If your CEO hasn’t yet openly embraced social media, chances are they will soon.
The number of “social CEOs” is expected to increase significantly within the next five years as business leaders discover the benefits of social media. According to IBM’s 2012 Global Insights study, respondents indicated that they are already seeing some benefits to their organizations from engaging with audiences through social media, including increased agility and adaptability.
The study of 1,700 CEOs also found social media are set to become the second most-used organizational engagement method after face-to-face communication.
Lack of time and potential risks to reputation are often cited by executives as reasons for avoiding social media. But leaders like ING Direct Australia boss Vaughn Richtor demonstrate how to address these challenges with the support of the communication team.
“I’ve always tweeted—it’s just never been out in virtual space because what I do a lot of is talk to people and listen. Communication has always been important,” said Richtor.
While still a relative newcomer to Twitter, Richtor has taken to the “short, sharp and sweet” nature of the platform. He uses social media as an extension of his face-to-face communication efforts and tweets a lot about his passions, which include cricket, people, culture and leadership. Richtor is also clear to point out that he relies on his communication team to help sustain his social media presence.
“Time is really scarce so I do have support…in terms of the tweeting sometimes I’ll respond directly, sometimes I’ll scribble a note and ask [the communication team] to schedule it for me. Otherwise I’m trying to do five things at once.”
Richtor’s head of corporate affairs, David Breen, suggests that communicators have an ongoing role in supporting leadership’s social communication efforts. Breen notes, “For a CEO who has a dozen priorities each day, you’ve got to make it easy and incorporate it into their day. So a simple mechanic that works for us is Vaughn will send us his material, we will edit it, check it and schedule it…that protects the CEO from something as simple as a spelling error to being on the wrong side of an argument. That’s the vast majority of it. During the day we’re also encouraging him to respond to things...we’re also starting to see certain peaks when people are reading Twitter—we factor that into the scheduling.”
Other CEOs who stand out in their use of social media include Richtor’s Canadian counterpart, Peter Aceto (@CEO_INGDIRECT), chairman and CEO at Aetna Mark Bertolini (@mtbert) and chairman and CEO of American Family Mutual Insurance Group, Jack Salzwedel (@AmFamJack). What is particularly interesting about this group is that they’re not from tech or media companies where you might expect executives to be adept at using social technologies.
These CEOs set the benchmark for sustained leadership communication in social business. They understand the benefits of connecting with customers, employees and other stakeholders via social media. They understand the unique opportunity social media offer to get up close and personal with a variety of audiences, regardless of geographical boundaries.
Research conducted by BRANDfog concerning CEOs and social media revealed that customers trust companies more and are more inclined to buy from them if their CEO uses social media.
That begs the question: Can your business leaders afford to ignore social media any longer? And how can the communication team help to get them involved? It’s not as big a leap as you might think. Communicators are already supporting leaders with speeches, messages, media, shareholder videos and staff podcasts. Now just add social!
Here’s a to-do list for communicators to get executives involved in social media:
1. Educate the executive.
Present a strong case for social business and look beyond the numbers. Consider both internal and external social platforms and draw on research such as IBM’s CEO report, Brandfrog’s CEO research and McKinsey’s Global Institute piece, “The Social Economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies.”
Clearly identify the benefits and risks, and outline a risk mitigation strategy. Where possible, provide ways for executives to measure the benefits of their social media efforts.
2. Put governance in place.
A good governance program is a key part of your risk mitigation strategy. It should include a social media policy and guidelines, education for staff, and social media monitoring and reporting, including a qualitative content analysis of comments left by customers. Be sure to assess a message's tone as well as sentiment.
3. Develop an integrated strategy.
So your CEO finally thinks social is a good idea. Now you need to back it up with a strategy. Too many executives have failed to sustain their social efforts because they don’t have a long-term plan in place. It’s also important to remember that social media aren’t for everyone.
Social media don’t exist in isolation, so integrate them with your broader leadership communication strategy. Listen first; identify where your communities are (e.g. Twitter, LinkedIn, Yammer or Jive) and where the focus will be—employee and customer engagement, reputation management or thought leadership, for example. Also determine what success looks like for your CEO.
Don’t forget to discuss things the CEO should not post, such as information that hasn’t been publically disclosed or issues they might like to avoid. Also instruct CEOs on how to keep a balance of personal versus professional posts. A small entrée into the boss’ private life is probably best; posts about interests such as favorite sports teams, theatre, news, etc. keep the tone authentic without getting too personal.
4. Establish processes.
Determine with your CEO how you can best support their social media efforts, and put processes in place to facilitate it.
Download a social media dashboard, such as Hootsuite, on your CEO’s preferred mobile device to help manage posts, channels and lists. For instance you can send a message out via Twitter and use the #yam to communicate the same message on your internal Yammer social network, if appropriate. It’s also useful to promote business tweets on LinkedIn.
Agree on the communication team’s role to support editing, scheduling and monitoring of all social media activity from the organization. If your CEO has their own Twitter account, all tweets should come from them. However, if at times the communication team does need to post a tweet on the CEO account, it should be transparent and acknowledged that it came from the team.
Take your CEO through a simple decision tree to identify what sort of posts they should respond to and how. For example, it may be better to acknowledge and then redirect some posts to a customer service team, rather than have the CEO respond.
Develop a content calendar based on the CEO’s activities, and remember if you do pre-schedule your social media posts, be mindful of breaking news and events that could negatively re-contextualise your intended message.
5. Establish the CEO’s social media accounts.
Social media communities take time to build. Establish a promotion plan for the CEO’s online handle and profiles to increase awareness and engagement. Include it in their presentation slide deck, on business cards, email signatures, etc. Continue to encourage and support your CEO.
Social media aren’t for every CEO, but it is our job as communicators to ensure our leaders look beyond the hype of social media disasters and make a well-informed business decision on how to engage on these platforms. If the communication team demonstrates that it has a strong handle on social media, with policies, strategies and processes, you’re more likely to take the boss a step closer to becoming completely social in 2013.
Tracey Sen is director of Creative Engagement for FTI Consulting, a global management consulting firm. She is also vice president of the IABC/New South Wales chapter (based in Sydney, Australia). Tracey is a communicator with extensive experience in the digital space including web, mobile and social and she's the winner of two Gold Quill Awards. You can contact her on Twitter: @traceysen, LinkedIn: in/traceysen or by email at tracey.sen@FTIconsulting.com.