Grow Your Company Or Be Active On Social Media?

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Should the CEO blog?

It seems like a question rooted in 2008, but now that blogging could include things like tweeting, creating videos on YouTube, updating a Facebook profile or taking part in LinkedIn, it may well be high time to start asking these questions all over again. The reasoning for this line of questioning comes via a press release issued today titled, Fortune 500 executives behind on social networking. A study done by Domo and looked at the online engagement of Fortune 500 companies’ top brass and compared it to that of the mass population. The key takeaway? Less than thirty percent of the Fortune 500’s top executives have (at least) one profile within a social media channel and the vast majority have none.

"I’d like my life back."

During the BP oil spill crisis, then CEO, Tony Hayward, became known for his infamous line: "I’d like my life back." Social media and online social networking force individuals to become public. They also force these same individuals to become active media entities unto themselves. These people are no longer just leading a company but are expressing their views and perspectives. This – as you can well imagine – is not for everyone. Some have done it exceedingly well as a platform to share ideas and thinking to foster better relationships with everyone from shareholders to employees to customers, but the majority of them (according to this press release) are simply avoiding it… like the plague.

Why so shy, Mr. CEO?

Here are some of the fascinating data points taken from this survey:

  • 5 of the 19 CEOs on Twitter have never tweeted.
  • 25 of the 38 CEOs on Facebook have less than 100 friends.
  • The only social network that these CEO outdo the US public on is LinkedIn (129 of the CEOs have profiles vs. 1/5 of Americans).
  • Only 4 CEOs are on Google + (and that includes Larry Page).
  • None are on Pinterest (which has, according to this report, 12 million American users).
  • Only one CEO blogs (Whole FoodsJohn Mackey). That blog has not been updated since November 2011 (so does that even count?).

Social media is personal media.

From the report: "While the majority of Fortune 500 CEOs have yet to pick up the pace in their personal social media efforts, it seems those who do will be better equipped to successfully grow their companies." I’m not too sure that I would agree with that conclusion. If a CEO believes a more public and social platform would enable them to add economic value to the brands that they represent, there may be good cause to get involved. But, it’s not essential. Social media has evolved and I do not believe that consumers have an expectation that because blogging and tweeting exists that there is now a defined line to connect personally to a CEO of a company. It seems like the vast majority of consumers are fine with their current level of interaction with brands so long as they get results that are both fast and end with a positive result in their favor. Does anyone really care if the CEOs of the brands that they like and follow are deeply engaged in the social media spheres? Not every leader is going to be great at developing and nurturing a substantive social media presence and, so long as the brand is actively engaged, isn’t that more than enough? In a perfect world, I would love to see more and more CEOs sharing, caring and connecting in a more personal way, but it’s easy to see where the apprehension lies, isn’t it?

Do you think the future CEO can only be successful if they’re personally engaged with social media?


  1. I’m not so sure that this is a requirement of all CEOs. I mean, how many CEOs do we fault for not picking up the phone and having conversations with customers all day? The responsibilities of CEOs are significant, and their number one priority is to run the business. If there are a number of other employees who are engaging with customers regularly, I don’t think it matters if the CEO is personally tweeting on a regular basis.
    The way we’ve worked it at Ford is that we set up periodic Q&A sessions with our CEO via our corporate Twitter account. That way, people get access but he’s not tied down to an account that has to be managed on a daily basis.
    I’m sure things will work a little bit differently in the future, but trying to balance the multitude of incoming messages, from phone to email, tweets to blog mentions, Facebook comments to the suggestion box and more, is a major challenge.

  2. Your thinking is in line with my thinking. If the CEO is interested, great. But, I’d much prefer a CEO who is focused on adding economic value to the company than one who is feeling forced to tweet because that’s the thing to do.

  3. Social media is a tool. It’s one of the thousand tools that we have now incorporated into business as a function of the world adopting social media and as a function of the speed at which we can disseminate information. For some CEO’s, Social Media may be an option. However, my training indicates that CEO’s should be spending about 10% of their time on tasks associated with the business, 10% of their time on management initiatives, and 80% of their time on strategy.
    In the not so recent past, I had the opportunity to have coffee with the VP of sales for Toyota Canada. This man was extremely busy and worked 6 days a week with the 7th day dedicated to family time; not to mention the mandatory doctors appointments, chiropractor appointments, etc. (to keep him alive!). I can’t imaging having one blog post per week carved into his job description. It just doesn’t make sense!
    If I’m the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, I’m focused on the strategic direction and overall well-being of the organization. I should not be depended on for providing content – that is of course unless I want to and have the time. In the future, the role of the CEO may change but for now, let’s focus on profit and growth!

  4. Interesting post, Joel, thanks for sharing. I have to agree with you, whether the CEO is on Twitter or not is not very important for the company’s customers.
    In my line of work, though, I have found out that when at least some executives have developed a real intimacy with social technologies, convincing them to engage in the trasformations that are necessary in ways of working and ways of management is much easier.
    My own advice to executives goes more towards experimenting these technologies, so that they get a feeling of how they can contribute to changing the working experience and the very impact of work. But now, that’s far away from having the CEO developing the skills needed to have a real impact on Twitter or his own blog

  5. I have to agree with Scott on this one. I think most CEOs should I hire people to blog for the company, not necessarily blog themselves. I think providing periodic access as a treat is a great thing.

