SHOULD A CEO BE FLUENT IN SOCIAL MEDIA?

Nancy Myrland All Posts, Social Media 13 Comments

Social Media Influence by Intersection Consulting.

I just finished reading an interesting post on Mashable, Should CEOs Be Fluent In Social Media? It is an interview with Forrester Research CEO George Colony by Mashable’s Barb Dybwad.  There were some valid points made, such as not putting a CEO out in front when s/he has no social skills.  I think those can be taught, but that’s another post for another day.

One of the arguments we have read time and time again is that the CEO has no time to engage in social media; that s/he is too busy running the company.  I have some thoughts about that concern that I will share.

I’m not sure I am convinced a CEO has no time to send 5 or 6 Tweets a day.   If s/he has someone who understands Social Media, and marketing and communications, close at all times, even for just a day, then this person could listen to the CEO, and point out “Now THAT was a perfect Tweet!”

I’m not suggesting this be done in front of other people during meetings, and your culture might call for another method, but my point is that the CEO would soon find it unbelievable that this would happen 100 times a day.  It doesn’t have to be a novel, an epic statement or something that will send Wall Street or clients running to make some kind of change.

Developing relationships is what these tools are all about, so when a client or customer reads just about any friendly or informative statement from the CEO of a company they care about, they will be surprised (for now…not in a few years when it becomes the norm), and sometimes excited and impressed that s/he is actually listening to them, and/or using these media.

When you own or care about something, you have a responsibility to take care of it.   Finding ways to talk to clients, and build social and emotional connections with them, are a few of these responsibilities.  If you truly believe in it, then you will find time to quickly type out a few 100-character messages every now and then.  Sit down at your laptop or pull out your phone right after you finish reading this, and see just how long it takes you to type 100 characters.  No one said it had to be 140.  That’s the limit, not the requirement.  It might take about 20-30 seconds tops.

Yes, it takes time.

Yes, it takes some training.

Yes, it should involve strategy on the front end so that you know your goals, customers, messages, tone and much more.

No, Baby Boomers aren’t too old to get it.

We need to stop using these barriers and excuses, and embrace that which has been presented to us as an amazing set of tools that allow us to easily talk to our clients.  Ask someone to train you…heavens, I, and five thousand others who do this for a living, will be happy to help, but just move past the fear of messing it up, or getting in trouble by doing it.  You will find it becomes very easy after you’ve done it a few times.

You didn’t get to be the CEO of a major company, or a Partner in your firm, by constantly making stupid mistakes.  Sure, you made mistakes along the way, but that made you better.  You learned as your career unfolded.  You were assertive.  You learned how to intelligently talk to people.  You became very good at the skills needed, and pretty soon you found yourself in a leadership position.  Don’t choose to stop using those skills now that there’s something new to learn just because it’s easier to avoid.

Trust me.  You’ll feel a lot better when you discover you can actually embrace and understand how to use the Social Web to your benefit, and that it’s not something that is a distraction, or that you thought you didn’t have time to learn.

What a feeling it will be when, suddenly, your clients are excited that you’re talking to them, and that you even answered something they said, or a suggestion they gave you, or made a change they talked about!  Who doesn’t want to create that bond with those who trust them with their business?  Aren’t loyalty, trust, business, repeat business and familiarity part of what it’s all about?  Then let’s get started, okay!?

Thank you to Intersection Consulting for the Social Media graphic.

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11 comments
Erik Deckers
Erik Deckers

@Gini,

I laughed when you said some of your CEOS say "my customer isn’t using it." If the CEO isn't using it, then how do they know if their customers are using it or not. That's like saying, "I don't have cable TV, therefore my neighbor isn't watching ESPN."

Richard Bosworth
Richard Bosworth

Gini is right on the button with her suggestion about the CEO using video. A couple of weeks ago I got a small group of the CEOs I work with together to experiement with the idea of using video to attract more to join our group. In less than half an hour of working with Sharon Cain of Quest PR they were hooked and quite happy to do video blogs, it seems it's the writing that they shy away from.

