Senior management teams often get slapped with the control-freak label, and those who actually deserve the designation might be losing some sleep in this dawning of the social media era. Control—or the lack thereof—has been the crux of their resistance to complete adoption and integration of social media into not just their business models, but their daily routines. (For a glimpse into CEOs’ use of various social media channels, see sidebar on page 7.)
While this resistance has begun to diminish, communications executives and PR agency professionals alike still face hurdles when trying to implement social media into formal communications plans or clients’ campaign strategies. What’s more, resistance from the top makes even the most forward-thinking, social media-savvy brands seem disingenuous if their leaderships’ participation isn’t congruent with the rest of the company.
“The country’s leading CEOs aren’t anywhere near as connected [on social media] as their employees, partners, executives and customers are likely to be,” says Sharon Barclay, principal of Blue Trumpet Group and editor of the ÜBERCEO blog. “They’re simply not communicating in the same way. It gives the impression that those [leaders] are distant, disinterested and disengaged.”
To overcome this perception and facilitate CEO-friendly social media interactions among internal and external stakeholders accordingly, communicators must present a compelling case. The first step in doing so is making it clear that fear is not an option—or, at the very least, not a justification for ignoring social media’s legitimacy.
When considered in the context of their sideline mentality, though, this fear seems reasonable. After all, senior management teams long operated in the corner offices and boardrooms of the business ethos, rarely rubbing elbows with the masses of stakeholders that now wield so much power over organizations’ brands and bottom lines.
But, says Text 100 CEO Aedhmar Hynes, “CEOs no longer have complete control over their brand, image and reputation, [and they] can’t stay on the sidelines.”
To push these business leaders into social media’s center field, then, communications executives must help them “determine the business rationale and the return to the company,” Hynes says.
Of course, the business rationale is always organization-specific, but there are other ways to introduce social media’s advantages to management teams, one platform at a time.
â–¶ Social networks: According to research conducted by ÜBERCEO (see sidebar), social networks are rife with fake accounts created in the names of high-profile executives, which surely isn’t helping assuage these execs’ anxiety.
While profiles on platforms like Facebook might not be right for every business leader, there are a few steps communications professionals can take to protect said leaders’ personal brand equities. Barclay recommends the following:
• Preemptively secure relevant account names on popular social media sites to reduce the amount of fake account holders.
• Create fan group pages to engage customers and partners who are advocates and brand supporters.
As for LinkedIn profiles, Barclay says, leaders are “missing an opportunity to easily connect with partners, especially those that they may not have time to communicate with on a regular basis.”
â–¶ Twitter/Microblogging Platforms: According to ÜBERCEO research, only two CEOs in Fortune 100 companies have Twitter profiles, but both are completely inactive. In many ways, this is far worse than not being present on the platform at all. If Twitter doesn’t fit into management teams’ communications strategies—and Barclay notes reasons why that would be the case—then these executives should steer clear of the platform altogether rather than attempting to engage halfway.
“Regulations such as Sarbanes-Oxley and Reg FD are likely to affect how and when CEOs communicate,” Barclay says. “However, CEOs should be using Twitter as another tool—not a replacement tool—to communicate information and brand loyalty.”
â–¶ Wikipedia: “Wikipedia should be considered the Who’s Who of the new century,” Barclay says. “Rightly or wrongly, it’s often the place where people start their research on a company or individual, so it can create a lasting impression.”
To maximize the potential offered by Wikipedia, she says, internal communications departments and PR agencies should:
• Continually update entries about the company and its leadership;
• Actively contribute to the discussion; and,
• Participate in the editing process to make the entry as independent, factual and feature-rich as possible.
â–¶ Blogs: CEO/company leader-maintained blogs are rare, but there are some notable examples. For instance, Sun Microsystems ’ Jonathan Schwartz set the gold standard for CEO-led blogs when he used the platform to give all stakeholders unprecedented access to his thoughts and personality.
This doesn’t mean it is reasonable to assume that this platform is one in which senior management teams should interact, but they should at least be open to their subordinates maintaining blogs as an additional way for the company to interact with various stakeholder groups.
“Company or executive-suite blogs can be as effective as those written by the CEO,” Barclay says.
Ultimately, research indicates that senior leadership is far less engaged in social media than is advisable, and communications executives are best positioned to upend that trend.
“The question is not whether CEOs can use social media tools,” Barclay says. “[They] have the opportunity to positively affect their company’s perception, visibility and brand experience by taking part in social media activities.” PRN
Aedhmar Hynes, firstname.lastname@example.org; Sharon Barclay, email@example.com