Why Every CEO Needs to be the Company’s Chief Communications Officer

CEO as chief communications officer

Social media as CEO megaphone

Participation in social media networks has exploded since I first wrote about the role of the CEO several years ago. Then, there was no Google+, which has hit the 500 million-member mark and continues to grow.

Facebook had 200 million members then and now claims 1.1 billion active users. Twitter was in its infancy and today is helping to fuel revolutions in the Middle East.

Where Are the CEOs?

With the growth of social networks, the threat of misinformation about a company going viral is an every day challenge that should be keeping CEOs awake at night.

That’s why it’s essential for the CEO to assume the mantle of the Chief Communications Officer, communicating on internal and external communications channels, and especially on social media.

Yet a recent study by CEO magazine reports that “68% of CEOs have absolutely no presence on any of the major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Plus).”

The CEO should be communicating regularly to employees, customers, regulators and other stakeholders. This isn’t in addition to his or her regular duties. This is the essence of the CEO’s job. Social networks have the power to profoundly advance or ruin a company’s reputation.

With their active presence on social networks, CEOs can build a reservoir of trust among constituents to counteract negative publicity about the company. Maybe the company had a poor earnings report or a product recall.

In the event of bad news, a company will no doubt use internal networks to communicate with employees and the PR Department will manage the media. But speed is of the essence. You can bet if the CEO posts immediately to his social media accounts with the most up-to-date information, the news will go viral instantly.

Social CEOs

Not all CEOs are laggards. Hootsuite, the social media management system, reports that the most recognized CEO on social media by far is Richard Branson of Virgin. He has  3.5 million followers on Twitter, 4.7 million followers on Google+, and 2.1 million people follow his blog on LinkedIn. A  page on Virgin’s website is devoted to reporting on his social media activities.

Who would have thought just a few short years ago that a CEO’s primary communications channel could be Twitter! But if that’s what it takes to get the message out, then that’s what CEOs, like Richard Branson, should be doing.

Branson recently posted this tweet with a pat on the back for his employees:

richard branson CEO as chief communications officer

A few tips for the CEO as Chief Communications Officer:

  • Write the updates in your own voice. A 140-word Tweet that links back to the company’s own website with more information is golden.
  • Speed is of the essence. If something goes wrong get out there right away with a Tweet or post to Facebook or Google. Now, this minute. Getting the PR department to write a press release that needs to be vetted by 10 lawyers is too late.
  • Write often. Be out there every day, if possible. When you’re checking your smart phone one last time before going to bed, think about something good that happened in the company and write a tweet. It will take less time than brushing your teeth.
  • Encourage feedback. That’s what so great about social communities. There’s two-way communication. You can get instant feedback from customers and employees. They will tell you if they don’t think they are getting the straight story. So be authentic.

This is the time for CEOs to be bold and brave. Get out of the office and onto social media, the biggest megaphone you’ll ever have.

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Comments

  1. Yes, that would be ideal, Jeannette.

    Catch is the ones that work really hard don’t have the time. Or feel they don’t have the time. And in a way that’s true because their priority should be to make money, one way or another.

    Many CEOs that are on social media have not written what they post themselves. Not sure, if having your media department write it for you counts as being active on social media? Not least since staff know that the CEOs accounts on social media is handled by someone else.

    Richard is unusual as a CEO in many ways. But how many, apart from him, has embrased social media? Pity, but that’s the way it is, unfortunately.

  2. I just started getting into the social media in April. I really see the importance. However, with that said, it is extremely time consuming and I am actually thinking of hiring someone to do this for me. I understand the necessity of social media. I like your idea about tweeting something every night before going to bed. The advantage of tweeting is that it doesn’t have to be very long.

  3. Good post, Jeannette!

    I am surprised that any CEOs are active on social media – not for some other reason but due to lack of time. CEO’s priority is to look at the big picture and to move forward.

    Not that social media or communications isn’t as important and an integral part of the big picture but still… do CEOs who are actually on social media really tweet personally? My guess would be they have a really good ghost-writer to do the tweeting for them… From time to time – maybe, but definitely not all the time.

