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Not embracing social media could stunt your climb to the C-suite

It would probably be fair to say that, for most CEOs, social media is something their kids do. Emma Woollacott looks at where and how today’s C-suite present themselves online.

Social media CEOs

According to a recent survey from business advisory firm Brunswick Group, fewer than half of all S&P 500 and FTSE 350 CEOs have a social media presence, and only a quarter have posted anything over the past year.

Those that do, though, can find that it brings clear benefits. According to the survey, a social media-savvy CEO is popular with employees; the top 50 connected leaders, it found, have a 5% higher Glassdoor rating, with their companies being rated 3% higher too.

“As the head of the organisation, the CEO shapes the perception people have of it. Their face is the most prominent and visible to all; if well-regarded, their organisation’s reputation is enhanced, as is their ability to attract and retain the best talent,” says Martin Falch, CEO and Co-Founder of 360Leaders, a specialist tech recruitment firm that helps build boards and management teams.

In times of crisis, personal communications from a company leader can also go a long way towards restoring public confidence. According to Brunswick, nine out of 10 finance leaders think it’s vital when a company is being publicly criticised or is hit by a disaster.

“It is essential for CEOs to have an active presence on social media, not only to act as an ambassador for their business, but also to strengthen their own personal brand and raise their profile as a thought leader within their industry,” – Nancy Elgadi

And there can be more personal advantages too, says Nancy Elgadi, Digital Director at Right Angles, a reputation consultancy specialising in CEOs and celebrities.

“It is essential for CEOs to have an active presence on social media, not only to act as an ambassador for their business, but also to strengthen their own personal brand and raise their profile as a thought leader within their industry,” she says.

Using interesting content such as video can increase engagement, and posting strong opinions and soundbites can see them picked up by the press. However, it’s best to make it clear that the account isn’t the right place for complaints.

“Not being on social media as a CEO may make you look as though you’re shying away from the public and are not being transparent with them,” says Elgadi. “But if you do have social media, you may become the subject of more complaints than you’ll ever be able to service.”

With so many social media channels to choose from, it’s important to focus on the right ones. While Instagram may be suitable for a fashion company, say, it may not be the best choice for an accountancy firm.

The Brunswick survey found that LinkedIn is the most popular platform for corporate leaders, with 44% of CEOs having some sort of presence. Twitter is second choice with 15%. But of the top 50 connected leaders, 62% are present on more than one platform.

All this, though, takes time – something that CEOs may have precious little of. So should they actually be creating posts themselves? Some say not.

“In my particular case, and due to the particularities of our business, investing time in this would not be as profitable as for other companies,” says Andreu Fernandez, Founder and CEO of men’s tailors Hockerty.

“That’s why I prefer to work with my teams and develop projects and leave the social media marketing actions to the marketing departments.”

However, most social media experts, such as Tamara Littleton, Founder and CEO of The Social Element, believe that it’s best if CEOs can find time to post themselves. This keeps communication authentic and open, and helps to build trust over the long-term.

She adds: “Of course, CEOs need to ensure that they don’t post anything that could negatively impact the business; they have to remain mindful of the weight of their words.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, for example, probably hasn’t done himself or his company any favours. In 2018, he tweeted that he was considering taking Tesla private, claiming funding was secured; the misinformation saw him forced out as chairman and the company fined. Around the same time, he tweeted highly offensive claims about a British diver who helped rescue children trapped in a Thai cave.

“A CEO’s social media posts have the power to affect the share price and reputation of the business,” says Littleton, “so I would always recommend pausing before hitting that post button.”

The top 10 connected leaders on social media

  1. Doug McMillon, Walmart
  2. The American businessman is the CEO and President of Walmart who has gained a reputation as a forward-thinking leader.

    McMillon has a presence across all forms of social media from Instagram to LinkedIn.

    As the most connected CEO, the Walmart executive has verified his accounts, shares videos and photos across all platforms and shares stories about his valued employees – all key elements for optimal online success.

    Connected score: 828.7
    LinkedIn: 56.5K
    Facebook: 97.8K
    Instagram: 28.8K

    Social media CEOs
    Image: Doug McMillon Facebook.

  3. Brent Saunders, Allergan
  4. Since 2014, Saunders has been the CEO of Allergan – a pharmaceutical company that acquires, develops, manufactures and markets drugs.

    Connected score: 815.3
    LinkedIn: 29K
    Twitter: 9.6K
    Instagram: 426.9K

    Social media CEOs
    Image: Brent Saunders Instagram.

  5. Ramon Laguarta, PepsiCo
  6. Indra Nooyi’s successor is the first Spanish CEO of a large American multinational company who became PepsiCo’s CEO in 2018.

    Connected score: 802.0
    LinkedIn: 22K
    Twitter: 2.2K
    Facebook: 879

    Social media CEOs
    Image: Ramon Laguarta Facebook.

  7. Adena Friedman, Nasdaq
  8. The electronic exchange company is led by Friedman, who tops the list as the most connected female CEO.

    Connected score: 799.0
    LinkedIn: 532.5K
    Twitter: 10.8K
    Instagram: 2K

    Social media CEOs
    Image: Adena Friedman Facebook.

  9. Dan Schulman, PayPal
  10. The 62-year-old businessman and PayPal President and CEO frequently shares a plethora of videos across his Facebook account to his thousands of followers.

    Connected score: 795.3
    LinkedIn: 102.9K
    Twitter: 10.4K
    Facebook: 76.9K

    Social media CEOs
    Image: Dan Schulman Facebook.

  11. Hans Vestberg, Verizon Communications
  12. The Swedish national has been the CEO of the American multinational telecommunications conglomerate since 2018.

    Connected score: 788.7
    LinkedIn: 6.8K
    Twitter: 16.6K
    Instagram: 9.9K


  13. Ben van Beurden, Royal Dutch Shell
  14. Having first joined the company in 1983 after graduating with a master’s degree in chemical engineering, van Beurden has been the CEO of Shell for six years.

    Connected score: 788.0
    LinkedIn: 19.2K
    Twitter: 1.3K


  15. Mary Barra, General Motors
  16. Considered the 5th most influential female leader in the world for 2019, it is little surprise the General Motors CEO is also one of the most connected.

    Connected score: 780.3
    LinkedIn: 1.2M
    Twitter: 46K

    Social media CEOs
    Mary Barra

  17. Lynn Good, Duke Energy
  18. Good is Chairman, President and CEO of one of the US’s largest energy holding companies.

    Connected score: 780.2
    LinkedIn: 137.6K


  19. Ed Bastian, Delta Air Lines
  20. The father of four became the 9th CEO of Delta Air Lines in 2016 who is present across LinkedIn and Instagram where he shares videos, quotes and insightful images.

    Connected score: 780.1
    LinkedIn: 44.2K

Social media CEOs
Image: Ed Bastian Instagram.

Feature image: Adena Friedman Facebook

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