Today, all companies that consider themselves innovative, have a digital and social strategy. Or have a strategy on the drawing board. However, very few executives in the same companies are represented on social media. At least not with a professional profile.
I am the first to admit that I am a spring chicken when it comes to social media. However, I can console myself with the fact that I am not alone! It only takes a brief look at the most popular social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, to see that only the last-mentioned is a media where business leaders are fairly represented with a profile. This does not mean that we are active!
A survey of Fortune 500 companies shows that only 42 CEO’s from the largest companies in the US have a Twitter profile, while even fewer are active, i.e. they have tweeted within the last 100 days.
In Denmark, the picture is the same. Looking at the largest Danish companies only very few CEO’s are active on social media. This may seem strange in a time where everyone agrees that technology, communication and especially transparency are critical to business success.
I could start by looking at myself. I could “brag” that I have a Twitter profile with an earth shattering 102 followers, not much to be proud of I know. On the other hand, I have recently increased my activity on LinkedIn, with more posts, which has gained significantly more attention and feedback than before. It tells me that with so few top executives engaged in social media, it is absurd how easy it would be to become a “first mover”.
So why do CEO’s not exploit social media?
Based on my own, and my network’s experience, I think there are a few reasons for this. First of all, we have not yet proven or acknowledged that a CEO’s presence on social media has a positive impact on the bottom line. And if it does not contribute directly to the business, is it by default not interesting.
Another barrier is age. Most executives are at an age, where social media is not naturally top of mind. Their children – or grandchildren – have grown up with a tablet in their hands and manoeuvre instinctively between social platforms. However, for us “over 40’s”, social media is like an alien planet that is almost impossible to conquer.
Finally, I think it is about insecurity; as the expression goes “Twitter is 140 characters of risk”. When entering social media, you move out of your comfort zone. On social media, you cannot hide behind a corporate brand. Things happen in real-time, with direct personal response, and the boundaries between private life and business become blurred.
However, bottom line, age and insecurity are not the real major barriers to social media. The biggest challenge is about transparency. The social age means that the walls of the enterprise – to some extent – are demolished. This places great demands on the CEO, because it suddenly becomes visible to the outside world how he or she operates the company. It can make the CEO vulnerable.
So what is the gain of entering the social world?
Today’s top executive is expected to be visionary. How can you as a leader expect that your employees are innovative, proactive and communicative, if you are not? If the company wants to be at the forefront, it must come from the top: lead by example, as they say. This also applies to social media.
Social media is a gift for managers to learn and listen. It is not just a tool to push out the company’s marketing messages. It is important to be aware that if the CEO uses social media for business propaganda, he or she will fail. Social media provides the opportunity to observe, listen and learn - both in terms of customers, employees and shareholders. As an added bonus, social media gives access to market information in real-time.
Active participation on social media allows the CEO to proactively engage with the outside world and participate in the discussion about the company. It is a unique opportunity. The conversation is already happening, so why not be part of it. Moreover, in case of crisis, you have the opportunity to react quickly and perhaps prevent it from escalating.
Today, social media increasingly drive sales; this is where the customers are! And today, the customers do not buy a product from an indifferent company; they buy the companies values! These are two key changes that will shape customer relationships in the future. This means that customers want to know what the company stands for, and they expect to have a visible top executive, who has an opinion – and dares to be accountable for it.
We are experiencing a “social landslide”, where the executives who catch the ball and know how to dribble in the social world, can achieve both significantly higher personal and business value. If we dare!
Thomas Honoré is Chief Executive officer and President of Columbus.