Maybe they’re stuck in their ways, busy or just plain shy. Whatever the reason, there’s not much tweeting going on at the top.
A new survey shows that Fortune 500 CEOs aren’t using Twitter and nearly 70 percent shun all five major social media networks. And the decision may be costing them.
More Fortune 500 CEOs are joining online conversations. But even now less than 9 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have Twitter accounts. Among those who do, less than 70 percent are active users, with the group overall putting out less than .5 tweets each day in 2013, according to the survey sponsored by Domo and CEO.com.
That's a mistake, said Peter Holten Mühlmann, CEO of Trustpilot, an online review platform. Most CEO's are "missing out on a great opportunity to speak directly to their audiences and enforce their brands’ values,” he said.
Stephanie Newby, CEO of social media analytics company Crimson Hexagon, said she’s not surprised by the results. “Especially among business-to-business companies, CEOs don't always see the value of what they perceive as consumer-facing social media networks,” she said. “While that's changing, and we're seeing some particularly innovative B2B CEOs engage on social, the majority of this subset has not caught on yet. Additionally, since CEOs tend to be older, embracing social media does not come as naturally as it does to executives who came of age in the social era.”
A few innovative CEOs have bucked the trend and established a strong social-media presence, including Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Jonas Prising of ManpowerGroup, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt.
“We’re seeing a new generation of CEOs leading the social revolution in the executive suite,” said Josh James, founder of CEO.com and Domo, a cloud-based software company. “These social leaders understand that if you choose not to become a social leader, you are in danger of losing touch with your key stakeholders.”
LinkedIn Reigns Supreme
While overall social media participation is low, LinkedIn is the most popular social network among the Fortune 500 CEOs who do get online — 25.4 percent have an account.
Some other interesting findings from the survey:
- CEOs prefer Instagram (2.6 percent) to Google Plus (1.6 percent). (Who doesn’t these days?) But when CEOs do go in Instagram, it’s more about play than work, with CEOs more often opting to use the service for family and personal photos.
- 8.3 percent of CEOs have a Facebook account, up 1.3 percent from last year.
- The top CEO tweeter is American Family Mutual Insurance Group’s Jack Salzwedel, who sends out nearly five a day.
- Fortune 100 CEOS are joining Twitter at a faster rate than their 500 counterparts, with a 50 percent increase over last year’s number.
Statistics No Shocker
When looking at the statistics, some say the trends make sense.
On reason that Instagram might be more appealing is that it’s perceived as lower-risk among CEOs, said Newby.
“CEOs tend to use Instagram as a place to share private moments among their personal networks. Unlike other social networks, Instagram doesn’t require CEOs to provide commentary or decide what they want their online public personas to be — something that can be anxiety-inducing for leaders of Fortune 500 companies," she said.
For CEOs, crafting that public persona is a delicate balance. “Social media demands authenticity, which means being willing to expose a bit of your private self. This can often be a block for CEOs, who may worry about showing too much of themselves online,” said Newby.
Another trend that’s not surprising: LinkedIn’s popularity, said Mühlmann. “But what is surprising is that so many CEOs are only on one platform,” he said “Again, it seems like they are missing out on the chance to really amplify their messages.”
Making Social Work at the Top
Another factor that may be dampening social media participation among CEOs is the fact that participating takes time, said Newby. “Social media is not easy. It's a time commitment, which is why I think we see so many busy CEOs neglecting to update their social accounts after creating them,” she said. “Plus, if you don't invest the time upfront determining valuable feeds to follow, engaging with others and finding content to share, you won't reap the benefits later on.”
Carine Clark, president and CEO of Allegiance, a customer experience provider agrees. “CEOs are extremely busy and it takes time to consider how their social media comments might affect the company’s brand image, especially in the case of a public company,” she said. “Most larger companies are represented on social media through their marketing teams and use a variety of social media to communicate with current and potential customers. However, they are missing an opportunity by not having the CEO use social media to listen to customer concerns and make improvements in the customer experience, which will give them a competitive advantage.”
There’s also the issue of delayed gratification when it comes to social media. “CEOs are focused on the bottom line, and frequently that excludes social media because they don’t see the direct connection to ROI,” said Clark. “However, social media can provide a window into customer concerns and give CEOs insights that they may not get from other sources.”
Without the ability to see instant results, however, some CEOs can become disillusioned quickly. “Developing a significant social following does not happen overnight, and this can pose a challenge to the ego,” said Newby.
Tips to Manage Social Media
But ultimately participating effectively doesn’t have to take hours on end.
“A few years ago, I made the decision to begin every morning by browsing through my Twitter feed,” said Newby. “At first, it felt like work and I had to invest a fair amount of time determining the topics, people and publications that I wanted to follow. But now my daily Twitter ritual has become second nature. Instead of reading the newspaper, I get my headlines from the people I follow on Twitter.”
And this investment in time can really pay off in the long term. “Looking forward, I'm interested in using Twitter to build relationships and connect with my employees to see what they're tweeting, what issues they care about and how they collaborate with one another,” said Newby. “Additionally, I believe that LinkedIn will slowly replace the need for headhunters, and I plan to continue to use the platform for talent recruitment.”
Mühlmann also said he expects his social media presence to continue to grow. “I find myself using social media more and more, as a source of news and amusement, to see what the competition is up to, to voice opinions, and most importantly, to hear what people are saying about Trustpilot and respond to their comments,” he said. “I plan on ramping up my use of social media in the future and extend its use as a way to connect and extend the dialogue with our consumer audience, as well as our customers (and potential customers).”
Ultimately, James said all CEOs should get social.
Start small, by using social tools to hear what customers are saying. “Learn from the positive and negative things being said about the company and its products,” said Clark. “This information can also be fed into a centralized system to analyze and act on customer feedback in order to improve the customer experience.”
CEOs who don’t taking advantage of these business tools can hinder themselves going forward.
“Social media gives business leaders a way to burnish their personal and corporate brand, as well as listen to the community at large and respond to the issues that matter most to their company and customers,” said James. “It also gives them a powerful communications channel to share what’s most important and drive understanding and alignment around key issues. CEOs who truly understand and appreciate the power of social media will have a significant competitive advantage in the future.”