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A guide to getting your CEO on social

At a time when the demand for business transparency is greater than ever–especially on social–smart businesses know that building a brand people feel like they can trust needs to be a company-wide effort.

But while research indicates that people define transparency as being open, clear and honest, employees often look to executive leadership to be a living example of how that actually manifests for their business.

And they’re not the only ones.

According to the Sprout Social Brands Get Real report on transparency, more than half of consumers want CEOs to have a personal presence on social media–indicating that CEOs with personal profiles seem more approachable, accessible, human, honest and trustworthy.

With a case for an executive presence on social this strong, it may be hard to believe that your own CEO, along with 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs, still have no presence on social media whatsoever. Many make arguments that–at first glance–seem reasonable, but upon further consideration don’t hold water in the context of today’s social-driven culture.

The first step toward convincing your CEO to get on social is to find out what’s holding them back. Chances are, their reasoning is either outdated or merely assumptive. In that case: build your case using the research, resources and references provided in this guide to show them just how far their voice on social can go toward building better relationships, and a better business.

Although every CEO has their own reasons for sitting this one out, there are some common stumbling blocks that might just need addressing.

For a shortcut to presenting the value of social to your CEO, check out our PDF guide:

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“No one cares if I’m on social or not”

The c-suite has a reputation for being somewhat isolated, maintaining some degree of privacy and separation between themselves and the public. As a result, many CEOs assume the role of the wizard behind the curtain: fully in control, yet free from scrutiny, criticism–and in some cases–accountability.

But today’s demand for greater business transparency is changing all of that. Consumers are now calling for that c-suite curtain to come down, bringing executives back into the public eye as the primary representative, and responsible party, for the companies they lead.

“Today, when people order a hamburger, they want to know where the cow came from, so now when people go to a bank, people want to know who is the CEO behind this bank and what do they stand for. - Facebook US executive Craig Mullaney

People care. A lot of people care. 86% of Americans believe transparency from businesses is more important than ever before. And a large part of that is having more visibility and access to a company’s c-suite, primarily on social. According to the Brands Get Real report, 70% of people want CEOs to have a personal presence on social media, and 63% of people say CEOs who have their own social profiles are better representatives for their companies than CEOs who do not. Furthermore, 30% of consumers say they will follow the profiles of CEOs that demonstrate transparency on social.

CEOs also set the example and tone for what relationships with consumers on social should look like; thereby inviting employees and fellow company leaders to serve as brand advocates on the channel.

“The best CEOs understand that great companies embrace transparency so they encourage their employees to post publicly. This can help retain your best talent as well as attract other A-players who want to be part of that culture.” - Rick Marini, CEO of BranchOut

LinkedIn’s CEO, Ryan Roslansky, is just one of several CEOs who embodies the type of authentic, transparent communication consumers and employees are calling for.

There’s just no more hiding behind the assumption that the public is not concerned with what executives have to say. Too many people are now counting on the voices at the top.

“There’s no real business value”

This is probably the most common argument against an executive presence on social–that there’s no real benefit to the business. But it should also be the easiest to counter because research indicates it couldn’t be further from the truth. If your CEO has difficulty seeing the “why” in this case, just hit ‘em with the stats.

For one, our research for Brands Get Real found that 38% of consumers say a CEO’s transparency on social would inspire them to show a brand more loyalty, and 32% would purchase more from that business.

consumer reactions to ceo transparency on social

Then there’s the fact that 22% say a CEO’s transparency on social would positively influence their interest in working at his or her company.

And remember when we said consumers found CEOs with personal profiles to be more approachable, accessible, human, honest and trustworthy? Research from Weber Shandwick indicates that a CEO’s reputation is directly responsible for 44% of a company’s market value.

So not only does an executive social presence lead to more purchases, it can also help boost interest in career opportunities at the company and improve corporate reputations–all leading to a real, significant financial impact on a business.

“I have no time”

Not all CEOs are prepared for or eager to post on social, but connecting with consumers doesn’t necessarily demand that brand leaders generate new thought leadership or spend a lot of time on the channel.

Often, people just want more access to CEOs, and that can be as simple as sharing pictures on their personal accounts from a company outing or attendance at an industry event.

And it’s not the frequency that matters, it’s the consistency. It’s much better for your CEO to consistently post once a day than to post 10x a day for one week out of every month.

Try proposing a posting schedule to your CEO. It can be as simple as taking 5-10 minutes every morning, or every other morning, to share an article, respond to a few tweets, or give a quick company update. Sprout’s publishing tools make planning content and scheduling posts in advance easy.

sprout social compose

And while CEOs are advised to manage their own social profiles when possible, your CEO can seek help or partner with social and marketing experts on your team to facilitate a stronger, more sustainable presence.

“Some CEOs say they’re too busy for social media. I say it’s part of the job.” - Jack Salzwedel, CEO of American Family Insurance

“It’s not typical for my industry”

Another frequent justification is that an executive presence on social is not typical for that CEO’s region or industry. But that Fortune 500 stat alone suggests that it’s not really typical for a lot of industries.

And while it may not be typical, consumers have never held businesses this accountable for openness and transparency before. And really no region or industry is exempt from this responsibility.

This provides a unique opportunity for your CEO to assume the role of a progressive thought leader in their industry. If none of their peers are on social, they’ll win simply by leading the way.

The most outspoken CEOs run the industry gamut. When Edelman took a closer look at Glassdoor’s List of the Top 50 Highest Rated CEOs, they found that more than 75% of them were present on social media channels–across a diverse set of industries including tech, trucking, retail, banking, auto repair and accounting, to name a few.

