When it comes to executive presences on Facebook and other social media platforms, any number of questions can arise.
How to find an authentic voice when a gaggle of people reviews every post by the chief executive? How should you make best use of that brief meeting you’re allotted with the top dog? Should a leader stake out a position on hot political issues?
The answers come down to taking the time to learn what your leaders are passionate about—and helping them find their voice, said a panel of experts at a recent Ragan Facebook Leadership Communications conference.
Often when an agency is assigned to position an executive, its members are told, “OK, you’ve got six weeks. Go lock yourselves in a room, and come back and tell us what we should be saying,” said Justin Blake, global lead for executive positioning at Edelman. “That is not a recipe for authenticity.”
In the search for authenticity, Roberta Thomson, director of corporate communications at Facebook, moderated a panel of the following people:
- Edelman’s Blake
- Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist for Weber Shandwick
- Matthias Lüfkens, managing director of digital for Burson-Marsteller
- Mike Krempasky, partner and global lead at Brunswick
Here are a few of their recommendations:
1. Do your homework.
You’ve been pleading for time to discuss the Big Cheese’s social media presence. Your CEO finally schedules a few minutes. How do you spend your time?
Don’t start your meeting with an open-ended question, such as, “If you went on Facebook, what would you talk about?” Blake said.
You should already know what the executive cares about. Listen to town hall talks, and corner people close to the boss, Blake said. What topic is she passionate about?
Then you can start your meeting by raising a topic that energizes the boss. If you’re asking more sophisticated and advanced questions, you’ll have more credibility.
Interviews by third-party experts can help focus leaders. With preparation, when it’s time to post much of the content is already done and you’re not inventing it on the fly, Krempasky said.
2. Find “moments that matter.”
Some executive social media posts suffer from a too-many-cooks syndrome, suggests Lüfkens.
“Look at everyone who will be involved in drafting the post,” Lüfkens said. “It’s the agency, it’s the comms team, it’s legal and compliance. … By the time it gets posted, whether the CEO pushes it himself or herself or not, it’s no longer really authentic.”
It’s easy to get lost trying to figure out where to jump in on the never-ending discussions out there in the world. Better to look for “moments that matter,” such as a transition or acquisition of a new company, Krempasky said. “Bold is really good, but believable is better.”
3. Be consistent with your values.
Whether to jump in on a hot-button issue depends on who the executive is, what kind of company it is and whether the industry is regulated, among other matters, Krempasky said.
Yet these days CEOs are being asked to stand up on many matters, most recently against the Trump administration’s proposed immigration restrictions on seven primarily Muslim countries.
“We are actually at a point where we have trained and spoken to our employees, and they expect CEOs to stand up,” Gaines-Ross said. “CEOs are being held accountable for what they’ve been saying over the past couple of years and demanding that their values really are as important as their core business.”
There are risks, however, to taking a side on issues that divide your customer base. One study showed that Americans didn’t understand why CEOs were doing this.
“They thought it was just because they wanted media attention,” said Gaines-Ross.
Other areas should be easy choices. At the top of any list should be speaking with their enthusiasts about their own organization and products, be it an automaker or video game designer, Krempasky said.
“That gives you a greater license to talk about other things,” he said.
4. Use experts when needed.
Often organizations can rely on their in-house communications expertise without bringing in an outside agency, several panelists said. Still, it sometimes helps to get guidance from people with a broader worldview.
“One of our advantages is to see so many industries and so many different companies around the world,” Gaines-Ross said. “We’re able to bring a sounding board and some perspective.”
Sometimes an outsider can help make your case to the CEO or to the board. An executive might find it easier to swallow criticism of a Facebook Live post from an outside expert. Your outsider might offer a point you’ve been trying to hammer home for years, Blake said.
Besides, expertise can matter. If your CEO is invited to Davos, someone on your team might say, “Oh, I heard it’s like this.”
Better to heed someone who can say, “This is how it is every year. This is what you need to watch for,” Blake said.
5. Learn from executives who do it right.
Asked for examples of smart executive use of social media, Gaines-Ross cited Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that he and his wife were expecting after three miscarriages.
“You feel so hopeful when you learn you’re going to have a child,” he wrote. “You start imagining who they’ll become and dreaming of hopes for their future. You start making plans, and then they’re gone. It’s a lonely experience.”
For a lot of women, the post rang true, Gaines-Ross said. “It was just so heartening to hear maybe a man talking about it,” she explained.
Blake cited several standouts, including Stephanie McMahon, chief brand officer from World Wrestling Entertainment. “This is something they enjoy doing,” he said.
Added Lüfkens, “For me the best CEOs or executives on social are the ones who can wield a mobile device themselves.”
For Krempasky, executives’ use of social media are best “when I can clearly understand why they’re doing it.”
He cited Ubisoft, a French game maker whose CEO, Yves Guillemot, used social media to successfully resist a hostile takeover bid by the French media company Vivendi.
His actions conveyed, Krempasky said, that “we’ve got something we need to do, and this is the perfect tool to do it.”