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Four ways company leaders can become social CEOs

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'A company's CEO is really the chief communication officer.' Stock image

'A company's CEO is really the chief communication officer.' Stock image

'A company's CEO is really the chief communication officer.' Stock image

If you're a top executive, you should be on social media. Damian Corbet is the author of the new book, The Social CEO, in which he interviews chief executives from manufacturing, insurance and other sectors you might initially imagine are unlikely to get much use out of social platforms. I first met Damian late last year when I had the pleasure of leading a panel conversation on enlightened leadership in Oxfordshire at a conference nestled amid the incredible surroundings of the Soho Farmhouse.

(As a girl who was raised in Farmland, Indiana, I can assure you I never saw any farmhouses in my home town that even vaguely resembled the luxury I found myself surrounded by at Soho!)

Damian's research on the reasons why leaders need to be posting was so compelling, I caught up with him by phone last week and am happy to be sharing it with you today.

1 Employees and customers want to hear from you

According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, 71pc of workers expect their leaders to address societal issues.

"This represents a massive opportunity for CEOs," Damian told me.

"A company's CEO is really the chief communication officer. There's an expectation from employees, customers and shareholders for CEOs to talk about issues that matter to them, like equality and the environment.

"Leaders need to have the strength to speak out and be someone who is seen to care."

Once you have the ear of a few people, they may share your posts, and that can build influence, as it amplifies you and your organisation as a result. For instance, Business Insider reports that Walmart CEO Doug McMillon posts on Facebook almost every day.

Nasdaq's chief Adena Friedman regularly engages with her nearly half a million followers on LinkedIn.

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2 You must first identify your values before you can share them

Before you begin posting, however, you must clearly understand what you care about. It's interesting to me to discover that some CEOs and business professionals in top company positions still have not taken the time to purposefully reflect upon what values drive them. Let alone share on social media.

Recently, as I was helping a multinational CEO craft a speech he was to deliver before a roomful of global leaders across a variety of industry sectors, I asked him what values he stood for. He paused and looked at me. He said: "Wow, I haven't really thought about this before. You're asking me to dig deep." Yes, I am. Each of you, right now. What is important to you? Why? What are your priorities? These are your values.

How do they connect, support and intersect with the company you represent? If they don't, you may want to re-examine.

"People want to work for, and do business with, a company whose values align with theirs. That's the crux of it," Damian explained.

3 Put aside any remaining resistance to going social

"The resistance is going away. It's largely a legacy thing with older leaders in some positions who still have that old 'command and control' way of seeing the world, which they may have learned back when they were in business school," stated Damian.

"The reluctance thing is now being seen as a sign that you're holding yourself and your organisation back. It's a real disadvantage."

Even CEOs in areas like banking, insurance and manufacturing, which may involve impediments like compliance regulations or may not seem glamorous at first glance, are successfully posting on social media, according to Damian.

He features Jack Salzwedel, the CEO of American Family Insurance, in a chapter of his book.

"For these sectors, it's about building a reputation, and establishing transparency and trust. Jack's positive presence on LGBTQ and equality issues on social media sets a message trend for the whole organisation that his company is a great place to work and a place you can trust. The CEO is the brand."

4 Get help to take your first social steps

I asked Damian for tips to help a senior leader get started. "Start small," he advised.

"You can share the odd corporate announcement or press release. It's not particularly exciting, but it gives you a feel for posting.

"Banks have marketing teams, for example, so there's no reason the CEO can't hook into that and go from there. Don't shoot from the hip. Get help either externally or internally. Run things past your PR or legal team.

"Think about your audience. Who are you talking to? Customers? Employees? Competitors in your industry?

"Look at what your peers are sharing. Follow people in similar industries. What do they post? What is their tone? Learn from the good ones and the bad ones."

Once you identify your values and find your voice, you will increase followers and influence over time. It's not going to happen overnight. It will take time. But it's worth it.

 

NEXT WEEK ON THE COMMUNICATOR:

Get ready to be inspired by the all-about-communication story of two guys who met in a Swiss bar and turned their friendship into a million-euro Dublin-based company!

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