There’s been a growing buzz around senior company leaders on social media: While in 2015 only 39% of CEOs had any social media presence, we’re now seeing more CEOs and senior leaders launching social media programs aimed at making a greater impact for their companies and important causes. Our team manually researched each CEO of the 2019 Fortune 500, and we now see 54% have an established social media presence.
Our company, which helps leaders develop an authentic presence on social media, recently conducted a study of over 1,000 LinkedIn profiles. We found that leaders’ posts got over 3x more engagement than companies of a similar follower count (defined as engagement per post per follower).
If you think about how we interact and engage on social media, a big part of whether we choose to like, share or comment on a piece of content depends on two factors: first, whether we associate it with our beliefs (either positively or negatively) and want to show alignment (or lack thereof) with our views and values, and second, whether the content resonates as authentic.
Of course, a social media presence for brands still has a place and a clear purpose, which varies for B2B and B2C companies. For B2C companies, it’s more obvious — the brand itself often has an exciting voice and visual identity, and social media provides a way to bring the brand to life in a way that engages customers. For senior B2C leaders, it is therefore all about authentically communicating your company vision, its core values, the leadership principles you have instilled in your organization and the social causes you are involved in. This awareness can help to differentiate your company and position you as a visionary leader of your time.
For B2B companies, the brand’s social media presence is often about credibility and thought leadership. So, for B2B leaders, social media is really all about building credibility and positioning the firm as a thought leader with some combination of prospective and current customers, top talent and potential investors or acquirers.
How To Get Started
When launching an executive social media program, there are a few important things we’ve found will set the program up for success and minimize headaches.
1. Begin with a clear set of goals.
Think about what you’re looking to accomplish with the executive’s social presence. Is it about attracting top talent? Engaging prospective customers? Positioning the company for future investment or sale? Some combination? With the high-level goals in place, identify the kinds of social media activity you want to generate — from engagement to follower growth to leads to website traffic.
2. Be authentic.
As an executive, ensure that your personal voice, interests, vision and expertise are coming through in your content. That said, being authentic doesn’t mean posting whatever ideas or thoughts come to mind throughout the day. Doing so will often go against your overall objectives and may create unnecessary distractions and unintended controversy.
I suggest deciding upfront, based on your goals and intended audience, approximately what percentage of your content you believe should fall into each category. For example, you may decide 5-10% should be related to personal interests, and the remainder split evenly among company vision and objectives, your personal area of expertise and your leadership philosophy.
If you then think about a month’s worth of posts, you can see that perhaps one or two should align with personal interests, and perhaps a handful of each should align with the other three categories. This shouldn’t be looked at as a formula that must be followed, but a directional guideline to ensure your content stays on track and spans the right set of topics.
Being authentic doesn’t mean you even need to develop and post all your own content. Getting someone on your team to help with execution is often the most realistic way for an executive to maintain a consistent presence. This, of course, requires that you provide that supporting team member with the right information to be able to capture your tone and voice and to focus on the right mix of topics.
Finally, being authentic doesn’t mean you need to share personal information. In fact, I’d recommend against oversharing, because things like your location, the fact that you’re on vacation (with your house vacant) and your home address can all put you and your family at risk.
3. Define process.
Have a clear, predefined set of guidelines with acceptable and unacceptable social media topics. Every executive will have a different comfort level, but some of the types of topics to consider avoiding are things like politics, religion, any topic that could convey bias and also topics that may touch on confidential or proprietary company information.
Many will remember Elon Musk’s tweet that he was “considering taking the company private,” which ended up costing him $40 million in SEC fines. I also suggest considering a review process to have a second set of eyes on all posts before they are published. This can help to prevent unintended missteps or guideline breaches.
Expanding your company’s social media program to include your key leaders is a great way to drive social ROI, but also requires a thoughtful approach and preparation. Achieve the benefits while navigating potential pitfalls by defining a clear set of goals, an authentic voice and topic mix, and agreed-upon guidelines and processes.