“If Social Media is a vital part of today’s online experience, why do so many Fortune 500 CEOs neglect it?” That question struck a cord with us this week. In the past decade, Fortune 500 CEOs who have embraced Social Media have seen huge benefits to the companies they represent. We’re talking of course about people like Jobs, Page and Zucks, amongst many others.
#1 – Social Media Seems Overwhelming
You’re telling us. For the last client we brought on board we developed 16 Social Media profiles. You could say that’s excessive; we’d say it’s exactly what was required. But here’s the thing – that doesn’t mean the CEO at a company needs to be responsible for the day to day management of all these networks.
Executive Branding is challenging because company execs are busy. We get that. The secret to making Social Media manageable is to give a CEO tasks which do not require them to learn anything new. Sounds difficult? Not really. It should all be part of the strategy. Before a CEO tells you that they’re too swamped to perform basic Social Media tasks, first ask them:
- Can they send a text? Cool. Then they can send a Tweet.
- Can they write an email? Cool. Then they can write a blog post.
- Can they take a photo with their phone? Cool. Then they can shoot a 90-second video.
The kind of Social Media interaction you really need from your CEO can easily be boiled down to these basics. You don’t need them to monitor tweets and forum posts every minute for stakeholder leads. Focus them on telling the story of the company through their own management style. Most CEOs are great at talking about themselves; now just get them to do it on their iPad.
#2 – Risk Of Sharing The Wrong Information
We don’t buy this for a second. Why? Because this risk exists, whether you’re active in Social Media or not and every CEO should know that. If WikiLeaks has taught business anything in the last five years, it’s shown that access to information is becoming increasingly ubiquitous. Information is never wrong, it either is or it isn’t.
The process for a CEO disseminating information via Social Media is exactly the same as your IR rep fielding phone calls. Is it publicly available information? Then talk about it all you like. Is it not yet public information? Then say nothing, draft your press release, talk about it with the legal team and get everything ship-shape. But the moment that release has gone over the wire, talk it up. We have a detailed social media disclosure checklist available for anyone who wants to ensure their compliance.
#3 – All Mistakes Are Magnified
Absolutely they are! Both mistakes you make in Social Media and those you dont. But guess what, people are talking about it either way. The risk of being passive, or worse still, being absent from the conversation, means that others can paint the image of your company.
Would you let 10,000 random people with no knowledge of your company or graphic design spend 3 days collaborating to create your company logo? Of course not. Yet by remaining silent during a crisis, product release, or even industry news cycle, you’re allowing this all the same. By not being active in Social Media to get ahead of the message and control the direction, especially as the CEO, you’re allowing others to hijack and potentially corrupt the branding of your organization.
Compare Tony Hayward’s characterization of the BP Oil Spill with Steve Jobs laughing about MobileMe when releasing iCloud. There’s a huge difference between how your mistakes are viewed when you have a public persona and when you don’t. With CEO reputation management becoming increasingly important, mistakes should be becoming less common, not more.
#4 – No Time For Social Media
Not having enough time is the go-to excuse for most CEOs. But in our experience, Social Media actually saves time for a public company. The newest addition to our team, Braden Maccke has a great piece explain how IROs can actually save time with retail investors by using Social Media. Any time you’re answering a question publicly and providing information to the public record, you’re communicating in a 1-to-many format rather than 1-to-1. The reason most popular web applications have extensive FAQ sections and community forums is that communicating 1-to-1 takes a lot of resources. While transitioning to Social Media can seem a daunting time commitment, there are huge upsides.
To an unconvinced CEO I would also add this question: You don’t have time for your shareholders? You need to make it. Who else is better placed to communicate your company’s story as part of your outbound content strategy?
#5 – Unfamiliar With How To Use Social Media
If you’ll look back to #1 in this article you’ll see what our attitude is to this. As a CEO, the best thing about Social Media is that you don’t need to understand it one iota. To be successful, knowledge of Twitter streams or Facebook Insights is far from mandatory. All you need is to be able to handle the tools that create Social Media content. If you’re an IR rep, that’s how you should pitch Social Media for your CEO. As long as you have high-quality strategy and oversight from an investor relations firm that you trust, you can do without a complete understanding.
#6 – Too Much Commitment To Justify
Stories need to have legs. Either that, or they need to be carried. While it might seem like Social Media is too much effort to justify when you’re answering a CEO.com survey, is it the same when you’ve just sent out a press release? We’ll bet not. In fact, we’ll bet you’d do pretty much anything to have more eyes on that content. Social Media is not a short-term strategy. Your CEO shouldn’t think of it that way either. It’s more a question of how stakeholders are being prepared to receive your message when it is released. To use a cooking analogy, has the audience been pre-heated?
#7 – Too Old For Social Media
We can understand that. Nobody wants to feel out of their element. But you don’t need to immerse yourself in Social Media culture to be an effective communicator. You just need some good investor relations tools. As we’ve said here a couple of times, if your focus as a CEO is social media as a story telling mechanism, you can almost survive without ever visiting a Social Network on your computer. Without a tricked-out smart phone or tablet, you have the most powerful story-telling device you or your company will ever need.
Remember too that the demographics in Social Media are equalizing fast. It might take a few more years for everyone over 50+ to be active on Twitter, but I’ll bet the majority of your stakeholders are on LinkedIn in some capacity. That’s a good place to start. Being a leader is never a bad thing either. If you can lead the charge the company’s image will benefit considerably.
#8 – They’ve “Tried It”
We’ve included this point from our own knowledge to help round things out. Having heard numerous tales of companies paying for “Social Media” services that have proved to be of little value, there’s a natural tendency to stay well clear of it. This comes back to points #1 and #5. Really, our experience is that CEOs are just plain scared of Social Media. Not because it’s too difficult or too time consuming, but because they’re worried about making a bad decision and being left holding the bag when it goes wrong. A visible CEO social media reputation shouldn’t be a thing to fear so much as embrace.