By Tamsin Oxford - November 26th, 2014

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Just like the corporation, the CEO is a brand and must engage on the right platforms in order for communication to be effective

If one word had to be used to describe the social media strategies and interactions of today it would be engagement.  Social media has been used as a tool to reach customers from the start, but the methodology behind its use has changed. 
 
Where adverts and Facebook pages talked at the consumer, following the traditional lines of product sell and awareness, they now talk to the customer, creating a brand identity and making the customer feel as if they are a part of something bigger. 
 
It is in this arena that the CEO’s social presence needs to emerge – where they become as much of a brand as the organisation they represent.
 
In the Weber Shandwick survey – The Social CEO: Executives Tell All – Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist at Weber Shandwick, says: “Companies that are truly social and engage their employees and customers in genuine conversation will be recognised as the new corporate leaders. CEOs who are social will be the next big thing.”
 
However, the digital CEO is going to need more than a few tweets to engage on the social frontier. And this demands that they have an understanding of which platforms to use and a measure of digital intelligence. The CEO needs to use specific, strategically aligned digital tools to advance their social agenda. These can range from the company website and intranet to videos and social feeds. The choice of platform is reliant on the content, brand values and the core message the CEO wants to communicate.
 

The platform conundrum

It seems fairly self-explanatory that the CEO’s choice of channel is one that will tie in most effectively with the brand and the customer. 
 
Luke Ormerod is the Director at Blueclaw, a digital marketing agency, points out that the choice of platform is inherently impacted by the sector and the brand. A fashion CEO will push the brand through social channels that have a large image-based focus, while the CEO in the digital sector is more likely to use a blog with Google+ and LinkedIn carrying the social chatter. 
 
Each platform has its own strengths and advantages. According to the Social CEO study, 90% of executives believe that the company intranet is a good way to share news and information followed by 87% voting for the company website and social media at only 80%. However, social media shifted straight into the lead for its ability to give the company a human face when used by the CEO with 75% saying it helped the CEO to build relationship with news media and 73% saying it gave employees a chance to communicate with the CEO.
 
“I’m an advocate of Facebook quite simply because it networks people, whereas Twitter networks ideas,” says Arjun Panesar, Director at Diabetes.co.uk. “For the CEO, realistically, both are essential.”
 
For Panesar, Facebook was the right choice for his brand and levels of consumer engagement, for Graham McGregor, CEO of Bold Context, its Twitter and LinkedIn. “Twitter can be used for communication, but LinkedIn should create a respected professional profile linked to experience and not necessarily linked to brand. The purpose is to create an image of professionalism (LinkedIn) but approachability (Twitter).”
 
Victoria Tomlinson, Chief Executive of Northern Lights, doesn’t think that there is any kind of best social platform at all. “As with all communications, you need to understand your customers and what they are doing and where. It would be foolish to target 60 year-old professionals with a Facebook campaign, or hope that a 12-year-old will spot your blog post on LinkedIn. Social media works best when you have a number of platforms and post relevant content to each – one rarely works on its own,” she concludes.
 

The personal persona

Another element that has to be considered before the CEO shifts onto social is whether or not their personality is suited. In some cases they may not have the requisite skills to use social media effectively and may offend the very people they are trying to attract. In others, they may be a magnetic presence that can transform a brand’s identity via their social media posts.
 
“Not every chief executive is a good communicator,” says Tomlinson. “Remember Tony Hayward, CEO of BP? If he had been tweeting, it would just have magnified his perceived lack of empathy and communication skills. A great example of an engaging CEO, however, is Tom Riordan, Chief Executive of Leeds City Council (@tomriordan). His tweets cover the wide variety of Council activities. He praises community initiatives, responds to queries and is generally a great ambassador.”
 
“I use social every day to listen to and engage with people, whether they are customers, employees or simply interested people, I enjoy the ability that social gives me to have conversations,” says Xenios Thrasyvoulou, Founder & CEO of PeoplePerHour.com and SuperTasker.com. “These conversations with customers allow me to understand how well we’re doing our job, and with employees it enables me to understand what’s going on within the business.”
 
The CEO’s online persona may not mimic exactly who they are as a person, but it does need to be carefully structured to ensure that it isn’t an empty voice without any real person behind it.
 
Jennifer Janson, author of the Reputation Handbook and MD of Six Degrees, says: “People are generally intolerant of the same behaviour online as they are off – if someone is dishonest, patronising, dismissive it isn’t going to go down well.  CEOs need to think about a reputation strategy and then how social fits into it. Behaviour is the great multiplier when it comes to building a positive reputation.”
 
“Your virtual world brand must match who you are in the real world. Unlike personal interactions, the web gives you fewer opportunities to build emotional connections with your audience,” says Bertie Stephens, founder and CEO of Flubit.com. “You need to be crystal clear about what you want to communicate and commit to expressing the truth in everything you do online. Being ‘real’ when building your brand in bits and bytes will help you stand out and make true connections with your virtual contacts.”
 
The development of an online persona can be tweaked, but it cannot be faked. Ultimately the personality of the CEO needs to come through in social communications; otherwise it is unlikely that their voice will be seen as authentic. 
 
Socialising Your CEO
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