of research looking at the proportion of C-suite executives in ASX-listed companies who have a social profile. It’s currently sitting at just 56%, and surprisingly, that’s only 2% higher than when we originally conducted the research in 2013.

And that 56% figure doesn’t refer exclusively to those who have a well-maintained Twitter account with tens of thousands of followers. It was counting those with any kind of LinkedIn page or Twitter account at all.

Those with tens or even hundreds of thousands of contacts and followers – who include the likes of Alan Joyce and David Thodey – are an elite few in Australia, which is surprising given the proven benefits of being a ‘social CEO’.

The importance of trust and transparency

A recent study by Edelman highlighted the imperative of trust in business, and its impact on a company’s reputation and growth. Worryingly, their data showed a markedly lower level of trust in Australian CEOs than their global counterparts, at 33% v 49%.

And yet there is plenty of evidence that having a social profile results in better communications, an improved brand image, increased transparency, greater employee morale, and indeed, trust — all of which help to increase leadership effectiveness.

That’s not to mention the individual benefits of a high profile, which include visibility, influence and arguably a greater degree of marketability in their own careers.

Consumers and employees respond to social CEOs

Recent research in the US by PR group Weber Shandwick showed 61% of consumers said they’d be more likely to purchase from a company whose values and leadership were communicated in Social, while 77% agreed it led to a greater sense of transparency, and a whopping 80% of employees said they would prefer to work for a socially-engaged CEO.

The risk versus the reward

Social is really just a marketplace for conversations, and CEOs can take advantage of such a forum to communicate with their employees, customers and broader stakeholders.

The reason most commonly given for why CEOs are not engaging in social is to mitigate risk, but we believe there is a greater risk of a void being filled by other voices that will not best serve the company – competitors, detractors or sensationalist media.

And that’s almost certainly the most compelling reason for a CEO to establish a social profile: to maintain control of their voice.

Who’s doing it well?

In the US, there are many notable examples of effective social CEOs, including Mark Parker, CEO, Nike who recently commented: “Social media is helping us unite and expand. We have never been closer to our consumers.” And probably the most notable CEO from the UK, Richard Branson, says: “Embracing social media isn’t just a bit of fun, it’s a vital way to communicate, keep your ear to the ground and improve business.”

In Australia, research that We Are Social undertook into the big four banks showed that the number three player, ANZ, was massively punching above its weight in Social, thanks to the activity of their executives. Outgoing CEO Mike Smith – who has 130K followers on LinkedIn and 42K on Twitter – had a higher rate of mentions in Twitter, blogs and forums than his CEO competitors, and importantly, the sentiment of conversation around Mike over the course of a year was far more balanced than for his competitors. This is because he is in greater control of what conversations he participates in than his peers, who are beholden to the media to determine when they can comment, and what about.

In fact, Mike Smith is a great case study for any CEO. He is extremely socially savvy. Not only has he been very effective at building a sizeable following, he talks about issues beyond short-term profits and political lobbying. He has a varied narrative, including gender equality, smarter cities, trade and charitable initiatives, illustrating positive corporate purpose and values. All of which helps to build a sense of his character and that of the organisation.

In an article Mike Smith wrote on LinkedIn, he comments: “With social media the opportunity is to have a more direct, deeper and authentic relationship with our most important audiences including customers, staff, investors and other stakeholders. Ultimately that’s a prize that’s worth having in terms of customer satisfaction, corporate reputation, attracting and retaining talent, gaining market share and reducing the cost of doing business.”


A ‘how to’ for CEOs wanting to get started in Social

  1. Audit your current profile – look at how many search results Google currently returns, how high you ‘rank’, what images appear and when was the last time you were in a relevant news story.

  2. Define your purpose – determine the objectives of any social activity, what success will look like and barriers that may be in the way.

  3. Do a risk assessment – consider whether anything could go wrong with opening a dialogue in Social and have a strategy for how to respond to negative comments. It is usually advisable to enlist support from the Corporate Comms team.

  4. Optimise your profiles (LinkedIn and Twitter are the ‘must’ platforms for Australian CEOs) – Use your full name so you’re easy to find, ensure you have a profile pic that conveys the professional image you want to project, in LinkedIn, outline relevant experience and in your bio lines, add information that tells people more about who you are as a person.

  5. Follow and be followed – start by identifying people to follow with common interests, who have similar experience, or are talking about relevant topics. Consider clients, competitors, media, employees, stakeholders or other influencers.

  6. Create a content plan – your content needs to provide education, information or entertainment and importantly must be relevant. Define your subject and point of view and think through the narrative that you want to create. Know that Social is not a broadcast channel and people won’t engage if the content you are publishing is not relevant. Look for opportunities to publish content with pathways for people to find out more – links, articles etc.

  7. Engage in a conversation – invest time in reviewing and responding to content that people you follow post – it will be reciprocal – and respond to people who comment on your posts. Remember that Social is simply a marketplace for conversation, so listen as much, if not more than you speak.

  8. Measure your progress and iterate. Do more of what works and less of what doesn’t.


So if your CEO or team is asking “to social or not to social?” we would say “go forth and join the conversation.”


This article was originally published on TrinityP3.