Why Social Media-Savvy CEOs Are Good for Business

Despite the growing influence of social networking throughout the business world, it’s still fairly rare for top executives — especially CEOs — to be truly active on social media. According to this year’s Social CEO Report from CEO.com and Domo, 68 percent of CEOs aren’t on any of the major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, or Instagram) and more than two-thirds of the CEOs who actually have a social presence are only on one network. In fact, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is the only Fortune 500 CEO to hit all five networks.

We all know that being active on social media goes well beyond just setting up an account. Unfortunately, many CEOs that do have social accounts are practically silent. On Twitter, only 69 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have posted within the last 100 days; just look at Warren Buffet, who has sent a total of five scant tweets. For social professionals, it’s easy to see that executives aren’t making full use of social platforms to further their business goals.

Despite this data, social media activity is on the rise in the C-suite, with use of Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ all up compared with last year. It’s predicted to rise even further, with Weber Shandwick expecting a 50 percent increase in social participation between 2013 and 2018. But CEOs themselves are often reluctant to jump on the social bandwagon, citing:

  • It’s not typical for our region or industry: 35%
  • CEO sees no measurable return on investment: 34%
  • There is no demand for CEO to do so: 34%
  • It’s too risky: 32%
  • CEO does not have the time: 27%
  • CEO thinks social media is for young people: 25%
  • We are not a very transparent/open company: 23%
  • Our legal counsel discourages the use of social media: 20%
  • CEO does not know how to use social media: 18%
  • Too much industry regulation: 13%
  • CEO travels too much: 11%
  • Other executives participate in social media on behalf of the CEO: 7%

But reluctant or not, CEOs have to recognize the simple fact that social is just good for business.

Why CEOs Should Be On Social

A social CEO can have very tangible, though sometimes hard to quantify, benefits for a business. “In today’s hyper-connected, information-driven world, CEOs and senior executives alike are expected to have an active social presence,” says Ann Charles, BRANDfog founder and CEO. “Brand image, brand trust, and a company’s long term success depend on it.”

According to BRANDfog’s 2014 Global Social CEO Survey, social CEOs are seen as better and more innovative leaders within their companies. Additionally, Weber Shandwick suggests those CEOs are more likely to be seen by their coworkers as forward-looking, effective, good communicators, accessible, in-touch, good listeners, inspiring, and technologically savvy compared to their less social media-savvy counterparts.

Social leadership is useful beyond the walls of corporate HQ, too. CEOs on social media can help build brand trust, communicate what the company values, and give the business a relatable, human face. All of this put together means that a CEO who is active and engaged on social media can help improve a company’s reputation and even boost sales.

What CEOs Are Doing on Social

For the most part, CEOs are doing more on social, but there’s still a lot of room to grow; even for those CEOs who are currently using social channels, many aren’t leveraging social media as well as they could. CEO.com’s report suggests execs don’t always put a lot of time into their social presence. On Twitter, for example, nearly half of active users only tweet once a month, and that reflects in low levels of follower engagement.

However, there are lots of savvy CEOs, most notably those at tech companies, who are making a serious effort on social. Just look at Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, who was announced as CEO in February and immediately started tweeting. His first tweet as CEO was sent four years after his previous tweet, and promised that he wouldn’t wait four more years to send his next message.

Since then, he’s kept up with regular social messaging, doing everything from talking about sports to sharing business news. While Nadella doesn’t do anything that a corporate account wouldn’t, his messages provide a human face for Microsoft. Instead of being a monolithic tech company, Microsoft is represented by Nadella, and seems more personal and approachable for it.

On Facebook, it’s no surprise that Mark Zuckerberg is king, with 30.5 million followers. Facebook’s format allows Zuckerberg to share longer messages, usually accompanied by images. Though the exact content varies — Zuckerberg posts about Facebook news, company events, and even personal photos — his profile serves the same purpose as Nadella’s Twitter account: it puts a human face on a large corporation. People can relate to a photo of Zuckerberg watching the sun rise or a story about visiting a Samsung campus in a way they can’t relate to a press release.

The concept of a CEO lending personality to a business is even more relevant when the CEO in question is a personality in and of themselves, like Virgin CEO Richard Branson. Branson is on active on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, and keeps his own blog on Virgin’s website. While Branson certainly does post corporate news, he also posts about social issues, stories he finds interesting, and even occasionally needles the competition. His voice does a lot to set the tone for Virgin as a whole. As Branson himself wrote on LinkedIn, “Like all other areas of business, CEOs have the opportunity to set the bar. By ignoring social networks, they are potentially missing a trick.”

Efforts to get employees more involved in social have a lot of benefits, but some of the biggest benefits can come directly from the top.