sleeping-manThe days where chief executives can hide behind the boardroom doors are gone. There is a growing expectation from consumers and employees alike that the leaders of companies, large and small, should embody the brands they represent -- and demonstrate that commitment by being visible and accessible on social media.

In fact, a new study released by BRANDfog suggests that social CEOs are better leaders who can strengthen brands, build trust in products and services, demonstrate brand values, and communicate accountability -- all by simply being on a social network.

Interestingly, even with all of this evidence stating the benefits of being a social CEO, there are as few as 5.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs on Twitter. In fact, according to a study conducted by and DOMO, as of June 2013, a whopping 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs did not have any social presence whatsoever -- even on LinkedIn, the CEO social platform of choice.

There are few reasons why CEOs have been, on the whole, slow to adopt social media:

1) No Time

By nature of the job description, CEOs are busy people. They don’t have the time (nor should they be making the time) to sit in front of a Twitter feed all day long. This is why many CEOs who join social networks show very little profile activity -- or end up abandoning it altogether after a short while.

Case in point, the graphic below illustrates how even on LinkedIn, the most popular of social networks for CEOs, most are not actively growing their networks, with fewer than 100 connections.


*Graphic from the 2013 Social CEO Report (Fortune 500 CEOs on LinkedIn)

2) Room for (Major) Error

The traditional media outlets that CEOs are accustomed to -- such as blogs, site pages, interviews, press releases and brand videos -- are carefully crafted and scripted by seasoned PR teams. There’s little room for a messaging errors or pushback in these one-way communication vehicles.

Social media, however, is a completely different story. We’ve all seen big brands make major social mistakes that are difficult to gloss over by even the best PR folks. This room for significant error, coupled with the unprecedented access and lack of control a network like Twitter provides, makes social a scary place for many CEOs.

3) Social Media Is Not for CEOs

More so than “no time” and “it’s too risky,” a 2012 study by the PR firm Weber Shandwick suggests that the top three reasons CEOs don’t participate in social media are centered around the perception that they don’t really think they need to be there. CEOs either believe that social media is only for certain industries (media, technology, etc.), there’s no real value in being on social, or that there’s no real demand for it.

The fact that 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs are still missing from social media 2 years later indicates how very accurate this is. CEOs simply don’t seem to believe social media is part of their job description.


*The Social CEO: Executives Tell All, 2012, Weber Shandwick

The Greater Risk

All this aside, there's a greater risk in CEOs ignoring social media. Not only does it send the wrong message to employees, consumers, and investors, but the lack of participation leaves CEOs out of a very important conversation that is happening with our without them.

For example, GM CEO Mary Barra used Twitter as an important tool for crisis management. Her participation in the conversation around the ignition switch recall demonstrates a level of caring, transparency, and honesty that are markedly missing, say, from US Airways CEO, Doug Parker, who does not participate on Twitter.

Social media also provides an important tool for listening. Top social CEOs not only use social media as yet another platform for communication, but also leverage social networks like Twitter as an unfiltered news source. Being able to see and hear the conversation happening in real time is invaluable. Additionally, even though social media may still feel optional for CEOs today, it won’t be optional in a few years. As more millennials enter the workforce and consumer market, the expectation of transparency will only go up -- leaving CEOs to play significant catch-up.

How to Get Started

1) Get the right tools.

Since CEOs don’t have a lot of time to be managing multiple social accounts, having the right tools is an important aspect of being successful on social media. Whether it’s the ability to post and monitor social accounts from a mobile device -- or provide access to a team to manage an account on a CEO's behalf --having the right toolset is key to keeping the account active and engaging.

2) Get help.

Some CEOs are naturally very social and love to engage in social media. Richard Branson is a great example of a social super-user, with 4.5 million followers and posting multiple times a day. Most Fortune 500 CEOs, however, are not entirely comfortable in this medium. It’s important to have the support needed to be engaging on social media -- it’s not a set it and forget it platform.

3) Learn from top social CEOs.

There are a number of CEOs out there already rocking the social media world. One can learn a tremendous amount about being social by learning from folks that are doing it right. Identifying a handful of social superstars to follow and observing how it’s done can be a great way to get started.

free guide: 2014 social media updates 

Originally published Apr 24, 2014 12:30:00 PM, updated July 28 2017


Social Media Marketing