The AntiSocial CEO: What’s At Stake
It’s no secret that more than a few CEOs are at best wary of social media. Dismissed as a fad or a marketing platform with low ROI, senior corporate management in many companies consider social media to be an exclusive concern of marketers. Because they misunderstand social media. There are those who are out of step with the technological changes that are producing a new way of doing business. And the disjunction exists not only in regard to CEOs’ being active on social media, but to their view of the utility of social media itself. They risk becoming the dodos of the digital business world. Successful leaders will no longer be measured just by stock price. Managing and communicating with shareholders, employees, government, community, customers will be table stakes in the future. They are talking about your business anyway. Why not be included in the conversation?
Old Habits Die Hard
“Social media is an on-line marketing tool that allows marketers to build enthusiasm about products and services and then convert this enthusiasm into direct sales.” To many corporate executives, that definition of social media is set in stone. Social media is something you do at potential consumers that will make them buy your goods. While this is true to a certain extent, it doesn’t work very well. That so many keep trying to bend social media to hard sales goals, says more about our past than about business’ future. Old school marketing used gimmicks or ploys to arrest consumer attention in what was a straightforward media universe of three dimensions: radio, television, and print. That this marketing system worked was more a matter of it being the only show in town than from any inherent excellence.
A New Reality
The current marketing reality is completely different. Technology has created marketing spaces that allow information to be shared and exchanged with unparalleled ease and sophistication. The relatively passive consumer of a few decades ago has been replaced by an active, informed consumer who is usually highly skeptical of traditional marketing methods. The new consumer actively researches options before committing to purchase. This research takes place on line – usually via social media. This consumer wants a high standard of trust in the brands he or she patronizes – and often a sense of social or ethical responsibility on the part of that business as well. Think about that for a moment, and you can come to appreciate the incredible potential impact of social media activity upon your business. A potential customer looks for the product information you provide on line to begin the evaluating process; at some point that potential customer is going to solicit opinions from others via social media. Your followers are then an authority than can help or harm you. Simply looking at followers as a body in urgent need of conversion is shortsighted. Indeed, apply hard-edged sales tactics to them, and they’ll probably melt away. These followers are a valuable corroborating testimony to your brand’s worth and credibility. The time and effort taken to cultivate a relationship with followers on social media is critical to establishing the parameters that nurture the purchasing act in the contemporary business climate.
The Social CEO
Which brings us to role of CEO and social media. BRANDfog’s 2013 CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey looked at the benefits accruing to senior management’s use of social media. “Innovative C-Suite and senior executives are at the forefront of social engagement, utilizing social media to attract new talent, deepen brand loyalty, increase purchase intent, and establish brand transparency.” Respondents indicated
- 80.6% believe social media is an important communication channel for CEOs to engage with customers and investors
- 83.9% believe that CEO social media engagement is an effective tool to increase brand loyalty.
While CEO social media engagement was viewed as a gateway to facilitate deeper connections with customers, employees and shareholders, there were potential pitfalls. “…employees of companies that have developed a strategy and assigned accountability for executive social media engagement were far more likely to recognize the benefits of that engagement. When C-Suite social media engagement is managed, nearly 70% of employees believe that leveraging social media makes CEOs more effective leaders. However, the reverse of this statement is also true. When companies do not have an executive social media strategy in place, employees fail to see the value of showcasing the company’s leadership team, which can provide a competitive advantage at the brand level.”
You don’t have to look far for the reasons supporting the successful use of social media by CEOs and other members of corporate management. A strong CEO is a corporate leader with a vision. The ability to craft a vision and articulate it clearly to stakeholders is a critical component to institutional vitality and adaptability. The digital revolution is changing the way we understand leadership. The increase of communication in both volume and in importance is altering the role of the corporate leader from remote authority figure to the key definer and disseminator of institutional vision. Social media allows successful corporate leaders to communicate their vision not only with employees, but with potential consumers. The digital landscape abhors a vacuum – a vacuum of information. The silence of senior corporate leadership in social media channels can be an eloquent testimony to a perceived weakness or deficiency. The two main reasons given by CEOs for their lack of social media activity are fear of potential negative feedback or criticism (24.2%) and lack of time to manage social media (20.6%). We understand the trends and realities of today’s complex world of online marketing. Whether you need help managing social media or quality content to support you brand, we have the tools to make your marketing efforts a success.
 Peter Aceto CEO, ING DIRECT Canada, Forbes.com