Memo To CEOs: Get Social


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In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs, businesses must evolve.

Will Social Media Awareness Deficit Hit Bottom Line?

Too many Fortune 500 CEOs don’t understand social media, and that’s not positioning their businesses for maximum growth.

That’s the warning sounded by a recent study sponsored by Domo and, which found that fewer than 30 CEOs in the Fortune 500 have profiles on social networks. While 30% of those CEOs have some type of social presence, only 7.6% are on Facebook, only 4% use Twitter, and fewer than 1% are on Google+. Compare those findings to the fact that more than half of Americans use Facebook, 34% use Twitter, and 30% of the 200 million tweets generated each day come from the United States.

“We really expected to see more social engagement from CEOs, especially since the benefits of social media are no longer just wishful thinking,” says Josh James, Domo’s CEO. “CEOs who use social media are growing their businesses, attracting lifelong customers, generating exposure for their companies and closing new deals.”

One bright spot in the study, released last month, is that 26% of the CEOs have a LinkedIn profile–compared with 20% of the general public. That said, nearly one-third of those CEOs have at most one LinkedIn connection.

Social Media Battles Management Responsibilities

But let’s keep the social warnings in perspective. Consider that the Fortune #500 company–that is, the smallest company included in the Domo and study–is $4.7 billion Molina Healthcare, led by CEO is Dr. Joseph Molina. According to CNN, Molina’s company has about 2,000 employees, is experiencing 16% growth, and adding about 250 people per year.

Given that Molina manages a company with 2,000 employees, is it surprising he doesn’t regularly update a Twitter feed? I can tell you myself, just from managing 150 people–never mind thousands–that it’s hard to do. And Molina Healthcare is the smallest Fortune 500 company.

Employ Your CEO For Social Success

Instead of asking how many Fortune 500 CEOs are on social networks, the more important question is: How do you use a CEO effectively in your social media strategy?

Charles Schwab, for example, has done an excellent job with its award-winning “Talk to Chuck” advertising campaign, in which customers tell 75-year-old Charles Schwab himself about their horrible financial decisions, such as spending $50 on a burger. Schwab listens attentively, nodding sagely, interjecting the occasional “oh my,” and in general just comes across as a down-to-earth financial advisor. Hearing another financial mismanagement sob story, Schwab takes off his glasses and rubs his eyes. He’s the perfect embodiment of what the brand is meant to accomplish, and it’s a fantastic use of a CEO in a social forum.

Make the Case: Social Media Awareness

Now, one counter-argument for the above is: How can a company CEO understand anything about social media, without himself–or rarely, herself–having a social media account? In fact, CEOs must be masters of delegation; they have a company to run. And does it matter to customers that Schwab himself isn’t on Twitter? Not at all. Likewise, does it matter to customers that the company’s chief investment strategist isn’t Schwab himself, but Liz Ann Sonders, or that Schwab himself isn’t designing their 529 plan? Of course not. Conversely, does it matter to every Fortune 500 company’s customers that the CEO isn’t starring in their advertising, writing their blogs, or making witty Twitter posts? No way.

Some CEOs Are Masters Of Social Media

When designing a social media strategy, set the right expectations. If you’re going to be like Richard Branson, remember this isn’t a part-time job. In fact, the “tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker,” is big on Twitter, but then his image and persona have always played a starring role in promoting Virgin.

Conversely, not every CEO’s social presence may boost the brand. Take United, which came under fire recently for misplacing a 10-year-old child. Do you think if the company’s CEO, Jeff Smisek, was on Twitter, that might have helped tamed the resulting blogosphere firestorm? As Slate so aptly put it:

If the airline’s Twitter feed was the target of a string of barbed one-liners, its Facebook page became more like a group-therapy session for victims of United’s allegedly uncaring customer service.

Ouch. Obviously, United has bigger issues, such as needing to retune its social media strategy, actively monitor social networks as well as respond to Twitter critics. It could even burnish its image by responding to parodies in kind, or liaising with the blisteringly hilarious fake Jeff Smisek on Twitter.

5 Steps To Social Media Dominance

As demonstrated by the debate over CEOs on social networks, as well as the social missteps at companies such as United, my message is simple: Don’t reactively say any given CEO needs to be on Facebook or Twitter. On the other hand, companies do need to get with the social revolution, and here’s how:

  1. Start by studying the social landscape, and aiming to master social media by putting a top-notch strategy in place.
  2. Help your organization understand its current social strengths and weaknesses by comparing and contrasting current capabilities with your competitors’.
  3. Review–and beg, borrow, and steal from–the strategies of the best social media practitioners.
  4. Prioritize which social opportunities today, as well as in the future, offer the biggest potential impact for your business.
  5. Craft your plan, bolstered where necessary by new technology, to take social networks by storm.

Make Your Company Social–Blogs, Twitter, Facebook

Interestingly, many businesses are getting social with their customer-facing communications and CRM efforts. According to a new study from Dartmouth, while only 16% of the Fortune 500 had a public-facing corporate blog in 2008, that’s surged to 28% this year.

Learn More

Tap Innoveer’s Social Landscape Service to learn the threats–and opportunities–for your company in the social world. Also look to Innoveer to create a Social Playbook: a detailed program plan, prioritized list of requirements, and risk assessment designed to help your company storm to social network success.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Kevin Dooley.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adam Honig
Adam is the Co-Founder and CEO of Spiro Technologies. He is a recognized thought-leader in sales process and effectiveness, and has previously co-founded three successful technology companies: Innoveer Solutions, C-Bridge, and Open Environment. He is best known for speaking at various conferences including Dreamforce, for pioneering the 'No Jerks' hiring model, and for flying his drone while traveling the world.


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