The rise of the social CEO [8 Trends]

To get ahead and stay ahead, today's leaders need to make the right type of connections


A social media presence driven by the CEO is becoming a critical tool in the battle to turn customers and employees into advocates. Led well, going social can overcome the restrictions some online platforms are placing on branded content, and boost sales performance too. Here's how to get started.


Search for alignment


In today’s aggressive markets, leading companies are discovering that the best talent is attracted to employers who not only represent a logical career move in terms of compensation and benefits, but who also feel right by offering a close fit with their values.

The implication for the CEO is clear, according to PageGroup Executive Board Director Gary James: “Positive results now take place within positive company cultures. There’s an expectation among people entering into the workforce that their work won’t be just about showing up every day. Increasingly, work also has to offer us a sense of belonging.”



Increasingly, work also has to offer us a sense of belonging.

Gary James, Executive Board Director, PageGroup



This sense of belonging applies equally to customers, whose alignment with a brand’s cause requires constant reinforcement. Customers will show most loyalty to those brands where there’s an emotional connection, a bond that goes beyond functionality or value for money. When this works well, they may even go on to become champions for the brand.

With customers – and prospective employees – becoming ever more brand-sceptical and increasingly immune to hard-sell tactics, many CEOs choose avenues such as social media to present a less sanitised and more people-oriented view of the characters and issues driving their companies.


The CEO as social media trailblazer


The most visible CEOs in the marketplace are clearly masters of social media. Popular for his columns on LinkedIn, Richard Branson personally checks social channels every morning. Meanwhile Air Asia’s Tony Fernandes has 1.5 million Twitter followers, and gained considerable praise for his open approach following the loss of AirAsia Indonesia flight QZ8501 in 2014.



The most visible CEOs in the marketplace are clearly masters of social media.



Using social channels has been one of the weapons in the armoury of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who took over the helm in 2014. In three and a half years, the tech giant saw its market value leap by $250 billion – a transformative journey described in his 2017 book ‘Hit Refresh’.

Many responded to Satya Nadella’s personal account of his initial struggles coping with his son’s severe cerebral palsy, which ultimately taught him the value of empathy. Elsewhere, he has written of the importance of empathy to the process of innovation within a company.

Yet what about situations where regulations restrict a leader from speaking freely? To overcome internal resistance, there needs to be an understanding between the company’s social media advocates and its compliance or legal team about what will and will not be shared. Social media should not be about posting financial results; rather it’s an opportunity to show the company’s human side and give it a personality. 



Stronger social performers


Even in industries with a lower profile, CEO engagement through social can have a demonstrable boost to revenues. In a survey of the Australian financial services sector, Hootsuite found that organisations embracing social were 51% more likely to reach their quota – while 78% of social sellers outperformed peers who didn’t engage in social media.

You might think that such examples would no longer be the exception to the rule in business. Yet despite the inherent benefits of utilising social media, it is surprising to find that many Fortune 500 CEOs still have no properly curated social media presence.

So what does an engaged company look like? According to Forbes’ report on the top 50 socially engaged companies, brands like Amazon, Google and Starbucks are leading the way in terms of social engagement – matched by annual growth rates of between 11% and 27%. Forbes’ found that 93% of the list’s executives understood the importance of engagement, with 88% of those companies leading in terms of customer experience having created a position responsible for customer engagement in the past year.

On the flip side, disengaged employees can be extremely detrimental to output – resulting in high rates of absenteeism, a lack of brand loyalty and lost productivity. A report notes that in Germany, 84% of workers are disengaged with their work – while absenteeism was 67% higher among actively disengaged employees.


Mobilising your people


Advocacy works better when its start at the top. The Hootsuite research suggests that over 40% of staff social media performance can be attributed to the activities of executives.

Having modelled the way forward, wise CEOs will then invest in social advocate training so that their employees can join the social media conversation. They will provide clear policies and guidelines to help keep their workforce on message in supporting the company’s objectives.

For PageGroup, building a successful social engagement platform has meant its frontline team shares quality content with ease. Dubbed Page Social, the platform netted the LinkedIn award for Most Socially Engaged Recruiter in 2017.

Group Marketing Director Eamon Collins explains, “It works through a mixture of serving our consultants a constant feed of content to share on trending topics across our disciplines – some of it generated by our in-house editorial team, some of it curated from elsewhere; and encouraging them to create and share their own content and join the debate on social.” He emphasises, “You really cannot grow your presence on social without everyone being actively involved.”

There’s a further impetus for this approach: with Facebook announcing in early 2018 that it would take a tougher stance on branded content, enabling more social advocacy and social sharing from within the organisation has become key to attracting more looks and likes.



You really cannot grow your presence on social without everyone being actively involved.

Eamon Collins Group, Marketing Director, PageGroup



Key takeaways


  • Building the brand requires an emotional connection with employees and customers
  • Properly managed, social media is a critical weapon in encouraging engagement
  • A business-wide social media strategy will help employees to support the company’s objectives
  • The legitimate concerns of compliance and legal teams must be addressed
  • Social media advocacy platforms can be a key to circumventing ad-blocking software




We hope you enjoyed reading this article, which is part of our ‘Executive Trends’ series where we explore the biggest challenges facing senior business leaders and executives today. The series is already in its 3rd edition, and you can access all previous articles by clicking here

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