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Should CEOs Use Social Media?

With over 150 million Americans using social networks, it has become imperative for businesses to adopt these platforms as well. There are distinct leadership, learning, business benefits to jumping on the bandwagon. The debate is not about ‘when’ but ‘how.’

The Affirmative Position:

Proponents of C-level social media participation believe the digital universe provides the CEO with the ultimate platform to evangelize the corporate brand, and to effectively communicate across multiple constituencies. They are opportunity managers who believe engagement to be more valuable than silence, they believe in dialog not monologue, they believe in change and innovation – not in status quo.

The Dissenting Position:

The stance of the risk averse is there is little to be gained, but the potential for much to be lost in social media initiatives involving C-level executives. The fear of exposing executives and the corporate brand to public criticism, along with disclosure concerns with regard to forward looking statements, and other confidential information have caused concern for boards and legal departments. They are risk managers who believe in protecting what was rather than embracing what is, and what will be.

The Truth (as I see it)

A main point of consideration for CEOs is that social media transforms you from an enigma (the stereotype of the uncaring corporate executive) into a human being that people can relate to…social media personalizes you in a way that few other mediums can. Whether you Tweet, Blog, Facebook, YouTube, etc., these communities allow you to be known for the whole of who you are as an individual, not just as a bio on the corporate website. The following list is comprised of a few representative examples of reasons why all CEOs should be actively engaged in social media:

  1. Leadership Benefits: As CEO, you’re not supposed to be the relic, but the visionary. This may hit a little close to home for some, but the message needs to be heard. Great leaders lead by example. How can you ask members of your team to be innovative, engaged, proactive, creative, authentic, transparent, and communicative if you are none of those things? You cannot be an effective leader if you don’t model the behavior you seek in others. Be a leader or be a disingenuous hypocrite – the choice is yours.
  2. Learning Benefits: Social media is not just a tool for pushing out corporate propaganda – use it as such and you’ll pay a steep price. What it is, is open access to people, relationships, communities, and constituencies. Put simply, it’s a chance to observe, listen, process and learn. A CEOs needs to understand that in addition to affording them with the benefit of directly engaging consumers of their goods and services, social media also provides a window into the insights or their employees and allows them to monitor the pulse of their culture. Social media also allows you access to business, market, and competitive intelligence in real time.
  3. Business Benefits: Yes, I know, you’re the CEO and you have to pay attention to business. Well, social media does have significant ability to drive revenue, increase personal and corporate brand equity, open markets, create relationships, drive innovation, improve morale, build partnerships, attract & retain talent, and to generate communications leverage. Not only does social media work, but it works even better when the participant has a bit of cache. The truth is the farther up the org chart one resides, the more influence one possesses, the more leverage one creates, and the more one can accomplish via social media. You can do none of these things effectively by sticking your head in the sand and pretending social media doesn’t matter.
  4. Communications Benefits: I hesitate to mention this becasue it’s been so overused, but becuase it’s true, here goes: “The conversation is already taking place, so you might as well be a part of it.” Social media gives you the ability to be proactive in your communications, or if needed, provide a rapid response to crisis. Unfortunate things happen in business, and sadly, they’ll likely happen to you at some point. Having strong relationships, supporters, and fans created through social media is invaluable – so is having a channel to quickly and credibly communicate with those who are not.
  5. Legacy Benefits: I’ve often said the best legacy is one that can be lived before you’re gone. A legacy is shaped by the sum total of your personal and professional contributions, and most significantly by those contributions which have been the most beneficial to others. Social media takes your personal interests and your professional body of work and gives them access to a larger community. Social media can enhance the value of existing relationships and create new ones, it can help you evangelize your passions, recruit people to your causes, and to help others with their causes. Social media can help you and those you care about make significant contributions.

To those of you reading today’s post who still haven’t seen the light, and believe that social media is either insignificant, or that the window of opportunity has passed you by, I put forth the following demographics as proof of the power of the social media as a medium:

  • There are nearly 150 million social media users in the U.S. alone, which is more than 60% of the U.S. internet population.
  • According to eMarketer, the average time spent per user on social networks as of late 2010 exceeded 5 hours per month. Remember this is an average number, many users eclipse this number by a significant amount. As an example, according to clickZ, Blog readers average 23 hours online each week.
  • Nielsen data shows a 2x lift in brand metrics around social ads vs. non-social ads.
  • GroupM’s research reports a significant lift in search behavior from users exposed to a brand on social networks.
  • Over 12 million American adults currently maintain a blog.
  • I have clients who have tens of thousands of Facebook Fans, oodles and oodles of Twitter followers, popular blogs, have driven huge increases in revenue, and have quite literally changed the dynamics of their businesses, brands and cultures via social media.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, let’s look at what some other CEOs said just in reference to Blogging in a recent issue of Inc. Magazine:

  • “More effective than any marketing budget for getting our name out there.”
  • “Within 60 days of launching our blog, it is our top referral source.”
  • “Results have been great – we had more than 100,000 visits in May alone.”
  • “Our clients love it, and lots of people in our industry pay attention to it.”
  • “The blogs are 50 percent of website traffic. Great participation.”

About Mike Myatt

Mike Myatt is chief strategy officer for N2growth, a consulting and coaching firm with an in- depth social media practice. His blog is available at http://www.n2growth.com/blog/category/blogging-social-media.