Blackswan analysis shows that the heads of the planet’s most powerful companies still view social media as a distraction, if not an outright liability.
A full 61 percent have no social media presence at all. Even those who are on Twitter, Facebook, and other networks rarely join the conversation. But if social media is where your customers are—shouldn’t you be there, too?
One new trend that I’ve noticed recently, that is challenging many of the senior leaders we work with, is the challenge of dealing with constant social media scrutiny, and of acting as a connector in a complex, ever-changing communication ecosystem.
Many of the leaders I work with are the public faces of their organisation, who have to be prepared to address the immediate, practical concerns of the job while still also maintaining and articulating a long-term vision of the organisation’s purpose and role in society. I accept there is nothing new in what they have to do, but what is new is how it is done. For many, it is against an intense backdrop of 24-hour financial news, numerous blogs, LinkedIn posts and Twitter feeds.
A CEO of a global energy firm I work with, was invited to lecture at a local university on the future of green energy in his environment. After his presentation, a student in the audience asked him for his views on workers’ rights in poorer countries and where he saw the future. The CEO answered candidly, arguing that economic development would address that aspect in the long run. There was an engaging exchange, and he left satisfied with his visit.
Little did he know that, in the coming days, his semi-private comments would enter a very public realm—the blogosphere—unleashing a storm of controversy around him and his company. (For confidentiality, names have not been revealed.)
The executive had no active social media presence—no profile on Facebook or LinkedIn, no Twitter account, no blog on the company’s website. He had decided that social media wasn’t “his thing.” In fact, he became aware of the buzz over his comments only after some people in the company had alerted his communications group. There were lengthy discussions about whether and how to respond.
Customers and other stakeholders were participating in the debate online, arguing strongly in favour of workers’ rights over economic vandalism, as it was called. Should the company issue an official response to comments made in a private setting? Could the CEO wade into the public discussion when he had never been active in the blogosphere and had no other social media platform?
In the end, he and his team did nothing, leaving everyone feeling frustrated and helpless.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that the story is the same for leaders below the CEO level and that even those who have a social media presence aren’t using it strategically. That is a mistake.
Today’s leaders must embrace social media for three reasons. First, it provides a low-cost platform on which to build your personal brand, communicating who you are both within and outside your company. Second, it allows you to engage rapidly and simultaneously with peers, employees, customers, and the broader public, especially younger generations, in the same transparent and direct way they expect from everyone in their lives. Thirdly, it gives you an opportunity to learn from instant information and unvarnished feedback.
As soon as you become a senior leader, you must remember that you are two people. You are the person whom you, your family and your friends know, but you are also a symbol for something. Never confuse the two.
Click here for our Top 10 tips for social media for CEOs.