  6. My guess, they would need to have each blog post, tweet, Facebook entry, or Pinterest photo reviewed by “legal” before it was cleared for publication. His fiduciary responsibility to employees, stockholders, customers, and the board out-way any perceived need to be involved in social media. Throw in a little Sarbanes-Oxley and the legal exposure probably becomes the determining factor. The end result is a “guarded” executive with little opportunity for personal expression outside the dictates of the Board of Directors. As much as some things change, some things remain the same.

  7. I also agree with Scott. I get frustrated with the camp that thinks we shold cover the world with tweets. In some cases, and with certain personalities, the exec can truly be a strategic weapon on the web. However, I am remember a HBR piece a few years ago that said that charasmatic leaders like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs are the exception, not the rule. The most effective CEOs are relatively shy finance or engineering types who may not be comfortable with the demands of maintaining a social media persona.
    Having worked closely with CEOs at Fortune 500 companies I know how focused they have to be to attend to the many demands and daily crises before them. I have to wodner, in most cases, if responding to tweets or blog comments should ever be a top priority. It feels a bit like the CEO taking charge of the employee newsletter.
    So when I see data about low social media involvment by top execs, my reaction is usually, “yeah. that’s probably smart.”

  8. I’d much rather see the CEO of any company involved in the kinds of activities you mention Scott, rather than having the marketing dept. or social media teams crafting messages for the CEO.

  9. This is a topic I’ve been chewing on for awhile. Another study came out a few months ago that said people trust companies more when their CEOs tweet. That might be true, but it’s not necessarily practical.
    I agree that in a perfect world, it would be great for a CEO to have the time and transparency to engage in social media. However, not everyone is Richard Branson or Tony Hsieh.
    I think it’s short-sided to say that every CEO should be on social media. It comes down to priorities, interest and personality. Whether you’re a CEO or not, you have to have an interest in social or your efforts will fall flat. It takes time to build a social presence and most CEOs have much bigger fish to fry (or at least, I hope they do).
    The other consideration is that when a CEO tweets/blog/etc, it can be used as an official statement for the company. If a CEO were to engage in social, they would need to take great care in what they say. Look at all of the blunders where people have stuck their foot in their mouth.
    Scott’s idea is a great one. Involve the CEO in the company’s overall efforts, but don’t force him into carry the social media effort squarely on his shoulders.

  10. I aggree Laura. I think the cons outway the pros on this one. There is too much liability in a CEO saying something in the social web that may be taken as an official statement. This liability may far outway any benefits that the company may get from social media, especially when you can hire someone to manage social media and still reap the benefits.

  11. In the last paragraph of this article you ask, rhetorically, “Does anyone really care if the CEOs of the brands that they like and follow are deeply engaged in the social media spheres?” The answer is and will always be a definite no!
    Without naming names, there are a number of social media gurus with great web presence and lots of followers who are blurring the line between personal relationships and business relationships. I have much respect for the experts out there who are helping social media marketers integrate social media into an already effective marketing strategy, but I must say that I am becoming a little annoyed by those influential social media experts who, quite frankly, come across as valuing a warm fuzzy relationship with the customer over profitability and real growth. Business is still business, and social media should be but a facet of a marketing strategy.
    Good grief, let the CEO be the CEO for crying out loud. Let the employees with the words “Social Media” in their titles handle the bulk of daily engagement and interaction with the customers and prospects on the social platforms – that’s what they’re hired to do.

  12. As social media matures, Fortune 500 companies will need to improve internal processes to incorporate social media into their day to day business operations. Facebook interactions will need to link up to customer service operations, marketing will be planned across all channels with analysis of data and social conversations forming part of R&D and strategy. The smart companies will figure out ways to involve the CEO as part of an overall social strategy without over burdening them but there are some companies where the CEO *is* the brand and they will have to get more active on social. However with careful editorial planning and delegation of some elements it can be managed.

  13. Thanks for your post, Mitch. I’m glad to see that the comments show a respect for the range of contextual factors that must be considered (legal and fiduciary responsibilities, brand, etc) when a CEO considers whether or not to use social media. I’d like to point out one more factor that hasn’t been mentioned, which is the need for a CEO (or any C-level person) to understand the culture of their customers, and of their employees, and the important role that the use of communication technology always plays in that culture.
    I’ll hazard a claim here that the CEO in 1975 who regularly watched television would have a better understanding of consumer culture, and make better strategic decisions about how to deal with that culture, than one who only read books. And a CEO in 2002 who had purchased products online would have a better understanding of e-commerce, and make better strategic decisions about how to structure the company to sell things online than a CEO who restricted herself to buying things in brick and mortar stores.
    So while it is not always possible to draw a direct line between a CEO’s functional use of social media and the creation of value for the company, i think it is important to consider that the tradeoff for not using social media in the short term may be less effective strategic decisions down the road due to a lack of “Digital Fluency.”

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