Business leaders can no longer avoid being actively involved in social media because it is quickly evolving into an essential leadership tool if not an expectation for company leaders. Michael Gass looks at why it has become so crucial
Tom Dickson, founder and CEO of US blender manufacturer Blendtec, has developed a cult following through social media.
In a recent interview, Dickson shared the story of one of the greatest viral marketing campaigns of all time: ‘Will it Blend? was developed accidentally by a marketing director hired in 2006:
‘I have always been one to try to break my blenders to find their fail points and determine how I can improve them. George [Wright], the marketing director, discovered some of the wacky things I was doing to my blenders, including shoving 2x2s into the jars to try to break the blender.
‘With a $50 budget, George bought a Happy Meal, a rotisserie chicken, Coke cans, golf balls and a few other items, and they made five videos. Six days later, we had six million views on YouTube. Six years, 120+ videos, almost 200 million views later, Will it Blend? has been named as the number one viral marketing campaign of all time,’ said Dickson.
The importance of social media on business has dramatically escalated. The world has moved through the “hype phase” of social media – when businesses felt compelled to participate because it was such a fad – and entered a “productive phase” where companies are starting to crack social’s code to turn it into a genuine marketing advantage.
Andy Polansky, CEO of global public relations firm Weber Shandwick, explains: ‘Just as having a company website has become standard operating procedure over the past two decades, utilizing social media channels has now become an increasingly essential platform for companies to communicate their messages to the general public and other audiences.’
Social grows beyond marketing into other areas of business
Publicly traded companies are beginning to adopt social media for business communication and crisis management. Social is breaking down corporate silos, creating new ways of connecting and changing the way the company works together. It enables more collaborative relationships and enhances creative ideas and innovation. It is helping companies to gain better consumer insights and engage with customers.
Social networks are having a broad-based impact, changing everything about the way business is done. The tightly controlled corporate environments are falling apart. Control of brands is shifting into the hands of customers and employees.
While many companies now understand the important role that social media plays in business, most have not realized the changes it is about to make to the role of CEOs. As communicator-in-chief, the CEO will need to have a more prominent role in social media.
And as social changes the way companies work, it impacts the talents and skill sets needed for the generation of business leaders to equip them to be more social CEOs.
CEOs lack knowledge of social media
Many CEOs have grown to see the value of social media for their company’s participation, but have not yet seen the need for their personal involvement.
The vast majority of chief executives have no presence on any of the major social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+).
According to the 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index report from CEO.com, only 19 CEOs from the world’s top 500 companies use Twitter (or have someone use it on their behalf) – and only nine of these are active.
CEOs have not been baptized by participating in social media and do not really understand how it works. This lack of understanding tends to make them sceptical and reluctant participants, unrealistically fearful of making mistakes and in an uncomfortable position of learning while leading.
But CEOs can no longer avoid being actively involved in social media because as consumers have become more social savvy, social media is quickly evolving into an essential leadership tool. The time has come for social media to become an expectation for company leaders.
As social business changes the way companies work, it impacts the talents and skill sets needed for the current generation of CEOs.
Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada and Toronto’s Communicator of the Year 2010, was quoted as saying: ‘Successful leaders will no longer be measured just by stock price. Managing and communicating with shareholders, employees, government, community and customers will be table stakes in the future.’
In a 2012 IBM study of more than 1,700 chief executive officers from 64 countries, 70% of the responding CEOs plan to shift their focus from using e-mail and the phone as primary communication vehicles to using social networks as a new path for direct engagement.
According to the study, as soon as the next three to five years, social media is anticipated to rise from the least likely method for CEOs to connect with their audiences to the second highest method, just behind face-to-face interactions.
Traditional corporate communication is beginning to give way to social communication. CEOs communicating through social media help their companies appear more human and accessible.
Leslie Gaines-Ross, chief reputation strategist at communications firm Weber Shandwick, explains: ‘Companies that are truly social and engage their employees and customers in genuine conversation will be recognized as the new corporate leaders. CEOs who are social will be the next new thing.’
This is a major change from the traditional, controlled, protective corporate environments of the past towards a more open and transparent leadership structure. As social media continues to evolve towards direct engagement, as “spokesperson-in-chief” the CEO’s skills and experience in social media will become even more important.
Customers expect to have direct connections to brands and brand leaders, which is why the time has arrived
for social media to become an expectation for company leaders.
According to the 2012 CEO, Social Media Survey & Leadership Survey by consultancy BRANDfog, 82% of consumers say they trust a company more when its CEO and leadership team are active in social media.
CEOs who are “social” are perceived as better leaders and better communicators by their employees.
Executives with social CEOs say their CEO’s social media presence makes them inspired (52%), and technologically advanced and proud (41%).
CEO sociability provides a multitude of benefits, allowing the CEO to:
• Share company news and information
• Improve company reputation
• Demonstrate company innovation, “humanize” the company and improve employee communications
• Improve business results (the more socially tenured, the more people-focused and spontaneous he or she is considered by executives)
• Help resolve a crisis
• Show innovation
• Enhance credibility
• Help CEOs to know the company
• Be more effective in crisis management
• Help find and attract new customers
• Have unfiltered direct communication with consumers
• Attract and retain top talent
• Become a valuable asset for sharing corporate social responsibilities and causes.
To have success with social media, CEOs need to understand that it is not just another marketing tool. It provides a two-way channel of communication, allowing them to connect and engage with large numbers of people quickly. It also maintains the characteristics of one-to-one conversations because people can use social media to respond quickly and directly. Sir Richard Branson, world-renowned entrepreneur and businessman, has been called the consummate social CEO, arguably more for his daring balloon flights than because he tweets. He is the founder of the Virgin Group consisting of more than 400 companies around the world. Virgin has created more billion-dollar companies in more sectors than any other enterprise.
Branson was named as the world’s top social media CEO for 2013 by the World of CEOs website. The chief executive candidates were appraised by their number of Twitter followers, number of tweets, LinkedIn Influencer followers and their
Branson has amassed more than 3.5 million Twitter followers, 2.1 million connections on LinkedIn and 2.9 million Google+ circles. His blog is averaging 500,000 visitors per month. Sir Richard shares inspiring leadership stories and quotations, thereby creating online conversations about fresh business ventures. He also raises awareness for charitable initiatives or other things he finds of interest or fun.
He says himself: ‘Above all, remember to be authentic and organic, answering questions in a straightforward manner – there’s no need to check with your PR team first. You know your products and services, and people will see through any effort to parrot slogans or broadcast a marketing message.’
Because Branson tweets and blogs daily, almost all Virgin employees engage directly with their customers through social media. They use it to find out what customers want and need.
How will CEOs respond organizationally and personally?
CEOs anticipate the rise of social media as a primary way to connect with their audiences in three to five years. This is a huge shift in a short period of time. How are they going to get up to speed on social media so quickly? It cannot be outsourced. It will take personal involvement. Sure, there are risks involved, but not participating now appears to be the greater risk.
- Michael Gass is an global new business consultant to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies. He founded Fuel Lines, one of the top 100 marketing blogs in the world, according to Ad Age’s Power 150
What Won’t Blend? Ask Blendtec Founder Tom Dickson?, February, 2013
How CEOs Can Engage Through Social Media – A Conversation With Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky On CEOs And Social Media, Forbes, August 14, 2013
2012 CEO.com Social CEO Report
Leading Through Connections: Insights from the IBM Global CEO Study
The Social CEO: Executives Tell All, Weber Shandwick,
2012 CEO, Social Media Survey & Leadership Survey, BRANDfog
Richard Branson on How to Connect with Your Customers, Entrepreneur.com, September 9, 2012