PR Pros Should Stress Big Picture To Boost C-Suite Use of Social Media

Your CEO isn’t on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter, and refuses to participate in your company’s blog—yet wants proof that the company’s social media efforts are paying off. For PR pros, telling the social story to an anti-social CEO is easier today than it was five years ago, but still has some pitfalls. Even the most digitally savvy CEOs can focus on the wrong metrics.

The spectacular indifference of the country’s top CEOs to personal profiles and involvement with social media might seem like a high hurdle. The 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index, released by and Domo, documented the abysmal personal participation rates of CEOs on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest andTwitter .

For example, only 19 CEOs in the top 500 have Twitter accounts, and five have never tweeted, according to the report. Just 129 top-500 CEOs (25.9%) have LinkedIn profiles; of those, 53 have fewer than 10 connections.

But that doesn’t mean senior executives don’t “get” social media. “Social media certainly comes up at the C-level all the time within our firm,” said Steve Copertino, director of U.S. digital marketing and social media at KPMG, the U.S. arm of the global audit, tax and advisory company. “They ask about it all the time. We report regularly through our chief marketing officer and our chief communications officer on our progress in terms of social media and exactly what we’re doing.”


Company culture may dictate what C-level execs want to know. In a cable services company with millions of customers, for example, reputation management and customer care are major focal points.

For a global business services company that deals in thought leadership and months-long sales cycles, social media engages clients and potential clients all through the purchase funnel.

And for an eco-friendly recycler that signs up “Brigades” around the country to collect and send in waste, the mission of social media is to spread the word about the company.

“In our company, most of our C-suite and senior managers are very interested in what is happening online to our brand, to our reputation and how it drives our product sales,” said D’Arcy Rudnay, chief communications officer at Comcast. But in the end, she added, “It depends how digitally connected a CEO is. That will help determine how interested they are and how much information they want.”

Comcast has been active in social media since 2006. The company really became aggressive five years ago, in response to “a number of very negative conversations going on online” among some unhappy customers, Rudnay said. “That was really the impetus for us getting very involved from a customer-care standpoint.”

After months of testing an online customer care program, the comments began to change. “Our CEO was very supportive. He just said, ‘Go do it, try it, see what happens,’” Rudnay said.


Of course, everyone has their own idea of what’s important. At KPMG, the management committee wants to know how many followers the company has on its profiles and use the volume, sentiment, shares and downloads as a gauge for the effectiveness of the content.

Copertino said: “The other thing that comes up on a regular basis is integration of social media on our Web properties.” He added, “That’s something they like to stay up to speed on, because if content is being shared by many people, that’s a strong indication of interest. That’s a very important metric and we’re keeping close track of it on a regular basis.”

Yet even digitally savvy chieftains can get tripped up by social channels. At age 19, the founder and CEO of TerraCycle (Tom Szaky) dropped out of Princeton University to run the company full time, in 2003.

As Albe Zakes, global VP of media relations at the company, recalled, “He wanted a million Facebook fans in the early days, around 2008, 2009. We’ve since won him over to focus on the engagement levels versus the number of followers.”

But most of all, the CEO wants to see growth in TerraCycle’s social networks. “We focus on the engagement, but at the same time our CEO always wants to see growth,” Zakes added. “It doesn’t have to be exponential growth, but we want to see that we’re picking up a couple of hundred followers each week.”


Dashboards are a great way to capture digital metrics, but the tons of data they serve up are probably best kept out of the boardroom. And social media data is just one part of a larger story.

“The dashboards most digital marketing departments like mine use will not be exclusive to social media,” Copertino said. “They’ll be very busy dashboards that have a component of social media in them.”

Consider that the CEO already sees tons of data every day.

“When I’m presenting to the CEO, I’m trying not to get too deep into the detail of any of it, so I wouldn’t necessarily bring up the dashboard,” Zakes said. “That’s what I want my community manager to show me, so that I totally understand and I’m able to explain it to my CEO in simple words.”

The CEO is the big-picture guy, so PR pros need to keep social media metrics in their place.

Social media doesn’t drive the business, but provides valuable insights into where a company stands with its customers and competitors—and where it should be headed. That’s the value communications professionals bring to the table.

(This is an excerpt from PR News ’ Digital PR Guidebook. For a copy, please go to

Socializing the C-Suite

CEOs are bombarded by charts, graphs and spreadsheets every day. To keep his CEO up to date on the company’s social media efforts, Albe Zakes, TerraCycle’s global VP, media relations, sends him a report every two weeks. After sending the report Zakes has a face-to-face meeting with him in the other weeks. Here are some of the ground rules that he follows:

▶ Make the message visually engaging. Using screen shots of the company’s social media profiles is more interesting than charts and spreadsheets, and still shows the numbers of shares, comments and fans. Social media is all about the visual, “so trying to put the real impact that your social networks are having into a chart or graph is actually shorting the value of social media,” Zakes said.

▶ Include the raw data anyway, otherwise, it may feel as if you’re trying to hide something. The CEO can choose to look at it or not, but knowing it’s there is reassuring.

▶ Tell the bad news, when there is bad news. Don’t let the CEO get caught at a press conference or other event where someone could bring up a negative moment that occurred in a social media venue. “Addressing the mistakes is a great way to show the CEO that we’re being honest in our reporting,” Zakes said.

▶ Cut to the bottom line. Dashboards and other social media monitoring programs spew out tons of data, but that doesn’t mean the CEO wants to see all of it. “You know you’ve been too verbose in a meeting when he says, ‘Bottom-line me,’” he said.


This article appeared in the July 15 issue of PR News. Subscribe to PR News today to receive weekly comprehensive coverage of the most fundamental PR topics from visual storytelling to crisis management to media training.