One could argue that an executive social presence in the auto industry isn’t typical, yet you’ll still find the CEO of General Motors, Mary Barra, active on Twitter. Barra regularly shares articles that resonate with her, celebrates the achievements of her company and colleagues and has even used the platform to manage past crises.

Speaking of crises, here’s where we find the biggest hole in this particular argument. At some point, businesses in every industry may face public backlash in the wake of an unpopular decision or controversial event, and will have to take to social to get ahead of the conversation.

We found that 84% of people want CEOs to post about the reasoning behind business decisions, and 81% want them to post next steps after a crisis.

Even if it’s not “typical” for CEOs in your industry to post on social, your CEO should understand that that doesn’t mean it’s right. Today’s consumers want more transparency from brands and CEOs than what they’re currently seeing. To step out against the status quo would mean to be a leader in your industry, and to be a part of the small majority reaping the business benefits of being more open and honest on social.

“I don’t know where to start”

As with social overall, brands must learn what people desire from CEOs on the channel before they can educate company leaders on how to best champion transparency efforts.

Whether your CEO wants to keep their posts focused on business needs or personal updates, the bottom line is that they’re most likely to make a positive impact when they share transparently, no matter what they post about.

There’s really only two hard and fast “rules” here: Be open and be authentic. Even if your CEO decides to outsource their profile management, it still needs to feel like the content is coming from them.

One word of caution would be to always make sure their posts are thoughtful and strategic. “Open” doesn’t necessarily mean post whatever you want about whatever you want. This is why developing a social strategy for your CEO is important. Start by sitting down with the various members of your c-suite and discussing specific goals and objectives for their posts. It may even be helpful to establish a set of pillars or categories of content to create some type of guidelines for posting. Download our Shortcut to Social Success for CEOs to help your CEO understand how to get up and running quickly on social.

And as always, every piece of communication across the organization should always be looked at through the filter of your company values. Reminding your CEO of this may help mitigate any contentious or off-brand messaging.

As for the posts themselves, the top types of content people want to see from CEOs are: reasoning for business decisions (84%), industry thought leadership (82%), an insider/behind the scenes look into business (82%) and next steps after a brand crisis (81%).

Have your CEO share articles they’ve either personally authored, or other industry thought leadership that has resonated with them. Make sure they include commentary about what spoke to them when they share. Consider providing them with a content aggregation or advocacy tool to cut the time it takes to find and share the right articles in half.

Have your CEO share articles they’ve either personally authored, or other industry thought leadership that has resonated with them. Make sure they include commentary about what spoke to them when they share. Consider providing them with a content aggregation or advocacy tool to cut the time it takes to find and share the right articles in half.

They can also recognize employees or colleagues for jobs well done, or major achievements. Highlighting their relationships will help make them feel more human and relatable.

There is also considerable interest from consumers in peeking inside the personal lives of executives. 64% of people said that posts about a CEO’s family and friends would have a positive impact on their perception of the company, as well as posts about the CEO’s personal interests (63%).

Sharing photos, posting videos or even going live (for the most adventurous c-suite execs) goes a long way toward providing that “behind-the-scenes” experience people are looking for.

“It’s not worth all the trouble”

At the end of the day, CEOs need to see that their efforts on social are paying off. While there’s more than enough proof, research and examples here to build your case, what they really want is measurable success.

Establish a reporting cadence to help your CEO visualize the value they’re providing the organization with their commitment to social. Some key metrics you might track include engagement, to identify what types of posts are resonating with their audience; reach, to see the full impact of their posts; and return traffic from their posts, to see how many clicks to the company website are being driven by their content. Another more obvious metric to evaluate would be a possible increase in likes/followers–both on your CEO’s personal profile, as well as your business’. The more people you can bring into your inner circle, the better the chances they’ll become customers.

And if your CEO really wants to see some progress, set them up with social listening tools so they can monitor what people are saying about them, and your company. Listening and sentiment analysis are two great methods for “measuring” or evaluating reputation. If their efforts on social are being noticed, chances are someone somewhere is talking about it.

But social monitoring and listening tools aren’t just good to evaluate personal and company optics, they can also help your CEO identify potential product issues or watchouts, and address them faster. When T-Mobile released their T-Mobile One data plan, customers took to social media to express their concerns and dissatisfaction with some of the plan’s elements. The company’s outspoken and famously social CEO, John Legere, saw these reactions, and acted quickly.

“A week after we announced it, I enhanced it, because I spend every day on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook and email, and saw that people were concerned about low-quality tethering.” T-Mobile CEO, John Legere

Let Legere serve as the prime example of how a CEO’s presence on social can give a company’s leaders direct insight into their customer’s needs, and the opportunity to build a product that answers them. We’d say the improvements T-Mobile made to that plan, and the resulting satisfaction of customers, were well worth the trouble.

In conclusion

The power dynamic between consumers and brands has shifted, putting people back behind the wheel. And they’ve got their sights firmly set on the truth.

As the demand for honesty and transparency from brands and businesses grows, social remains your CEO’s best bet for surviving the scrutiny. It’s no longer a matter of “if” they should be on social, it’s how.

Help them see the light by empathizing with their hesitations, addressing their concerns and setting them up to succeed. Make them believe that their business depends on it. Because it does.

If you’re looking for a shortcut to helping your CEO understand the value of social, check out our PDF guide.

Download PDF