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.
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:
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.