The Role of the CEO on Social Media


Building trust between your organization and your audience is at the core of every marketing effort you make. Building trust is hard. The public at large is smart to be skeptical.

Social media offers the leaders of organizations the opportunity to speak directly to their audience about values and decision-making processes. It allows leaders to reveal that they are people, just like everyone else. Social media use by leaders could potentially help create organizational transparency on which trust is built.

In an article in Forbes, Ryan Erskine says that people have an overwhelming desire for transparency. “Consistent headlines about data breaches and privacy concerns are surely to blame,” he writes, “leading 86 percent of Americans to say business transparency is more important today than ever before.”

Leaders, Erskine says, are in a unique position to answer the call for transparency. “Not only can they speak to the rationale behind business decisions and give a compelling behind-the-scenes perspective, they can also share insights on industry trends that inspire consumer trust and interest,” he writes.

Richard Branson and Elon Musk know how to use social media to reveal their values, and have millions of followers to show for it.

Also, a person can do and say things that an organization can’t. “You, as an individual and a leader, can go places that your company’s brand cannot,” Ryan Holmes of Hootsuite told Business New Daily. “The New York Times is not going to accept a contributed article from Virgin, but if Richard Branson wanted to write an article, they’d take it. And that’s because it's him, not the company. People want to hear from people.”

Erskine says that a CEO’s reputation is directly responsible for 44 percent of a company’s market value. Their personal brand impacts everything from recruitment to corporate reputation to stakeholder confidence.

Social media transparency is an essential part of an effective personal brand. People want to know what the people running an organization stand for. A personal brand that shows transparency, Erskine says, will help an organization’s reputation weather crisis. “When brands are transparent and develop a history of transparency, nearly 90 percent of people are more likely to give them second chances after bad experiences, and 85 percent are more likely to stick with them during crises,” says Erskine.

How can the leadership at your organization use social media to support your strategic objectives and do so effectively?

1. Be authentic

Authenticity is everything. People set a high standard for it on social media. And though you might think they’d expect greater authenticity from their friends than from the leader of an organization, Erskine says the standard for leaders is actually higher.

Maybe your CEO will choose to run their own social media profiles. But even if it is done by a digital agency or an in-house communications professional, it should reflect the real values and experience of the your CEO.

A personal brand should have its own voice. “Be you. Get recognized for who you truly are,” writes Pratic Dholakiya in an article for The Next Web. Want to see some good examples? Microsoft founder Bill Gates takes to LinkedIn to post articles. German Chancellor Angela Merkel reaches out to her audience via Instagram. “[Canadian Prime Minister] Justin Trudeau became the first politician to hold a Snapchat Live Story Q&A,” says Dholakiya.

2. Appeal to the curiosities of your most important audiences

According to a recent study by Sprout Social, when it comes to a CEO’s social media activity, people most value being shown the reasoning behind decisions. They are also interested in industry thought leadership and inside looks at how an organization works.

“Though this type of information tops the charts when it comes to positively impacting consumers’ brand perception, executives with different priority audiences may find alternative content to be more effective,” writes Erskine. “A focus on employee recruitment may necessitate sharing individual employee stories while a focus on investors may inspire more content about the CEO’s entrepreneurial experience and long-term vision.”

3. Even a little bit counts

Sixty percent of corporate CEOs aren’t on social media. Erskine says that simply posting on LinkedIn is enough to make you more socially transparent than the majority of today’s most successful CEOs.

Many experts believe that leadership itself is in flux and the traditional top-down management model has been outmoded. Instead, leaders are expected to draw ideas and inspiration from all levels. Leaders are expected to be accessible. They are expected to value feedback, both from within their organizations and outside them. New leaders are expected to be transparent, embrace change, value experimentation, and be open to diverse perspectives. These values are linked to the social media mind-set, and social media may just be the right place to display them.