Many CEOs avoid social media, or use it badly. But in a business world that is increasingly driven by social media, neither of these stances is a realistic option. Below, Cleland Thom Principal at the College of Media and Publishing, explains.
Admittedly, it can be difficult for CEOs to find a useful role on social media. Many of them dislike engaging directly with their customers. And they probably lead very different lives to their customers, and have little in common with them. Their posts can make them sound remote and out of touch. And their colleagues might be wary of telling them that their post about sipping Pimms at Wimbledon while their staff were slaving back at the office was downright embarrassing.
But a wise CEO will recognise two things. Firstly, that they need to use social media, since their customers use it. And secondly, they need training to use it properly.
That might mean being prepared to listen to teenage intern who knows more about it that they ever will. Or doing a social media marketing course.
If you’re not sure why a CEO should even appear on social media, let’s look at the benefits. A CEO’s social media channels can:
- Add unique value to their organisation’s marketing strategy.
- Increase sales.
- Enable them to lead the news agenda.
- Let them meet their customers and get unfiltered feedback from them.
- Enable them to appear more human to their staff and your customers.
- Build trust.
- Give them the opportunity to communicate what they want, when they want, and in their own language.
So, how can a CEO use social media effectively? Firstly, it’s important to master the basics. If you can’t write fluently and can’t spell, then get someone else to write your content. And it’s wise to plan your posts – decide in advance what you want to say, and where and when to say it. This doesn’t preclude spontaneous announcements. But these should fit into a broader strategy.
Here are some of the things that you can usefully share:
- Employee activities. Focus on an individual or a team, and explain what they do. Tell their story from your point of view, and use video and images to support it.
- Commentary on current issues and debates.
- Insider stories on company culture. Post videos and photos of staff training, charity activities, green initiatves etc.
- Your perspective on company developments. This doesn’t replicate announcements by the PR department, but adds your perspectives on them. For example: ‘I’m really excited about this new innovation. We got the idea last year when one of our directors attended an exhibition, and then we set a special team. They spent three months planning it. We didn’t think it would work, but have been impressed with the trials. I’d love to hear your feedback.’ These announcements can add authority and gravitas to other publicity.
- Your values, and insights into your background and career. Social media users enjoy hearing stories. So share the things that are important to you, what shaped your thinking, obstacles you have overcome, your successes and failures.
- Limited glimpes into your personal life, to add humanity. These help readers to see that your business is run by a human being, who has their interests at heart.
- Invitations to readers to tell you what they think about specific subjects.
- Why it’s good to deal with, and work at your organisation.
It’s important to stress that social media can go badly wrong if a CEO isn’t trained to work in the social media environment. Donald Trump is a great example of how not to do it, and we can use his Twitter activities to create a useful list of things to avoid. Don’t:
- Contradict your colleagues – or yourself.
- Make announcements that catch your colleagues off guard.
- Cause controversy without allowing your team to plan how to cope with the fallout.
- Post without checking your facts.
- Tweet on impulse.
- Be rude, or insult other people or organisations.
So whatever you do on social media – don’t copy President Trump. Do a social media training course instead!