As I mentioned, I am traveling in Asia to talk about social CEOs and generally spread the good word about our thought leadership and Weber Shandwick. It is so terribly interesting to present our research and learn what people have to say and listen to the kinds of questions they ask. Today in Shanghai someone asked me what type of emotional commitment a CEO has to make to become a social CEO. What a great question! It definitely takes an emotional commitment. Not only does a CEO have to commit time and resources but there is a genuine personal commitment as that goes hand in hand with being social. You are putting yourself on the line as well as your ego. It also takes courage. In our new upcoming research which we have not released yet, executives are quite aware that being a social CEO takes courage. It is not for the faint-hearted. However, one CEO reminded me that the CEO job is all about risk anyhow. True.
In addition, at a presentation yesterday in Beijing, someone mentioned that even if you cannot get your CEO to be social (meaning using social media in some shape or form), CEOs need to commit to “the intrinsic value of sociability.” He rightly said that sociability (whether online or not) should not be ignored in this business environment. It can make a significant difference. Smart advice.
As you already know, I am keenly interested in how CEOs manage their tenures. In my book on CEO reputation, I referred to the various stages of a CEO’s tenure as the seasons of a CEO. When I wrote it several years ago, it started with the Countdown period (pre-announcement), the first 100 days, the first year, the middle years and ends with the last 100 hours and legacy-setting. Since then, I have continued to follow CEOs closely but have been particularly fascinated by how CEOs can use social platforms to build their companies’ reputations and to some extent, their own. That is what I explained in this new article on CEOs getting social in their early tenure. (See also Weber Shandwick’s Socializing Your CEO II)
Surprising to me, despite billions of people communicating and socializing online, little has changed in experts’ advice to CEOs or other executives on how to navigate their early tenure by taking advantage of social tools. In three separate research investigations on how CEOs spend their time by Harvard Business School, the European University Institute and the London School of Economics, and Fondazione Rodolfo Debenedetti, the words “social” or “digital” did not appear once in the nearly 30,000 words written. Management consultants’ white papers on CEO transitions reveal little attention to how to effectively use social platforms. I have about 15 articles with smart advice on CEO successions and transitions that I send to new CEOs and not one mentions using social media. Further still, an online search of the most relevant 30 hits for “how CEOs should use social media in their first 100 days” does not retrieve a concise blueprint whatsoever. Instead, the mentions consist of lists of Twittering CEOs, reasons why CEOs don’t use social media, events and primers for getting into the social game, articles written by CEOs of digital agencies, and do’s and don’ts for CEOs who use social media.
Social media should be incorporated into new CEOs’ early playbooks. Whether CEOs are communicating, engaging in two-way conversation or simply listening in, social media platforms should be gradually adopted. As technology increasingly permeates all aspects of business and society, CEOs cannot afford to be out of touch with their cultures, how their products or services are being received and what their competitors are up to. Moreover, as the next generation of technology-literate CEOs start taking office as 77 million baby boomers leave the stage, being socially-literate will become the norm, not the exception.
For these reasons and because all these management consultants seemed to be overlooking social media as a leadership tool in their early CEO days, I wrote this article titled Get Social: A Mandate for New CEOs. It just appeared this week on MIT Sloan Management Review’s nicely redesigned Social Business site. Please take a look if you are a new CEO and getting the social bug! Or if you are advising CEOs to jump on the social bandwagon even a little. I firmly and proudly believe that this might be the first (or among the very first) articles on how and why CEOs should be social citizens at the start of their tenures and not wait til their seasons come to an end. There are some great examples from CEOs and presidents of companies such as Aetna, Etsy, GM, MassMutual, Best Buy and BAE.
We just issued our study on Socializing Your CEO II. It is a sequel to the audit we did in 2010 on how CEOs were using social media. It was one of the earliest explorations of social CEOs and we found that two-thirds of the largest revenue producing company CEOs were bascially UNsocial. Two years is a long time in Internet time so we were curious how these chieftains were faring in the social dimension now.
