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50% of Canadians Agree: CEOs Should Get Social and Engage

New Strategic Objectives Survey says CEOs should take advantage of social media to boost their business


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It’s no secret that the world of social media has dramatically changed the way we consume and use news over the last decade. The non-stop proliferation of apps and platforms now gives people from around the world, from all walks of life, the chance to instantly voice their opinions as well as follow, dispute and engage with the opinions of others. It’s always fascinated me, having worked with a wide variety of leading global brands and businesses through the years, that so few business leaders tap the awesome power of social media to get their message across.

I started investigating this phenomenon eight years ago when Social CEOs were few and far between. Back then, Forbes had created the only list of CEOs on Twitter, featuring only 60 brave souls. Our Strategic Objectives PR Team took that existing list and, after considerable research and collaboration with netizens around the world, was able to grow it to 150, and published this blog post, Should CEOs Tweet? Risks and Rewards for the Social CEO. Fast forward eight years to 2020, and our relentless Strategic Objectives PR team has managed to grow our original Twitlist to include more than 550 Social CEOs on Twitter, who regularly use the platform to engage, expound, and provoke … depending on their mood or inspiration. You are welcome and encouraged to subscribe and follow along.

Do People Care About CEOs on Twitter?

Obviously, the universe has continued to unfold as it should. Marketers, business leaders, politicians and just plain folk have hopped on Twitter like an excited kid on Christmas morning — but is this a good or a bad thing? Do people really care about CEOs on social media? And if so, why? To answer these rarely asked and scantily- reported-on questions, Strategic Objectives engaged international research firm Maru/Blue, to survey more than 1500 Canadians last spring. We found some interesting results that will be sure to intrigue corporate communicators everywhere.

Canadians Say YES to Social CEOs!

Our research shows 50% of Canadians agree that CEOs should have a social media presence. This is huge! Yet recent research from Brunswick Group tells us that only half of the world’s CEOs have any social media presence whatsoever, and that only 15 per cent of them Tweet. It should come as no surprise that the modest 15 per cent of Social CEOs who tweet includes marketers, tech start-ups and service firm leads who depend on social media to grow their reputation and make their businesses thrive. But if the public wants to see more Social CEOs, isn’t it really a no-brainer that CEOs should get more social for biz? Let’s examine the facts.

Our research found that 31% of Canadians think CEOs should have a social media presence because it provides business transparency. Of course it does! Sharing both positive and negative business announcements, as well as news of the social good a brand is doing in the community, is key to being social, authentic and genuine.

We also discovered that 15% of Canadians think CEOs should have a social media presence to provide the rationale behind their business decisions, and that 17% of Canadians believe a CEO on social media should provide behind-the-scenes insights about the business.

This tells us that if a CEO is active on social media, it’s not just the what they’re discussing, but the why that matters. Major business decisions come from the top and a CEO’s job is to share what’s going on with the business, with the public. Consumers and other stakeholders rarely get to participate in a company’s internal meetings and decision making, but those decisions will likely affect their feelings towards the company, good or bad. An effective CEO must not only stand behind their decisions, but also be able to explain and defend why they made them. They must also listen to, and consider opposing views, without judgement.

Take Sir Richard Branson, @richardbranson, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, for example. An active Social CEO for more than a decade, Branson uses Twitter and blogging to share his daily insights into all facets of his business with his 12M+ followers — including major announcements on expansion and innovation, all grounded in his fearless drive to succeed.

We also found that 19% of Canadians believe a CEO’s social media presence maintains the company’s online reputation. A well-liked CEO creates a positive halo effect for the brand and people believe what they’re selling, both as a person and as a company. Whether this translates into actual sales, or simply goodwill, it’s a win-win when it comes to building and maintaining a good reputation.

And let’s not forget that CEOs have a traditional duty and obligation to their original followers — the employees, who bring the brand vision to life. Employees are the lifeblood of any organization, but only 11% of Canadians believe a CEO’s social media presence would be good for employee recruitment and engagement. I disagree with the masses. The voice of the company, a Social CEO is ideally positioned to rally employees together, celebrate their accomplishments and attract the best and brightest talent to their company.

John Legere of TMobile, @JohnLegere, is another great example of a CEO who effectively engages with his employees and customers. A quick look at his profile pic and bio tells you he’s approachable and accessible — sharing news about his company, and what his employees are up to, and taking cheeky shots at the competition. Following John makes you want to work with his company and use its products.

Sink or Swim, Just Dive in!

There are so many reasons why CEOs should be active on social media, but remarkably still so many leaders who aren’t. Why is this? For one thing, time is always precious to this group, but CEOs can and should use their PR team to help create their content calendar and even engage on their behalf — as long as the responses are truly authentic. That same team could also answer customer questions, respond to reputation-killing posts, help the business identify trends in content engagement, and track how the brand is doing. But please take care if you’re a newbie Social CEO getting ready to take the plunge! Make absolutely sure to check your spelling! You DON’T want to be another typo-ridden Tweeter (covfefe, anyone?).

Age is often another barrier to your CEO’s social engagement — I rank among Boomer CEOs who did not grow up with technology, but saw the writing on the wall early on, when the digital landscape was changing SO fast it was simply sink or swim. Did I get social overnight? No. But I dove right in and embraced the constant learning curve needed to stay ahead and close the generation gap. Today’s new class of Social CEOs are Gen Xers and Millennials who grew up with social media and understand its use as a sales and reputation-building tool. In today’s hyper-connected business world, age should really be just a number. And heed this, if you don’t get TikTok, your time to speak with any authority about social media has likely run out.

Are you a CEO still wrestling with the merits of getting social? Then I’ll leave you with one, last, fascinating stat: 16% of Canadians think CEOs should have a social media presence because it is expected in today’s society. SO, what are you waiting for? Get with the program. Strive for the leading edge. #taketheplunge!

Are you a CEO looking to take your brand and social media presence to the next level? Our Strategic Objectives Team would be happy to help. Please contact us!

About the Research

*Maru/Blue audience research was carried out via an omnibus survey in April 2019. Results are based on a sample size of 1530 Canadian respondents.

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