Thomas Scott
Thomas Scott

Alexis, that sounds like a pretty common prespective these days. You said:
"I hired a CEO so he can run the company and carry out our initiatives and cultivate our team and our company culture"
That is the primary purpose of social media for a CEO. In today's market, regardless of the industry, the buying behaviors of customers have changed. Customers who are already hard-wired and interested in what you do or produce are looking for you; social media (in the broadest definition) makes it possible for them to find you. I use a slide of Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs in the forest to make the point with franchising execs I work with - the bread crumbs are not for you to find your way out of the woods, they are for others to find you.
Also, in today's culture of CEO and executive transparency, being visible increases trust. CEOs who have poor excuses for avoiding social media will trigger worst case scenarios in customers, vendors, stockholders and employees: because they are not visible, they must be up to something dishonest or the company isn't saying positive things from the top so they are losing money or worse, the CEO is invisible online so he or she is really incompetent.
It's a major shift and you might be surprised at how those 5-6 tweets (particularly if they are backed by professional content streams) can really make a difference.

Jaimie
Jaimie

Nancy:

Q: Should CEOs be fluent in Social Media?

My A: Absolutely!!

Does this mean that they should be engaging in it? I think that there are CEOs who can be engaging in social media as the face of their company in a productive manner, but not all of them have the personality (as you mentioned above) to do so. That being said, I think that all CEOs should at least be well aware of what Social Media is and what it can do for the company. No better example of this than Tony Hsieh, Zappos' CEO.

It's just a matter of keeping up with the times, technology and what is happening within the business world. I can be fluent in many languages - it doesn't mean I am going to be using these other languages on a regular basis.

Just my thoughts,

Jaimie

Gini Dietrich
Gini Dietrich

Nancy - as you know, I speak to Vistage groups, which are typically 15-20 CEOs in one room for three hours. Let me tell you, CEOs (no matter the part of the country, how big or small their company is, or how smart they are) do not get social media, nor do they want to learn. They say the same things: It's not productive, it's a colossal waste of time, I don't get it, I don't want to get it, my customer isn't using it, I agree it's coming, but our decision makers aren't Gen Y yet...stuff like that. Constantly. It's funny to me (though I'd never say this when I speak) that they all thing they're different, but I hear the same excuses everywhere I go.

I'd like to think, after spending three hours with them, they're a little less cynical...and some do venture out. But the point you make is well taken. This is about relationships and people WANT to have relationships with the leaders of the companies they do business. Something like 55 percent of Americans EXPECT it (because companies like Zappos created it).

One of the things I recommend? I tell them to shoot videos of the work their company does. 90 percent of CEOs will try that because it's less intimidating than writing a blog, it's doesn't seem as much as work as learning Twitter, and they certainly don't want to get on Facebook. But video seems to get them every time.

http://twitter.com/ginidietrich

Alexis Martin Neely
Alexis Martin Neely

Nancy, I just hired a CEO for my company. And, honestly, I have no interest in him learning social media. I don't believe 5-6 tweets a day would help our company in anyway at all. To me, the benefit from social media comes from the relationships I've developed there and those relationships would not have been developed w/ hit and run 5-6 tweets/day tweeting. I hired a CEO so he can run the company and carry out our initiatives and cultivate our team and our company culture and I can spend more time developing relationships on social media (and otherwise). Interested to see what others have to say about this. Alexis

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Thanks for sharing that Richard. Video is very important in terms of breaking down barriers, and communicating personality and empathy, so I'm happy to hear you're having success with it too.

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Thomas, thanks so much for adding your thoughts to what Alexis shared. I appreciate the level of thought you put in to your comment. Being visible DOES increase trust. I also like your analogy of Hansel and Gretel leaving breadcrumbs in order to be found. Thanks again...please come back any time!

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Hi Jaimie...thanks for your thoughts. Yes, those in positions of authority, or those responsible for approval of major initiatives, should make time to become familiar with the changes in front of them. With the rapid speed of adoption these days, it's not wise to sit back and wait to learn until the stream is rushing by. Clients are waiting, and hungry to hear what senior staff, or those in positions of authority, have to say.

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Gini, thanks for stopping by, and for sharing your thoughts. I love your idea about video. It is not only a great entry to social media, but video is highly effective in garnering trust, connection and, as I like to say, peeling back the layers of unfamiliarity.

Nancy Myrland
Nancy Myrland

Hi Alexis. I appreciate your comment. I think we probably agree. My post was more about the argument that CEOs don't have time, which I was finding issue with, vs. that someone is or isn't the right person within a company to be out in front in Social Media. I agree that your new CEO probably isn't the one who should be thinking about social media, or sending messages on behalf of your company. You are the face of your company, which isn't always the case. I believe this is where my comment about strategy preceding involvement in the Social Web comes in. If companies have discussed or crafted strategy that determines what the right communications path(s) are, then they will arrive at an appropriate course of action. You are strategic in your approach to conducting business, which is what led to your comment and your practice of not having your CEO be your front person. Again, thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me and others. I appreciate you!

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