CEO's - feel the fear of social media and do it anyway!

A couple of weeks ago I was involved in an offsite meeting with the senior leadership team of a publicly listed company. I’ve yet to attend one of these meetings where improving internal communication is not one of the action items!

As the CEO was summing up his ideas I found it hard to believe that the communication basics they were aiming for were not already enshrined. It also occurred to me that the traditional top-down approach of “town hall” gatherings with leaders presenting to the people, then pushing the messages through the organisation on a monthly or quarterly basis, has lost much of its currency.

Sure, there is still some merit in holding formal meetings and producing and disseminating the “little book” on who we are, what we do and how we do it. But to build employee passion leaders need to be more accessible, personable, timely and savvy with their communication.

The missing link of course is how leaders are using social media. If there is still a preference for a traditional one way, top-down approach to ‘getting the word out’, maybe this explains the woefully slow social media figures for CEOs.

Recent research published in Forbes reveals some startling facts about how leaders are hiding from the social media conversation. More than half the U.S. population has eagerly embraced sites like Facebook and more than a third are using Twitter, yet only 7.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs use Facebook, and just 4% have opened Twitter accounts. In all, 70% of big company CEOs have no presence on social networks. And research for the Fortune 500 Social CEO Index shows that only nine CEOs in a 100-day period had tweeted and only two CEOs had more than 500 friends. I would hope these figures are somewhat higher in Australasia but suspect not.

Social media isn’t a passing trend and we do need to take it seriously – it’s where our customers live. I wonder, through my own experience of adapting and adopting, if the lack of uptake reflects an unwillingness to learn new technology, plus the perception that busy leaders “don’t have time”. A CEO I know recently admitted that he was just plain scared of putting himself out there and putting his foot in it, which might be closer to the truth!

One high-flyer who is a predictably early adopter is Richard Branson. Where most corporate blogs deliver formal announcements, the Virgin Group website has a diary–style blog written with Branson’s first-person flair. He uses social media largely to promote his philanthropic work, and to let the various parts of his business know what his focus is on. His personal, direct touch no doubt also supports the perception of Virgin as an approachable, magnetic brand.

With social media people expect to be engaged in a conversation. They expect to have their say and to be treated as equals, they expect the communication to be instant and they expect to be able to access that info through various channels, when they feel like it.

These expectations about how we communicate in our social life have led to social media style tools to help people communicate and collaborate at work. Tools like Yammer bring everything people love about social media into an organisation-only online space. There’s no escaping it!

Yes social media can be fraught with dangers, and yes it can be time consuming, but leaders don’t have to do it all themselves. If you aren’t on board yet, consider a few hours with a social media specialist a timely investment in your business. It’s certainly on my to-do list!

Posted: Sunday 29 July 2012

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