Should CEOs be social?

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This blog post comes to you live from the Forrester Marketing Forum 2010, where the theme is the need for marketers to adapt constantly.  During a lively presentation, Forrester Research CEO George Colony asks a simple but provocative question: should CEOs embrace social media?

George indicates that Forrester studied the habits of the top 100 CEOs and found almost none of them are active users of social media.  This is true even among high-tech CEOs like Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison.  Even Mark Zuckerberg does not blog.  He asks, why are CEOs not social?  Many reasons:

1. For many, age is a factor.  Many CEOs were born before 1950 and simply do not relate to social media as a form of communication.

2. They have distinct constraints.  If  they run a publicly traded company, they need to follow regulatory constraints.

3. Many are risk-averse.  They might be quite justifiably risk-averse to potential litigation, for instance.

4. CEOs have a different sense of time. For them, embracing social with any level of commitment means carving out time they don’t have.  Seth Godin blogs 12 hours a week.  How many CEOs have time to blog even 1 hour a week?

5. There might be a mis-match to the medium going on. How many CEOs are willing to make six public statements per day via Twitter or one major statement a week via a blog? And how many are willing to adapt the provocative style that is often needed to blog successfully? How many CEOs are willing to be transparent?

George asserts that only a limited number of people can really succeed with social.  How many of us — whether CEOs or not — can really embrace social with consistently high-quality content? Today Einstein would have been a poor match for blogging, for instance.

Should CEOs be social?  Yes, if:

1. The CEO has something valuable to say.

2. She can navigate the minefield of constraints and restrictions.

3. Customers, employees, partners, and investors, are actually tuned into the CEO.

4. The CEO accepts a new construct of social.

And does the CEO really have the desire?  If the answer is no, then accept that reality. The CEO has to be the right person for blogging.

If your CEO is onboard to actually embrace social, then the marketer needs to support the CEO with well-researched insights into how one’s potential audience actually engages in social.  In other words, know your audience. Employ approaches like the Forrester POST Method. For instance, give your CEO objectives for participating in the social world — for instance, is simply becoming a better listener all that matters to your CEO?  (In that case, using Twitter to remain engaged might be a better approach to attempting to blog.)

George also says a new construct of social is needed to empower the CEO. For instance, it’s time to stop thinking of “social heavy” and start embracing “social light.”  Social heavy is all about a frantic race to get the most Twitter followers.  Social light means a social profile that stresses quality over quantity.  Think of social as a way to share your corporate values, not to chase followers.

And be choosy. George believes that Facebook is just too personal for CEOs to use as their social platform.

But, the new construct does not mean asking your marketing or PR team to blog for you.  Marketing and PR can and should be the coaches helping CEOs embrace social, but not the do-ers.  One thing has not changed about social: the need to be authentic, writing in your own voice.  Not ready to do that?  Then forget being social.

Get to know George on Twitter and on his blog.

7 thoughts on “Should CEOs be social?

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  2. Great post David. Thanks for distilling the discussion which is great for those of us not at the Forum. One thing that this doesn\’t address is the CEO\’s use of blogs for internal (inside the company walls) communications. Increasignly success of internal social media strategy and collaboration platforms depend upon leadership shown by the CEO and other senior executives adopting social tools such as a personal blogs. Such top-down leadership can have a powerful positive impact within large corporations.

  3. Great article, Thanks for the repost.

    It boils down to one point..
    \”does the CEO really have the desire? If the answer is no, then accept that reality\”

    A great example of an active tweeting, DM\’ing CEO is @GovenorPerry – Rick gets social media, and while he is busy doing election stuff and running the State Of Texas, he tweets when he walks the dogs, that\’s his \”twitter time\”, as long as the CEO can find his \”twitter time\”, then they can engage, even on a \”light\” basis.

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