Written by Katia Ponnampalam • Published 21st February 2017

CEOs On Social Media: Nicety or Necessity?

In this day and age it is pretty essential for a company to have a social media presence. Most brands not only have social media accounts but social personas, audiences that they interact with on a daily basis and a tightly managed social strategy and team.  They have rightly recognised that social media has the power to drive sales, boost brand loyalty and set brands apart from others in the same space.

So it seems surprising then that the same care and attention isn’t always extended to the social media channels belonging to the CEO’s of these very same brands.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

A post shared by Richard Branson (@richardbranson) on

Whilst some CEO’s are incredibly well versed in the power of social media and use it extremely well, there are some notably lacking in social media presence in this space.  HP CEO Meg Whitman has not refreshed her social feed since October 2011. Apple CEO Tim Cook only joined twitter in September 2013. In fact a report by Domo in 2015 showed that 61% of Fortune 500 CEO’s have no social presence. That’s right. None. Zero.

This is surely surprising. It’s no secret that social media has the potential to impact sales in a positive way. Shopify found that an average of 85% of its 529,00 socially referred orders came from Facebook alone. Surely, it’s worth joining that party?

Giving your customers a seat in the boardroom can grow your market and increase your sales. But more than this it can humanise your brand and give your customers a face to a name. Not only can it increase brand visibility but it can make it all the easier for your business in tougher times.

Think about it like this. If a large, profitable company undergoes a disaster, say a piece of equipment they develop malfunctions and results in the death of several employees (hey we said disaster!). If a CEO the public have never met before takes centre stage to apologise and assure the world that they are doing all they can to help the families of those involved, you can choose to believe them. Or you could choose not to. After all, why should you? You don’t know this person, you don’t have trust in them and their morality. How do you know they weren’t aware their equipment was faulty?

Now imagine the CEO is Richard Branson. And the equipment is Virgin Galactic. Branson’s personal brand is pretty much unrivalled and his social media presence is a huge part of building the image we all know so well of a man who is well-liked and cares about both his customers and staff. A man who takes the time to engage with his staff and customers on social at least twice a day. A man who doesn’t delegate his responsibility to a team to write on his behalf. A man who takes time out of his own day to answer and ask questions.  It has been argued that his personal brand was very helpful in this instance in controlling the situation. When he apologised, people believed he was truly sorry. When he insisted, he would do everything in his power to look after the families of those involved, people nodded in agreement with him. Because we feel like we know him.

True Branson’s persona is much larger than that of his social media presence and the example is extreme but surely it’s easy to see the value of building those relationships?

If you’re looking to make a similar impact here are 5 handy tips to getting it right on social as a CEO:

  • Be authentic

There is nothing more important than this. Whilst outsourcing your social might save you time your customers can sniff our inauthenticity in a second. By all means seek assistance but try to keep a tight hold of your platforms because there is nothing more effective in boosting your brand than providing a face behind the company. The aforementioned Richard Branson does this with aplomb by sharing personal stories, insightful career advice and keeping his followers updated on what he’s up to. In return he enjoys a high level of customer loyalty and brand awareness is through the roof. When you think of Virgin, you think of Branson. They are one and the same.

Similarly, Apple CEO Tim Cook since arriving, admittedly fashionably late, to the twitter party uses the channel to thank his employees and customers for their support. This again encourages brand loyalty and I think we can agree, Apple is doing pretty well on this front. As Arianna Huffington told Co.Exist in 2012, “when it comes to championing causes, social media can be a valuable tool for sharing your values and your causes.” She also said, “Social media can be used for mindless escape, or for the opposite, for connection and meaning.”

  • Choose your platforms wisely

Find a way of engaging with social media that you enjoy and doesn’t feel like an onerous task. If your marketing team have insisted that you start posting on 5 different platforms daily, when you’ve previously not even had a twitter handle, you may feel overwhelmed and it will show. Find a platform that works for you and start slowly. Equally there is nothing worse than forcing yourself to use a channel that doesn’t suit your style. See above – keep it authentic.

  • Generate the conversation

Make sure you’re not always on the receiving end; a leader in business will be expected to lead outside of it as well. Engagement is crucial to a successful social media presence, developing a discussion around something of personal interest will signpost your personality and allow people a more tangible understanding of you and your core values. Just make sure these align with the corporate brand! Conversation also provides your brand visibility and the ability to expand your reach. Elon Musk is prime example; he speaks frequently and passionately on climate change. This is of course central to Tesla but also to the wider global audience. His promises to push his environmental concerns in White House meetings demonstrate beyond superficial level commitments and values that garner trust from the public.

  • Be Memorable

As well as adding to discourse, you want to make sure what you’re saying is interesting and relevant. You want to establish yourself as a though leader and central to this is providing sparky and engaging insights. Aaron Levie, CEO of Box the cloud storage system used by 92% of Fortune 500 companies, was the 7th most influential executive in 2015. The Twitter Influence Index calculates engagement rates and the quality of interactions with these accounts. Part of the reason for Levie’s success on Twitter are his witty and outspoken commentaries on current events and issues. This provides the perfect ‘snacking content’ for a millennial audience; 140 characters of easily digestible, yet pithy, nuggets of information that push for a reaction…no wonder his engagement is so high.

  • Develop a thick skin

It’s a scary world out there in the Twittersphere and people don’t pull any punches when it comes to telling you exactly what they think. No matter how valid (or more often than not completely invalid) their criticism may be, it’s important to try not to take it personally. Take Donald Trump as an example. His tendency to leap down the throats of anyone who criticises him and air it on twitter has earned him mockery and, were it even possible, has made him less able to be taken seriously as a leader. Which is quite horrendous when you consider that he’s one of the most powerful men on the planet. EEK.

With 82% of customers more likely to trust a company whose CEO engages on social media, it’s clear that this is channel you cannot ignore. The right approach here can provide an invaluable process for your brand, often holding more weight and influence than the corporate account. People inherently want to interact with other people. Giving your company a face allows for higher engagement, trust and genuine human connection, which will prove very useful should a crisis hit.