Social Media & The C-Suite – New Roles, New Engagement, New Opportunities

December 07, 2021
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Social media and the C-suite

4.5 billion people can’t be wrong. That’s how much of the world’s population now uses social media, according to an October 2021 snapshot.

Because of that, and because this is an ever-growing phenomenon (400 million new users have come online within the last 12 months), companies everywhere, big and small, have a social media presence of some sort – a company business page on Facebook or LinkedIn, a Twitter or Instagram account.

Those corporate accounts are good for branding, for connecting with customers. Essentially, social media is now an integral part of public relations and marketing.

But should individual company employees – and indeed the members of its C-Suite – have their own social media accounts?

Social media marketing company Sculpt says yes.

“Savvy marketers know to lean on the humans that make up their companies to level up their brand’s social media presence. One way to do that is through an employee advocacy program. Through their personal social media profiles, individual employees can function as brand ambassadors, building trust, credibility, and thought leadership — and this is particularly true for C-suite level team members.”

Social media provides companies the ability to exhibit personality and emotion through their content. Instead of sharing press releases and quarterly reports, brands can use platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and even Snapchat to live-stream events, give a behind-the-scenes look at their office culture, and even share industry insights from different employee’s points of view. A C-suite presence does the same thing in the context of company leadership (and) contributes to humanizing their company’s brand as a whole.

A less obvious but crucial way that being a “connected executive” brings value is that it can help to attract and retain talent. A survey by business advisory firm Brunswick Group asked readers of financial publications and employees of companies with more than 1,000 employees about their communications expectations of corporate leaders across 13 different countries and markets. The survey found:

  • By a more than 5 to 1 ratio, employees prefer to work for a CEO who uses digital and social media.
  • 60% of employees considering joining a company will research a CEO’s social media accounts.
  • By a margin of 9 to 1, financial readers trust a connected leader more than a CEO who does not use social media as part of their work.

What should CEOs and other C-suiters be doing on social media (and where)?

One of the primary ways executives can use social media is thought leadership. Sharing knowledge about industry trends and promoting events and talks about relevant issues are a good place to start, says Social Media Today. The Influential Executive recommends LinkedIn as a good place to be for executives who want to establish their knowledge credentials, noting that the article section “allows executives to share long-form content that can better help build their professional credibility within their industry.”

Influential Executive’s survey of Fortune 500 companies found that 94% of CEOs who had a social media presence were on LinkedIn, probably because the platform is a good place to foster business relationships and tap into new audiences. “Your C-suite social media strategy should include time to reach out to and engage with peers, industry leaders, or potential partners,” says Social Media Today.

All social media platforms can be used in one way or another to articulate company vision and to support the company brand, with Facebook being particularly good to reach a broad, older audience. Instagram is a good place to reach young people – but is heavily dependent on having good images to share. Executives who are pressed for time might consider using Twitter, where short-form content is required and which can be used to share concrete news and announcements from the company.

Social platforms are also a good place to building relationships with the media. Journalists will look to social media as a tool to locate individuals with information and/or insight. Engaging on social media can validate depth of knowledge to a reporter and exhibit a willingness to provide meaningful insight. Reporters are also flooded with email pitches and calls to sift through daily, so being able to communicate with others on social media (direct messaging on Twitter, for example) can help eliminate the misfortune of getting lost in an email inbox.

Finally, though no one wants to think about it, social media can be an integral part of a company’s crisis management toolbox. Having already established social platforms that are integrated with the broader crisis-response strategy puts the company and its executives into a stronger position to communicate directly with key audiences.

CEOs doing it right on social media

  • Richard Branson, founder and CEO of Virgin Group, uses Twitter and Instagram to share updates on his entrepreneurial efforts, post links to his blog on Virgin, share pictures from his travels and other insights for business leaders, Pinkston says. On Instagram, he often posts photos that promote his travels dedicated towards community development around the world.

  • Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, is mentioned often as an example of an executive with a strong Twitter presence, using it to share company news like a presidential visit and to note staffing changes.

  • The way Econet founder Strive Masiyiwa uses Facebook demonstrates the power of a CEO’s voice and leadership on social media, says online media monitoring company Meltwater.

  • Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, has a presence across all forms of social media from Instagram to LinkedIn. He has verified his accounts, shares videos and photos across all platforms and shares stories about his valued employees, says CEO Magazine.

  • Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, turned to Twitter in 2020 when his company had to fire employees. Looking to help them find jobs, he created a public directory to make the hiring process easier. According to social media intelligence and analytics company Awario, he explained why he had to do what he did and what awaits the company in the future. “All in all, he used his social media platform to help his community, and isn’t it what a good CEO should really do on Twitter?”