America’s incoming chief executive won the election by, in part, using social media to communicate directly to the American people.
Donald Trump’s short-form, real-time social media updates created the appearance of authenticity and genuine communication, while making Hillary Clinton’s more-nuanced communications seem less transparent.
Other top executives should note that approach for directly engaging stakeholders.
Today, less than half of the general population trusts CEOs, a trust gap that chief executives must work to overcome through more open and authentic communications. A key audience for those communications are employees. Not only does 81 percent of the population view employee communications as a way to increase CEO trust, but employees are also viewed as a company’s most trusted spokespeople.
To address this trust gap, CEOs must engage directly with employees through consistent, transparent dialogue. How can a CEO build a dialogue when workforces come in all shapes and sizes and various shifts often go around the clock?
As the media landscape continues to transform, social media channels provide a unique opportunity for CEOs to communicate directly with employees—including team members without company email addresses or access to traditional intranet channels.
The success of Trump’s strategy and the growing use of social media among business executives raise the question: Could actively communicating on social media improve a CEO’s approval rating among employees?
We used Glassdoor’s list of the Top 50 Highest Rated CEOs of 2016 to help identify the most well-liked and most respected CEOs in the United States, as ranked by their employees. Not surprisingly, the list included well-known and socially active tech CEOs such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff and Google’s Sundar Pichai.
The list also included lesser-known names from an array of industries. We mapped the social footprints of those 50 CEOs across four prominent channels—Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram—noting which platforms they used, frequency of posting, type of social content, etc.
Our analysis showed that more than 75 percent of the top 50 highest-rated CEOs were present on social media channels, and that the top 25 CEOs tended to be more active than those ranked in the second half of the list.
More than half of the top 50 were present on LinkedIn and a quarter of the top CEOs were either LinkedIn Influencers or members of Facebook’s Business Influencer program. Just two of Glassdoor’s highest rated CEOs—Zillow’s Spencer Rascoff and Lululemon’s Laurent Potdevin—were active on all four social media channels, with the broader group using LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram in decreasing order.
Though we do not suggest causation, this analysis shows that actively using social media is probably a growing factor in CEO approval ratings, as doing so seems to increase both transparency and authenticity. There are also important takeaways from these CEOs’ social media habits, mainly to instill humanizing qualities into posts and to be vocal on societal issues.
Here are four editorial pillars to include in content planning for top executives, along with examples from some of the CEOs on Glassdoor’s list:
1. Share posts on company culture. Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff recently shared a personal video on Facebook of an employee event.
2. Spotlight employees. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spotlighted employees at a Swedish data center using first-person storytelling and artistic imagery.
3. Share personal aspects of your life. The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer shows us that the general population is interested in a CEO’s personal values, obstacles they have overcome, their success story, their education and how it shaped them, among other non-business updates. Many top CEOs share these aspects of their lives. SAP chief Bill McDermott recently posted a personal account of his own career journey on his LinkedIn page. T-Mobile CEO John Legere often gets personal as well, posting tweets about his daily activities and hosting a Facebook Live stream every Sunday called #SlowCookerSunday.
4. Industry insights and advice. Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst frequently shares articles on LinkedIn outlining his unique industry perspectives.
A company’s employees and subject matter experts are not just important stakeholder groups; they are often a company’s most trusted voices. As we look to 2017, the tenor of the times and rising sense of populism dictate that CEOs be more transparent and accessible than ever.
The voices of employees and “people like me” will grow in influence, so CEOs must step beyond the realm of business to engage employees on the digital platforms they use in their personal lives. Doing so not only will increase transparency, but it can also inspire employees to share their own content about a company’s vision, purpose and performance with friends and family.
Marcia Newbert is Edelman’s knowledge manager for digital executive positioning and Hilary Teeter is a senior account supervisor specializing in employee engagement. A version of this article originally appeared on the Edelman website.