Is your CEO climbing on the social media bandwagon?

More and more chief execs are venturing onto LinkedIn and Twitter, giving their organizations a public face and engaging internal and external audiences. Here’s how communicators can help.


Though slow to the table, many CEOs have come to embrace social media.

An analysis found that 80 percent of the CEOs of the world’s largest 50 companies are engaged online and on social media, more than double of what the same study found in 2010.

Not long ago, a CEO’s presence on social media was considered too risky, a recent Harvard Business Review article said. CEOs feared that saying the wrong thing online would ignite a firestorm of antagonists, dissatisfied customers and disgruntled employees who could threaten the company’s reputation.

Now, having a digital strategy integrated across multiple channels is the mandate for neutralizing criticism. It’s become more important to tell the company’s story transparently and join the conversation.

Research shows that five significant trends over the past five years have contributed to CEOs’ increased presence on social media.

1. The company website is the top spot for CEO communications. Nearly seven in 10 CEOs (68 percent) have a visible presence on company websites beyond just their name and bio. This represents a more than doubling of CEO website visibility since 2010 (32 percent), reflecting the larger trend of companies’ becoming self-publishers.

2. Corporate video is the new normal for CEOs. The number of CEOs appearing in video, either on the company website or YouTube channel, is triple what it was in 2010 (54 percent and 18 percent, respectively). Some CEO videos are repurposed clips of CEOs reporting on quarterly earnings and at industry-related events; others are directed at customers. CEOs are smartly recognizing the emotional power of video in today’s multi-media and distracted world.

3. LinkedIn rules. The rate of CEOs using LinkedIn has spiked since 2010, going from 4 percent to 22 percent. More than 1.7 million CEO titles now appear on LinkedIn. This platform is regarded as safer than other social media, given that those who post on its site cannot do so anonymously. In a way, it is a gated community for professionals.

4. New CEOs are quicker to take up social media. New CEOs (in office three years or less) are now just as active on social media as those with more than three years at the helm. This rate jumped from 48 percent in 2012 to 80 percent in 2014. CEOs understand from the start that social media activity enables them to reach wider audiences faster.

5. Female executives are raising their voices. More than 75 percent of female CEOs are active on social media. As social media strategist Andrea Learned wrote for The Huffington Post, “‘Going social’ has huge potential for helping women leaders elevate their own voices, add fresh thinking to important conversations, and build trusted community with an impact that makes a world of business difference.”

Chief execs on social media platforms

It’s been amazing to see the surge in social media engagement at these high levels.

Having at least some social media presence puts CEOs in a better position to connect with a large audience, especially in a time of opportunity or crisis. It also puts a human face on your company.

Obviously there are reputational benefits of building a personal brand and creating a voice of authority in an industry, and employees say they feel proud when they see their leaders on social media.

Having an enthusiastic executive authentically embrace social networks can be a great advantage for a company. If your CEO is resisting it, what should you do?

1. Education. Sometimes the route to social media nirvana does not go through Facebook. It means pausing for some executive education. Before anybody starts posting or tweeting, make sure the executive is thoroughly educated on the opportunities, risks and especially the SEC implications of anything he or she publishes.

2. Guidance. The first time you leap from an airplane, you probably want a trainer strapped to your back. I think that’s good advice for social media too. If your CEO is hesitant, don’t force anything. Take it slow. Help them, and coach them. Suggest easy steps like repurposing a speech, a message to shareholders or another piece of content they have already created.

3. Show them by example. For those CEOs still hesitant to embrace social media, listening and watching other CEOs in action could be a great first step.

4. Be conservative. You probably don’t want your CEO’s social media debut to be a Twitter chat or a live broadcast on Meerkat. Work them into responding to and engaging with friendly crowds. Be sensitive to their ability to take criticism when considering the right platforms.

5. Never fake it. Your CEO might want you to “just do it” for them. This is a difficult position to be in, but you just can’t risk the company’s reputation by posting on behalf of another person. Don’t get caught in that trap.

6. If necessary, back off. Some CEOs are never going to get it, and they’re never going to get onboard. If they hate it, that’s going to show up in the tone of their social media engagement. There also could be legitimate risks-even security factors-that would prevent a CEO from venturing onto social media. Know when to back off.

Are your executives active on social media? How’s that working out?

A version of this article originally appeared on {grow}.

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