Is 2016 the Year of the “Social CEO”?

As with any communication tool, there is certainly the potential for social media to become a liability for the CEO. However, in many cases, it can be more of a liability for a CEO not to be on social media.

Warren Buffett’s first tweet, at the age of 82, was retweeted over 43 thousand times. What did Mr. Buffet have to say?

“Warren is in the house.”

Warren’s simple tweet underscores the interest people have in what a CEO has to say on social media platforms. Without a doubt, social media is a potent management tool for sharing important information with customers, stakeholders, and employees, as well as giving clues about the direction and focus of the organization’s mission, values, and strategic priorities (without revealing too much). But what often gets overlooked is how social media also can be a powerful leadership tool. When it’s done right, social media can enhance employee engagement, motivate employees, reinforce company values, and articulate the culture the CEO is trying to create. It allows top executives to shape their company’s story and put a face on who they are and what the company represents.

More and more CEOs are participating in social media, but despite this growing trend, many top executives are still a bit apprehensive about joining the conversation. Some worry about saying the wrong thing or don’t know how to use social media platforms well. Others see it as a distraction from the critical work they do, not worth their time, or a liability that potentially could harm the company or reveal too much information to competitors and substitutes. In fact, according to CEO.com’s 2015 Social CEO report, 17 percent of CEOs surveyed had fewer than 100 followers on LinkedIn.

Liability or Asset?

Is participating in social media a liability for CEOs?

As with any communication tool, there is certainly the potential for social media to become a liability for the CEO. However, in many cases, it can be more of a liability for a CEO not to be on social media.

Let me share an example. In 2014, following the crash of an AirAsia plane, Tony Fernandes of AirAsia was able to get ahead of the story and influence the narrative following the crash. Fernandes used his Twitter account to give updates as the crisis unfolded, sympathizing with families of the victims and making an effort to build employee morale during an extremely difficult time. When speculation was rampant and many people were looking for someone to blame, Fernandes showed humanity and a commitment to transparency. If Fernandes hadn’t been on social media, his reach would have been extremely limited, as would have his ability to communicate so openly and empathetically with his employees and others during the crisis—a time when people really needed to hear from him the most.

Benefits of being a “Social CEO”

For Fernandes and AirAsia, the power of Twitter as a management and leadership tool was clear, but there are other benefits—and they are becoming more and more apparent. Consider this example: Some 52 percent of executives with social CEOs say it makes them feel inspired, according to the Social CEO Study by Weber Shandwick. The same report claims that CEOs who utilize social-media platforms are 55 percent better communicators than their non-social counterparts.

But it doesn’t stop there. Here are some other reasons CEOs might want to consider having at least some social media presence:

  • Able to share insights with your customers and employees
  • Makes your leadership style more visible
  • Creates greater transparency around change and critical business issues
  • Enhances the reputation of the company and you as the CEO
  • Reinforces core organization values and beliefs
  • Attracts and garners interest among top talent
  • Becomes a public relations tool for building relationships with various news outlets
  • Demonstrates a commitment to innovation and change

Tips for being an Influential Social CEO

As a CEO, unless you approach social media with care, there’s always the possibility of doing more harm than good. Here are four tips to get started and become an effective Social CEO:

  1. Listen, listen, listen! Think of social media as a conversation and a source of intelligence for you. What you learn will help you shape the right messages and the ones you want to share.
  2. Choose the right platforms. LinkedIn is seen as more “buttoned up,” while Facebook and Twitter are viewed as more informal, so select a platform that works best for you and your situation.
  3. Share a compelling story and important information. Help people understand what’s on your mind and address things they might be thinking about. Remember, it isn’t necessarily about quantity; quality is typically more important.
  4. Be authentic. Avoid outsourcing social media. You want your customers, employees, and stakeholders to get a true sense of who you are as a leader, and that can be difficult to do if you aren’t creating your own posts.

With the right approach and the right balance of information, social media has the power to give CEOs huge returns for relatively little investment.

Steven J. Stowell, Ph.D., is the founder of CMOE, a speaker, and the author of “The Art Of Strategic Leadership.” He provides companies with leadership development, coaching, and employee development, and helps them increase their organizational effectiveness. His company has worked with organizations such as ESPN, NASA, and Disney.

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