The people behind America’s most profitable companies have one thing in common: They’re stubbornly antisocial.
A report from CEO.com finds that 61 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have zero social media presence whatsoever. Even the CEOs who are active on social tend to rely on one channel only—LinkedIn.
It’s a curious finding, given how important social media marketing has become for most companies. Indeed, brands are struggling (and sometimes failing) to adopt more human-like touches in their social media plans—witness the proliferation of Millennial-speak (bae, fleek, yolo, fomo, swag) and the rising importance of one-to-one customer service interaction on social channels.
These days, every brand wants to offer authentic, personal, and engaging experiences with consumers. But very few actual CEOs are willing to put themselves out there to help achieve that authentic, human touch.
While the CEO.com survey did show that CEOs are slightly more social now than previously, change is slow going.
Not a single CEO is active on all major social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, or LinkedIn). Of those who use social media, 70 percent utilize just one key platform, LinkedIn. Only 50 Fortune 500 CEOs are on Twitter, and only 31 of those users are active, having Tweeted in the last 100 days. In fact, the number of active CEOs on Twitter has actually decreased in the past year, CEO.com reported.
Some CEOs—like Warren Buffett—have huge numbers of followers on Twitter despite little-to-no activity. The Oracle of Omaha has billions of dollars to his name and millions of Twitter followers, but just seven lonely Tweets; almost a year has passed with no updates.
CEOs might be forgoing social media for legitimate reasons:
Not all CEOs avoid social media. Choose your favorite tech company, and you’ll likely find its CEO on Twitter or Facebook. Younger CEOs are also more likely to have a social media presence, CEO.com reported.
Some CEOs actually have a bigger following than the companies they run. Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell, boasts over 951,000 followers; Dell has a paltry 564,000. Richard Branson has over 7 million followers; Virgin, the company he founded, has just 210,000.
These and other tech leaders have figured out how to use social media to their advantage. Startup companies that have made it big, like Uber, Airbnb and StitchFix, boast CEOs with strong social media skills. For these entrepreneurs, a social presence on networks like Twitter and Facebook isn’t just about sharing company news and information—they’re sharing personal stories, pictures, and content from other sources. And all of that sharing can produce important results.
When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Tweets about his outreach in India, he’s implicitly telling followers that his company matters—not just in your city but on the global stage. When Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky posts on Facebook about fostering imagination, he’s inspiring followers—and reinforcing the image of Airbnb as an innovative company.
When we see a CEO on social and doing it well, it colors how we view the company itself. CEOs build their personal brands while they build their company’s brand, too. For example, Stitch Fix CEO Katrina Lake blends Tweets about company news with Tweets on issues facing women entrepreneurs and working women. Her social media presence situates Lake as a female leader and innovator, and helps sell followers on why her brand matters.
Social CEOs also help companies tap into their human side. Through social media, average people have access—even intimate details—about CEOs and the brands they lead. Otherwise faceless companies become more relatable. The more we learn about CEOs, the more we get the feeling that CEOs are just like us. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s Tweet about the birth of her daughters gave fans a glimpse of her as a mother and CEO, and the Tweet earned 3,000 likes.
CEOs also have the opportunity to interact with consumers directly via social media, lending a personal touch. Uber’s CEO frequently chimes in on Twitter with answers to user questions and complaints. While that level of engagement might not appeal to all CEOs, for Uber it reinforces the idea that the company cares about consumers and wants to court their loyalty.
Social media is the place where journalists, business leaders, and influencers live. When CEOs join the fray and build positive relationships among these key groups, they can line up opportunities for more visibility and enhance their role as a brand ambassador.
Social media also gives CEOs the opportunity to handle a crisis or reshape the public debate when bad things happen. AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes took to Twitter following a plane crash in December, informing followers about recovery efforts, expressing concern for victims’ families, and rallying support for employees, which helped to show the company’s human side during a tragedy.
Even the “most hated man in America,” Martin Shkreli—the CEO who hiked up a the price of a life-saving drug by 5,556 percent—is making inroads on social media to reform his reputation. He engages cheekily with haters, even inviting folks to take a poll on why they hate him so much.
Sure, he’s got a ways to go before giving up the “Pharma Bro” label. But his experience does offer some insight on how CEOs can use social media to push back on negative media narratives.
Most importantly, research suggests that more social CEOs drive more consumers to the brand.
Brandfog found that the presence of executives on social media can dramatically enhance a company’s image. A majority of consumers believe that executive use of social media increases brand transparency, improves brand trust, and helps shape a company’s values. Over 70 percent of Americans surveyed said that executives who use social media are more authentically engaged with the company’s stakeholders.
Moreover, 61 percent said they are more likely to purchase from a company whose values and leadership are clearly communicated through executives on social media.
While social media may seem time-consuming and risky for busy CEOs, as time goes on, the benefits will far outweigh the disadvantages. CEOs who want to be seen as great business leaders and communicators can shape that image on social—and ultimately shape the image of their companies as well.
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