Employer Branding

How to Become a Social CEO

Should CEO’s be active on social media? How can they make use of social platforms to build and manage the reputation of their company? And what are some of the most common mistakes that CEOs make on social media? I caught up with Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross, who is the Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick to find out how CEOs can build and control their company’s reputation, by being social.

Listen to the interview on iTunes, SoundCloud or keep reading for a summary.

What Weber Shandwick do and Leslie’s role:

I’m the Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, which is a global public relations communications firm, and we help companies and brands build their reputations and really communicate as best as they can to all their different stakeholders.

What Chief Reputation Strategies really means is I work with companies and CEOs on how to best build their reputations, how to protect them, preserve them, and repair them when they get themselves into trouble. I’ve been a reputation expert for many years, so naturally I’m interested in the role of the CEO and what role he or she plays in building a reputation for a company, and that led me into just understanding social CEOs.

The challenges that CEOs face with social media:

Well, certainly there are many challenges in terms of being social. It’s something we started looking at in 2010, because I realised this is interesting. There are some CEOs who are on social media, and not many at the time in 2010, but it’s doubled since then. So there are many more social CEOs than there used to be, and we’ve done a lot of research in the area. When we asked them, “What’s keeping you back? What are the obstacles in your way for engaging in social media and using the internet and using it as it’s been built,” we got responses such as “Well, we don’t do that in our region,” or “It’s not typical in our industry,” or “We don’t see the return on investment,” “No one’s asking me to do it.”

And then certainly the topic comes up, it’s too risky, there are too many risks, I don’t have enough time, I travel too much. Those are the basic, the most often mentioned obstacles for a CEO to be social. There were two CEOs that I spoke to over time, who had a great answer to that “It’s too risky for me” response, and one CEO said to me, “Well, just think about the risk of not using social media, not communicating on social media, not being in the conversation.” I thought that was a pretty insightful response.

The other one said to me, and I really thought this was good, he said that, “That’s the job of a CEO, to manage risk, to maximise the upside and minimise the downside.” So there are some answers when CEOs say, “It’s not for me. It’s not for my company. It’s not for my region, not for my industry.”

The steps to becoming a social CEO:

Well, one of the things that I have learned in just being so interested in this topic, and I’m going to give you some step-by-step ideas. But I think it’s interesting just to note that you can be a social CEO by just being really engaged online on your company’s intranet. Some companies have very robust intranets, or they have these internal communications platforms, and those are really another way to be a social CEO. So being a social CEO is not just being out there on the traditional social media platforms, but you can be social by being really active internally.

But in terms of step-by-step approach:

  1. I think you have to, for a CEO or any top executive, to begin by listening, just spending time on the platforms and just conducting social listening, getting regular reports on what’s being said about your company or your brands on social media, so you get accustomed to it, and just being very observant on how important social media is. The first step is just start listening.
  2. Then we often advise CEOs to start slowly, and that’s try a soft launch. That is let’s say you decide you want to be on LinkedIn or you want to be on Twitter or you want to be on Facebook. So work with your communications or marketing team, and they can set up an off-the-grid simulation so you can just get used to it. See what happens and what does it look like and what might it look like when people respond? Just off the grid, try it that way. Another idea is, by starting slowly, is start with an internal blog just on your intranet, and see what that’s like.
  3. But I think one of the most important steps for becoming social for a CEO, is to define why you’re doing it. What is your business case for using social media? Once you answer that, then you really can easily engage, because you’ll know why you’re doing it. You’ll know who you’re trying to engage.


Common mistakes CEOs make on social media:

I think it’s important to test it out, to make sure that before you begin, that you’ve vetted with your marketing, communications people, your legal counsel, that you tell your board that you’re going to be using social media. So that’s the first step, and usually all that’s in place anyhow. The reason you want to be in touch with your legal counsel, your IR people, is just to make sure you don’t disclose any material information.

But I think CEOs have to realise, and I meant to say this before, is first of all, you have to develop a thick skin when you go into social media, because people say things that you might consider offensive or uncivil or rude. So you have to be prepared for that, and you have to not get yourself into a cat fight on social media just because someone says something.

So that’s something you want to be aware of, and CEOs shouldn’t take it personally. The whole point of using social media is to hear what your customers are saying about your company and your brand, and you should be interested in hearing that and not take it too personally, which I know is really hard.

Inspirational CEOs on social media:

Certainly, I think it’s been interesting looking at Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook, the CEO of Facebook and how he has been communicating. He has town halls on his Facebook page. He’s very open and transparent. I have found that to be more of a humanising effect on who he is and the company that he runs.

He talked about his wife’s three miscarriages before just having their baby. I think it’s just been interesting to watch. It’s almost like watching someone, their journey through life as a business person and as a husband and a father. It’s an interesting way to provide insight into an individual and build company and CEO reputation.

Every year he adds a New Year’s resolution. I think last year it was about reading a book a week and talking about it. He had a book club. This New Year’s resolution was about building more artificial intelligence into his home. I find that interesting. It’s much more of a personal look into an individual.

First day back after paternity leave. What should I wear?

Posted by Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, January 25, 2016

The next big thing for CEOs and social media:

I think the next big thing is, as we touched on the idea of building more robust and easily usable employee networks where CEOS and executives and employees can all convene. I think that that’s definitely something I see ahead. I also see video storytelling, as we talked about. I see more CEOs becoming publishers themselves in a way, building and posting their own content on their own sites, or on their social media platforms and on their websites. I think that we’re going to see more of that in the future where CEOs become their own content providers.

I think that we may see, we did in our analysis, where we looked at, and one of our social CEO reports, looked at social bios. Some CEOs have social bios. So when you go on their website, on the company website, you go into the About Us, and they have the leadership page. Instead of your traditional bio that looks like a resume, they have social bios. They’re multi-dimensional in the sense that they link to videos and texts of speeches and CEOs making news and spotlights and their Twitter feed and their Facebook feed.

I think that we may see more of those in the future. And same with their other executives. It’s not just the CEO, but some of the other top leaders. I think we’ll see more CEOs making better use of visual content, not just here’s a link, but actually using visual content that goes along with the information that they’re sharing. I think that we’ll see more of that.

Those are some of the things that I see happening with CEOs. Like I said, when we first started in 2010 looking at social CEOs, I think it was about 30 something percent of the top CEOs in the world were using any kind of social media, or on their website, or using any kind of video or anything. It was about 36%, to be precise. We’ve done this look every two years. In 2014, the last time we did it, it was 80%, so CEOs are definitely entering this new era of being social, and it’s a good thing.

It’s going to be so commonplace. By 2020 it’ll be rare to probably find a CEO who has no footprint at all in the Internet.

Follow Leslie on Twitter@ReputationRx and check out her blog

By Jörgen Sundberg

Founder of Undercover Recruiter & CEO of Link Humans, home of The Employer Brand Index.