CEOs can no longer hide behind boardroom doors and carefully drafted PR statements. Financial readers trust leaders that are active on social media more than offline executives by a 9:1 ratio and employees are five times more likely to want to work for one, according to Brunswick’s Connected Leadership Report 2021.
Despite this, leaders can be reticent. They face what Danielle Jones Hunt, Global Head of Advocacy at BP calls “the burden of title” - meaning they feel more acutely the need to get it right.
They know that their employees are watching, their customers and potential buyers are taking note of what they’re saying and their stakeholders waiting with bated breath.
Doing nothing isn’t an option so what should leaders be doing on social? Here’s the three things that top leaders on social media do differently.
1. They’re Human
Surely that’s obvious? No, wait, we mean really human and not ashamed to show it. There’s HubSpot’s CTO, Dharmesh Shah, who uses Twitter extensively to post a mix of fun, serious, business and personal content. He’s genuinely interested in the feedback that comes as a result of being socially active.
The CEO of Southwest Airlines, Gary Kelly is also an active Twitter user, and mentions the successes of his employees in almost every post. His authenticity and values shine through in his online activity.
Ryan Holmes, Chairman and CEO of Hootsuite captures what’s happening with members of the C-Suite who are willing to dive into the world of social:
“The reality is that social leaders don’t have a social net” he explains. “The occasional slip-up is par for the course. We all make mistakes, after all. What sets true leaders apart is their willingness to own them.”
2. They take risks for bigger gains
Social media directly challenges what we know and understand about leadership (or to be ‘in charge’). The established power dynamic is that the CEO is protected from the small stuff; shielded from disgruntled customers or employees.
But we’re no longer in the Victorian age of managers’ offices at the end of the long corridor. Being active on social media means having horizontal collaborations and unscripted conversations.
While these might carry more perceived risk, they actually put a leader far closer to the pulse of his business than any management report can. Social media is one of the quickest routes to unfiltered, honest opinions and reality. When CEOs are active on social media it also generates more trust with employees, buyers and stakeholders, as we’ve seen.
3. They Place A Priority On Being Social
Time is the greatest enemy of social leaders. When you have a business to run, checking channels, engaging with audiences, not to mention creating individual and unique content can seem like one job too many.
However, today’s successful social leaders have looked around at the reality. They’ve taken on board that time spent engaging with audiences online can bring unquantifiable value to their personal and professional brands.
Think about some of the most visible CEOs:
- Richard Branson personally checks social media channels each morning
- Air Asia’s Tony Fernandes has 1.5 million Twitter followers and gained considerable praise for his open approach to the loss of one of his aircrafts in 2014.
- Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, has been lauded for his personal account of struggling with his son’s cerebral palsy. In the time he’s been at the helm, the tech giant has seen its market cap leap by $250 billion.
As we’ve seen, being visible – in an authentic way – brings definite benefits. Getting leadership to engage more effectively on social media is a strategy in itself, separate to any employee advocacy program. You will need to invest in 121 social media coaching for executives and perhaps even give them a kickstart (here’s what it entails) but, once you do, the impact will be more than worth its investment.
Editors Note: This blog was originally published in October 2019 and has been updated to refresh the knowledge and accuracy of “3 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently On Social Media”.