Report: Facebook, Instagram use growing among top execs

CEOs and others are learning to show a human face, whether a birthday greeting or a bicycle accident. The results are a more engaging presence, Burson-Marsteller states.

If you’re a top executive looking for engagement on Facebook and Instagram, a new report from Burson-Marsteller offers a surprisingly straightforward idea: Wish your spouse happy birthday.

Reporting on trends in the two platforms, the public relations giant suggests that senior leaders adopt a more human voice, as when philanthropist and Microsoft founder Bill Gates posted a photo of him dancing with his wife. The caption read: “Happy birthday, Melinda. Here’s to many more years of dancing together!”

The report, titled “Friending in High Places: Business Leaders on Facebook and Instagram,” was prepared for a recent Ragan Facebook Leadership Communications Summit at Facebook’s California headquarters. The PR firm surveyed the practices of chief executives with a worldwide reach.

“We want our leaders—we want all the people that we interact with—to be real human beings,” Burson-Marsteller CEO and Worldwide Chair Donald A. Baer told Ragan Communications, “and to have the sides of them that are not just the things that are polished and on display based on their corporate image, but are about who they are as people.”

The report shows that the adoption of Facebook by business leaders is growing and becoming mainstream, while Instagram is showing similar trends. In 2016, Facebook registered the fastest pace of growth of Fortune 500 and Global Fortune 500 executives joining the platform, among them Walmart CEO Doug McMillon and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi, the report states.

Executive communications on the two platforms are often a team effort, and most executive pages are operated by the business leader, the communications team and a communications agency, the report states. Yet the most successful leaders by several metrics are those who speak with a human voice.

Just check out Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group and the fourth-most-followed business leader, who shares personal moments that have included pictures of his blood-stained face after a cycling accident in August.

Zuckerberg rules the roost

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg is the most-followed business leader on Facebook, with 85 million people clinging to his words and posts.

Bill Gates, though no longer an active CEO, remains a global business influencer with 19 million followers. Gates was tops among business leaders with the most interactions on Facebook, beating former New York mayor and media magnate Mike Bloomberg.

In third place in the footrace for followers was Jessica Alba, co-founder of The Honest Company, which sells non-toxic household products, with 5.1 million. On Instagram Alba beats out the other two, with 9.8 million followers, Burson-Marsteller reports. Her 527 posts garnered 30 million “likes” and 176,000 comments.

“Not surprisingly, her most liked posts are pictures of the model herself,” the report states.

The Facebook pages, of course, can be a platform to discuss business changes, as when Zuckerberg announced about the introduction of new reaction emojis last year. He received 1.7 million reactions and 51,000 comments, and the post was shared 150,000 times, Burson-Marsteller reports.

Still, his video with the most interactions proves Baer’s point about social interactions. Zuckerberg and his wife and daughter wish everyone a Happy Chinese New Year in Chinese, drawing with 30 million views. (There were English subtitles.)

“Too often in corporate communications or a structured communications environment, it’s about one side of the communication telling others about what they want to tell them,” Baer says. “Certainly we’re trying to communicate messages, but the whole point of social media is that it’s interactive and it’s about taking in ideas and information and being responsive as well.”

What publications are the bigwigs reading?

“The New York Times is the most-followed media organization, ahead of The Economist, National Geographic, Entrepreneur Magazine and Harvard Business Review,” the report states. “This does not mean that business leaders only get their news from these publications on Facebook, but it is a clear indication of their reading preferences.”

Tips for the boss

The report offers several takeaways for executive use of Facebook and Instagram. Here are a few:

1. Go public. Set up a page that is public by default, rather than a personal profile. “Public pages can be easily managed by multiple administrators and include robust performance insights,” the report states. “Public Facebook pages tend to rank higher in Google search than private Facebook profiles.”

Also, administrators can create targeted marketing campaigns, publish ads and boost posts to increase the business leader’s visibility on the platform.

2. Mix it up. It’s not necessary to pick just one persona and stick to it. “Business leaders should feel free to pull from multiple styles and take tips from many of their peers online,” the report states.

3. Respond. To drive engagement, engage. “Audiences expect a personal connection to the people they follow, so it is important to respond to comments and messages,” the report states.

4. Show, don’t tell. Videos and photos receive more interaction than other types of posts, so share visual posts-and keep those videos brief. Attention spans are short, Burson-Marsteller says. Share “only as much in a video as is needed to get the message across.”

The most popular video was posted by Branson. Its title: “Why the UK should remain in the EU.” (Then again, see what good that did.)

5. Be yourself. Followers love a behind-the-scenes look an organization or a CEO’s personal life, the report states. This helps potential customers feel that they know a business leader and business better.

“While some executives may feel uncomfortable opening up completely, posts about family and friends are a good way to connect,” Burson-Marsteller reports.

Facebook and Instagram are becoming increasing popular in the corner offices as executives try to connect with stakeholders.

“These are social networks. Those words would imply that this is about interaction,” Baer says. “It’s about bringing one’s personal self into the mix, and it’s about being responsive and interactive.”


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