    I think it is a good compromise for the business to just use social media and be there and do everything you say in your post… too many companies are behind with their communication in general, both internal and external, to worry if the CEO is or isn’t tweeting, i think 😀

  4. The more I am practicing this – the more I am convinced that a a CEO should be CCO.

    Earlier – I used to “Think” that I have no time – but, I realized that I am the right person to do it – if I am not doing it – I am neglecting a very vital job of the company.

    • Thanks for your POV. The CEO has to make the time for communications. He can’t pass the buck to someone else. His/her constituents want to hear directly from him, especially in this age of social media.

  5. I understand what you are saying Jeannette. As the others have said it is time consuming and I think it is important that the company has a consistent voice regardless of who is the CEO. Whether it is an assistant or communications person I don’t think it is reasonable for CEOs to do it themselves.

    Another thing is CEOs change and the new one may have a different style and tone. I think shareholders would rather CEOs do what they do best rather than tweeting. Finally it is the whole experience customers have and that should be a priority rather than the CEO being on social media. Just my 2 cents.

    • Susan — I see your point. But social media is only one channel to reach employees and external targets. There needs to be a constant flow of timely information through traditional means, too. But the CEO sets the tone. If he doesn’t signal that communications is important to the organization it won’t happen. I didn’t mean to imply that the CEO should be tweeting all day. But he’s the chief communicator. He’s the one that has to be out there when there is a crisis and not hiding behind a PR person.

  6. Love reading about Richard Branson himself. Yes; he is also quite active on LinkedIn.

    You said, “Facebook had 200 million members then and now claims 1.1 million active users.” That cannot be right? Is it?

    I bet a smart staffer could do the heavy lifting of social media use, and get approval from a CEO to quote them in a positive light, every single day.

    As always, excellent info Jeannette.

    • Patricia — you are the first person to catch that I meant billion and not million. Another blooper! My point, exactly –s taff can prepare posts based on the CEO’s POV. Of course, he would have final approval just like she does for anything that she says that goes public.

      • Whew, rather it be a little blooper than my mind going crazy trying to figure out what you meant! Thanks Jeannette. And I love it when something like this allows you to nail the point you are making.

  7. I believe the voice of the CEO is a powerful one and should be heard, but experience shows that a lack of time will generally prohibit the kind of constant attention social media requires.

    While social media is a wonderful toolkit and should be used, there are other ways the CEOs voice can be heard that may be more effective depending on the demographics and habits of your audience. Twitter is fantastic, but the majority of the employees where I work are not on it. Facebook is the other option, but most of them are not connected to the corporate page. Our clients follow a similar pattern, so while there is lots of value, you have to know your audience and whether all your tweeting and posting is actually reaching them.

  8. Dan — we sure know that a lot of athletes have “foot in mouth” disease. So do some CEOs. A couple of years ago BP CEO Tony Hayward was initially quoted as saying the company’s massive oil spill in the Gulf would have “minimal impact.” Two weeks later he acknowledged the catastrophe and said “he wanted his life back.” Here is a post I wrote about it BP Tony Hayward Wants His Life Back…

  9. As always, a thoughtful post. Wonder what you make of the recent surveys that report that most companies don’t think that they are proficient at social media? I think this goes a long way to explaining the reluctance to engage… another chunk can also be ascribed to the idea that the CEO’s trusted advisors are not social media “smart”… and that others are in cultures where 140 characters is stupid or worse.

    All that said, I think your post defines a new page in corporate crisis management that will soon be accepted as a best practice. (After a few bloody noses and shining successes.)

    Problem is that you don’t build one or two or four million followers overnight when you need them. CEOs and their handlers need to understand that this is an asset that requires investment.

    • ck — couldn’t agree more with what you say. Without naming names, I’m working with another consultant on a project for a big company, and we requested a wireless printer for a meeting and they don’t have one! Even I have a wireless printer.

  10. Wow… this is a huge topic. I agree CEO’s need to be on social media. I also agree that their assistant should be able to handle most of it. We all know communication is key and social media is the main platform for it now.

    • Cheryl — glad you agree. Social media is the main platform now. Instead of issue press releases, companies go online to break news, especially in times of crisis, ie., a power failure during a hurricane.