We learned that CEOs are more social — hurrah! Good news. In 2012, 66% of CEOs of the world’s top 50 companies engaged online compared to 36% in 2010. There was heightened visibility on corporate websites and usage of video such as corporate YouTube channels. Where they failed to show a surge like we saw in other social activities was in their usage of social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest and LinkedIn. In fact, in 2010, 16% of CEOs of the largest companies in the world used social media compared to 2012 where the incidence was 18%. Interestingly to me, the current usage of social media platforms at 18% is similar to what the IBM CEO survey found in 2012 (16% of CEOs participate in social media). However, when IBM asked CEOs whether they’d be using social media three to five years from now, a whopping 57% said yes. They may be over exuberant here but let’s just say that they are acknowledging its importance and their commitment to get the hang of it.
What do I think about all our results? I think that CEOs are still dipping their toes in the social media waters but for the most part, I’d have to say they are decidedly taking their jobs as social storytellers to heart, whether on their About Us/home pages, in video, and to some extent on social media. They are covering all their bases, trying out different channels to find out what suits them and reaching out to stakeholders in the many places they may be — be it prospective talent visiting their career pages, investors checking out their credibility quotient on YouTube or customers visiting their Facebook pages. Of all the social media we examined, the greatest increase over the past two years was for CEOs on Facebook. Usage of Twitter declined which is curious. Perhaps Twitter appears to pose more risk than most. Mind you, these are the largest companies in the world in mammouth sectors – oil, automotive, telecom, financial — and not the usual Internet technology companies that feed off of social media. Also, those of us in the U.S. do not quite realize that CEOs in other regions consider being on a home page to be a big giant social step and in some regions, there are security issues about plastering your information or picture widely. I should add that U.S. CEOs are more social on social networks than their peers in Europe, Asia and Latin America — 26% vs. 18%, respectively.
I thought, however, that I would use this post to talk about social CEOs and reputation since that is what my blog is about. I will return to our Social CEO study often so keep a watch. Not only will I continue to observe social CEOs because I am interested in reputation but because I firmly believe that being social will be a prime driver of reputation in years to come.
Here goes. We learned in our audit that CEOs of the world’s most reputable companies consistently demonstrate greater online engagement than peers at less reputable companies. 81% of CEOs from Most Admired companies (using the Fortune World’s Most Admired study) engage through company websites or in social media, compared to 50% of those from less reputable or “contender” companies worldwide.
The growth in engagement among CEOs at Most Admired companies exceeds the growth in engagement among CEOs at contender firms. While contender company CEOs are more social in 2012 than they were in 2010 (50% vs. 28%, respectively), Most Admired company CEOs essentially doubled their sociability in the past few years. I have no doubt about it. Most Admired company CEOs may more acutely recognize the relationship between social media engagement and positive reputation and the importance of having a dialogue with customers
despite the risks.
WSJ: Why do you use Twitter?
Bertolini: I have three objectives in my role as chairman of the company. One is to make sure that I set the company on a path for the next 160 years. I have an obligation to keep it moving forward. The second is to make health care reform real and tangible for people, because the system is broken. And the third is to re establish the credibility of corporate leadership in the eyes of the American public and that’s the loftier of all of them. And the only way I can do that is by humanizing the job. And humanizing the job means I have to be out there. I have to be available. I have to be willing to hear the bad, the good, the ugly.
I have to be willing to interact when things are difficult. We’ve got to a point where people [on Twitter] are saying ‘I need this done,’ or ‘this is happening to me,’ and I get them to the right people.
Found some interesting comments regarding being a social CEO. This came from a blog post from Spencer Rascoff, CEO of Zillow, the online source for information on homes for sale, etc. He was pondering what it meant to be a social CEO….
This caused me to ponder what it means to be a social CEO. Yes, it means that I participate in social media on Twitter , Facebook, Pinterest , Zillow Advice and of course on my two blogs. But it goes beyond that. It’s a state of mind. Being a social CEO means that I’m always accessible – to my employees, our advertisers, our business partners, and our users.
And in response to what happens when Zillow became a publicly-held company:
I was worried that when Zillow became publicly traded in July 2011, we might have to reduce our socialness. But I’ve worked hard to maintain a social culture even while being public. And it has been less difficult than I expected. True, there are plenty of topics that are off limits – financial results, forward-looking statements, and the like are all no-nos. But I’m always permitted to talk publicly about the company and our strategy, and to engage in discussion and debate about Zillow and the industry. I think CEOs that choose not to participate in social media by pleading “we’re a public company” are being cop-outs. If they don’t want to use social media, that’s fine. But don’t blame the lawyers.
The point is that being a social CEO is a state of mind.
