In the last few weeks, out of all the material I read on Social Media (and I consume a LOT of content, believe me!) the one topic that keeps featuring at odd intervals, but doesn’t see much engagement is CEO “Listening”.
A report from CEO.com and business intelligence firm DOMO notes that 50% of the population currently uses facebook, and more than 37% use Twitter. Yet among Fortune 500 CEOs, the report says, only 7.6% are present on facebook, only 4% use Twitter, and less than 1% use Google Plus. LinkedIn is the only social network where CEOs are slightly ahead of the general populace, the study concludes: Twenty-six percent of CEOs surveyed use LinkedIn, compared to 20.15% of the population at large.
The reason for the lack of interest is probably that
a) “Listening” is now passé – most early adopters have gravitated to higher order stuff, and the late entrants are still struggling with the elementary first steps of a corporate twitter handle/ blog/ facebook page
b) The CEO is not interested or too scared to indulge/ engage in Social Media and
c) The CEO thinks that Social Media is for “others” – read marketing/ HR/ other companies in the PR domain
The reality, however, is that the new media and technology are throwing a “digital curve ball” at today’s CEOs and, unless they learn to negotiate it, they are going to be left far behind in the race. The new world CEO needs to be VERY different from the version Christie Hefner propounded – “Being a CEO still means sitting across the table from big institutional investors and showing your leadership and having them believe in you.”
How can CEO’s interaction with Social Media help?
a) Building a “personal” brand in Social media: This works generally in the following situations:
1) In SME organizations, where the CEO IS the brand– the enterprise entity and CEO are closely linked and one brand promotes the other. The CEO in the new world needs to market his brand. It can also work with larger organizations where the CEO’s brand is larger than life – what better name here than the flamboyant Richard Branson or the versatile Martha Stewart.
2) In professional services firms where people make the firm – Law/ PR/ consulting/ Accounting. Upon a cursory Google search for PR CEO on facebook and twitter, the best optimized name I saw was Ron Torossian of 5WPR, one of the top 25 PR agencies in the US and an Inc 500 listed company. Even the Edelman CEO, Richard Edelman spends about an hour every day voicing his views on the company blog that he started to set an example for Edelman clients.
b) Creating Thought Leadership for your organization– This is seen in “cutting edge” knowledge-driven industries. Here the examples abound with Andrew Grill, CEO of Kred; Beth Comstock, CMO of GE Money and John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods. Brainstorming, participating in strategy sessions, and researching are great ways to help you create unique and effective marketing strategies.
c) As a powerful PR and marketing tool to strengthen credibility- A recent survey from Brandfog reveals that 93% of respondents believe that CEO engagement in social media helps communicate company values, shape a company’s reputation, and grow and evolve corporate leadership in times of crisis. In times of crisis like product recalls or Greenpeace protests on some non-sustainable action, Social Media can act as a powerful tool to engage with press and consumers and help control the situation. Vijay Mallya, Chairman of Kingfisher Airlines did a good job of this in recent times of near bankruptcy and striking pilots in the airlines with his defensive posts.
Also, it is a great tool when you want to create a channel for employee feedback and want to show your employees that someone at the top is listening to their grievances and suggestions – Michael Dell has done this really well. As reported by Mashable, social media has a positive impact because it allows managers to be more transparent (38%), helps build and maintain relationships among colleagues (46%), helps build company culture (41%), and fosters a feeling of connection to the company and its leadership (37%).
d) The first step towards a customer-centric organization: Not only can CEOs give a “human face” to their brands by being on social media, they can also listen and understand their consumers, driving deeper, direct connects with them. It allows the top level to get Product/Service feedback, engage with customers to make them feel important and generally keep an ear close to the ground. There are many examples – but the one I like personally is Pete Cashmore, CEO of Mashable (of course, in his case the industry he is in ordains that he be the face of his company to the world at large, but he does it rather well I think – mixing both general mashable content with a more personal nuance to the communication – specially on twitter)
e) Gaining competitive advantage: Whether a CEO is social or not, his employees and customers are. A BRANDFog 2012 CEO survey revealed that more than 82% of the respondents are likely to trust a company whose CEO and team engage in social media. And an amazing 77% of respondents are willing to buy from a company whose mission and values are defined through their leadership’s involvement in social media. Being on social media provides CEOS and their companies with a strong competitive edge. Several of the above mentioned examples go on to prove so.
While the above is about building your personal/your company’s brand on Social Media, the other benefit of Social Media “listening” to CEOs is just being on top of trends/ potential viral situations and competitive initiatives. This is like an extension of listening that the marketing department would do for brands/consumer interests or the PR department would do for crises monitoring or the Customer Service department do to keep on top of service issues (twelpforce anyone?). For the CEO, it is just a very specialized stream – dealing with topics of interest to him/ her and tracking competitor or customer CxOs.
Naysayers of this thinking propound lack of time/ Regulation FD/ other substitutes as reasons for non engagement – the point is, like every other medium of customer outreach and marketing, a channel (nay, a way of life) has to be customized for your business situation. It is even possible to outsource both the branding and listening applications to an external party (though it is a bit self defeating since you can’t present “human” face that is not yours J
In the final analysis, the fact is ALL customers are on SM/ most competitors are getting there/ and the CEO’s peers are rapidly adopting it as well. The CEO needs to ask himelf – do I want to be left behind in the race or take a plunge and see the benefits? In the words of Indra Nooyi, “Just because you are CEO, don't think you have landed. You must continually increase your learning, the way you think, and the way you approach the organization. I've never forgotten that.”