Sounds of Silence Hamper CEOs on Social

7 minute read
Kelly Bilodeau avatar

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.

Slow Going

More Fortune 500 CEOs are  joining online conversations. But even now less than 9percent of Fortune 500 CEOs have Twitter accounts. Among those who do,less than 70 percent are active users, with the group overall puttingout 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 speakdirectly to their audiences and enforce their brands’ values,” he said.

Stephanie Newby, CEO of social media analytics company CrimsonHexagon, said she’s not surprised by the results.“Especially among business-to-business companies, CEOs don't always seethe value of what they perceive as consumer-facing social medianetworks,” she said. “While that's changing, and we're seeing someparticularly innovative B2B CEOs engage on social, the majority of thissubset has not caught on yet. Additionally, since CEOs tend to be older,embracing social media does not come as naturally as it does toexecutives 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 Nadellaof Microsoft, Jonas Prising of ManpowerGroup, Facebook CEO MarkZuckerberg and GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt.

“We’re seeing a new generation of CEOs leading the social revolutionin the executive suite,” said Josh James, founder of CEO.com and Domo, acloud-based software company. “These social leaders understand that ifyou choose not to become a social leader, you are in danger of losingtouch with your key stakeholders.”

LinkedIn Reigns Supreme

While overall social media participation is low, LinkedIn is the mostpopular social network among the Fortune 500 CEOs who do getonline — 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’tthese days?) But when CEOs do go in Instagram, it’s more about playthan work, with CEOs more often opting to use the service for family andpersonal 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’sperceived as lower-risk among CEOs, said Newby.

“CEOs tend to useInstagram as a place to share private moments among their personalnetworks. Unlike other social networks, Instagram doesn’t require CEOsto provide commentary or decide what they want their online publicpersonas to be — something that can be anxiety-inducing for leaders ofFortune 500 companies," she said.

For CEOs, crafting that public persona is a delicate balance. “Socialmedia demands authenticity, which means being willing to expose a bit ofyour private self. This can often be a block for CEOs, who may worryabout showing too much of themselves online,” said Newby.

Another trend that’s not surprising: LinkedIn’s popularity, saidMühlmann. “But what is surprising is that so many CEOs are only on oneplatform,” he said “Again, it seems like they are missing out on thechance to really amplify their messages.”

Making Social Work at the Top

Another factor that may be dampening social media participation amongCEOs 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 theirsocial accounts after creating them,” she said. “Plus, if you don'tinvest the time upfront determining valuable feeds to follow, engagingwith others and finding content to share, you won't reap the benefitslater on.”

Carine Clark, president and CEO of Allegiance, a customer experienceprovider agrees. “CEOs are extremely busy and it takes time to considerhow their social media comments might affect the company’s brand image,especially in the case of a public company,” she said. “Most largercompanies are represented on social media through their marketing teamsand use a variety of social media to communicate with current andpotential customers. However, they are missing an opportunity by nothaving the CEO use social media to listen to customer concerns and makeimprovements in the customer experience, which will give them acompetitive advantage.”

Learning Opportunities

There’s also the issue of delayed gratification when it comes tosocial media. “CEOs are focused on the bottom line, and frequently thatexcludes social media because they don’t see the direct connection toROI,” said Clark. “However, social media can provide a window intocustomer concerns and give CEOs insights that they may not get fromother sources.”

Without the ability to see instant results, however, some CEOs canbecome disillusioned quickly. “Developing a significant social followingdoes 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 bybrowsing through my Twitter feed,” said Newby. “At first, it felt likework and I had to invest a fair amount of time determining the topics,people and publications that I wanted to follow. But now my dailyTwitter ritual has become second nature. Instead of reading thenewspaper, 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 relationshipsand connect with my employees to see what they're tweeting, what issuesthey care about and how they collaborate with one another,” said Newby.“Additionally, I believe that LinkedIn will slowly replace the need forheadhunters, and I plan to continue to use the platform for talentrecruitment.”

Mühlmann also said he expects his social media presence tocontinue to grow. “I find myself using social media moreand more, as a source of news and amusement, to see what thecompetition is up to, to voice opinions, and most importantly, to hearwhat 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 andextend its use as a way to connect and extend the dialogue with ourconsumer 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 aresaying. “Learn from the positive and negative things being said aboutthe company and its products,” said Clark. “This information can also befed into a centralized system to analyze and act on customer feedbackin order to improve the customer experience.”

CEOs who don’t taking advantage of thesebusiness tools can hinder themselves going forward.

“Social media givesbusiness leaders a way to burnish their personal and corporate brand, aswell as listen to the community at large and respond to the issues thatmatter most to their company and customers,” said James. “It also givesthem a powerful communications channel to share what’s most importantand drive understanding and alignment around key issues. CEOs who trulyunderstand and appreciate the power of social media will have asignificant competitive advantage in the future.”

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