A week or so ago, I started a new Twitter account on social media for CEOs — @social4ceos . As you know, I’m interested in how CEOs are adopting social media at all stages of their tenure — in the first 100 days, year one, year two and so on. At Weber Shandwick, we did an audit on Fortune 500 CEOs and their participation in social media… Socializing Your CEO and we are working towards the sequel.
Just wanted to let you know that I will be providing information a la Twitter on the topic of Social CEOs to help steer CEOs and their executives towards the social side of the wired hemisphere.
If you regularly read my blog and know our work on Socializing Your CEO, you know that I follow social CEOs or other executives. Well, this story was not what I was thinking about when we first starting calling for more CEOs to use online technology.
An article on how CIOs need to get a seat at the table and boost their reputational status within the organization appeared in the WSJ this week. I read it on a plane but left myself a message to post about it (are CIOs really second-class citizens in the C-suite?). I am always interested in who is sitting at the table with the CEO and have over the years been particularly interested in the role of CCOs — Chief Communications Officers — and how they are increasingly sitting at that table as crises soar and reputations tumble. So naturally, this drew my attention.
As I went to find the article online, I stumbled upon another WSJ blog post about the article which had this quote or two from Brian Halligan, chief executive of Hubspot, who spoke at a panel by MIT’s CIO Symposium on the role of the CIO:
”Mr. Halligan also said CIOs are the logical choice to help chief executives master new communication tools like blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Many chief executives are either uncomfortable using those media, or hire professionals to stand in for them: Either way, their audiences can sense the lack of spontaneity. CIOs can help their CEOs “have a more authentic relationship with the market and vendors,” he said.
Since I have been carefully monitoring how CEOs become more social, I admit that I had not thought about this in the same way. In my world of communications, I think that CCOs are the natural teacher for showing CEOs how to use social media and video to communicate deep within the organization and to customers and other important stakeholders. I liked Halligan’s statement about how being more social might change perceptions of CEOs as stodgy, risk-adverse and uncommunicative. He is probably right.
Related to this topic, it is probably not a good idea to hire professionals to stand in for CEOs although I don’t doubt that it is done. CEO voices are hard to imitate and employees should be fairly adept at noticing counterfeit CEO-speak. So I would advise that if you are getting your CEO to blog (it does not have to be too often as we advise in our research) to get to know people and let them get to know the CEO, get them to do it themselves.
Thought this was a good example of a social CEO – building reputation at the top through social media. Love the fact that he is holding these teleconference chats with season-ticket holders. I do not know much about football but he has the right idea.
“Giants’ Fans Next On Goodell’s Call ListIt’s been a few years since Roger Goodell was an NFL intern answering fan mail, but the league says the idea behind the commissioner’s chats with season-ticket holders is the same: communication. Goodell will host an interactive teleconference for Giants’ season-ticket holders Wednesday, the fourth such call he’s held in the past two weeks. As the NFL lockout drags into its second month, the league office is responding to requests by individual teams (the Dolphins, Browns and Chargers have already enlisted the commissioner; the 49ers and Broncos have their calls to come) to make Goodell available. ‘The commissioner enjoys communicating with fans,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said. “He wants to know what is on their minds.’”
Since we at Weber Shandwick did that analysis on socializing CEOs and how to turn CEOs from (UN)social to social, I’ve been fascinated by the increasing examples that are popping up. In the December issue of HBR, there is a very good piece on Best Buy CEO’s Brian Dunn and his experience in the digital space. The article starts out with an attention-getting example of how someone hijacked his Twitter handle and wrote “I’ve been having a lot of great sex lately, and here’s why.” The link attached to it was for a Viaga-like pill. (Lesson Learned: Regularly change your password)
Dunn explains his sticking with social media and the many benefits. Here are a few reasons he enjoys being a social CEO.
- Provides the opportunity to interact directly with customers and employees
- Provides insights into trends and news
- It is not just a trend or fad that will fade away
- Lets people know what the CEO is thinking about (from store visits or customers he meets)
Then he says it all: “I like how posting about these things allows us all to be humanized a little bit.” Being social, even for a limited amount of time or on one platform such as Facebook, gives CEOs or other executives some personality and humanity.
Like everything new, it is easier to find reasons not to. But there are many reasons to join the digital conversation, if only to insure that you and your company are in the conversation and where your customers are hanging out. I agree it is not for every CEO but wade in and give it a try.