The Business Benefits of a Connected CEO

Having a CEO that is active on social media offers insights into a company that were previously unobtainable following the divisions of labour that has characterised past industrial revolutions, and is an asset to a company and its employees — at least until he sends you a friend request.

In the context of this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer and an inversion of influence, access to increasing information about CEOs helps people find their doppelgangers in the upper echelons of the corporate world, with feelings of trust linked to the perceptions of shared characteristics.

This is something that many of the most powerful leaders in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait understand, and benefit from a strong presence on social media channels. The launch of the LinkedIn ‘influencer’ programme in the Middle East is a classic example of this, with Sheikh Mohamed chosen ahead of business heads to be the region’s first power user.

HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum — Ruler of Dubai and Linkedin Influencer

Yet, for most of the UAE’s top companies and Fortune 500 Companies based in the Middle East, the idea of having a social CEO is a work in progress. In a study by CEO.com published this year, 61 percent of Fortune 500 leaders said they have no social media presence; most of those that do use a single network — Twitter. Of those that tweet, a third have only posted 25 times since opening their account; those that are on other platforms rarely seem to join a discussion.

One of the challenges is that the mantra of leading a company in an increasingly competitive world is not an easy one. Executives don’t have time to ‘play’ on social media. But what many don’t realise is that a good 50 percent of any CEOs job involves acting as a communicator — with government and business shareholders, with employees, and with valuable customers.

The foundations are already there; the content is ready to be shared. All that is needed is to develop social media habits. Often, a businesses digital strategy transcends departments, and more often than not it is the CEO that is and should be driving social media engagement. Doing so, can cascade down through an organisation and impact on how staff use social.

That said, there’s another time pressure that can restrict CEOs ability to engage markets on social media: the time it takes to understand consumer behavior in a shifting landscape. For example, the average social media user spends two hours a day on social platforms and studies have shown that millennials watch more YouTube than TV, and three out of four consumers say social media impacts their buying decisions. There’s little question that this trend will continue to dictate how, where and when CEOs use social media to achieve their business objectives.

While raising one’s head above the proverbial parapet when done in a hurry or without the right guidance comes with certain reputational risks, many of them are far outweighed by the potential benefits of being able to curate public sentiment, make public announcements, and receive direct feedback on products and services from audiences you hope to market to.

Since true innovation requires an understanding of how technology can aid this process, social media is important. Now more than ever, savvy technology investments are vital to maintaining a business advantage. The C-suite doesn’t need to code, but developing strategies capable of driving growth requires a relationship among those who set, execute, and consume content through the technology that facilitates those relationships.

In short, if you want to future proof your business these days you need to recognise the fact that organisations prefer leaders who are working hard to invest in themselves to stay relevant. This is an attitude bias not an age bias. So think about where your business is heading and who is embracing social. This should inform who is in your executive teams and crucially who is not.

Some of the key benefits CEOs experience when using social media:

1. Create Buzz and Spread Brand Awareness

CEOs can use social media to build excitement and spread brand awareness about their brand. “Successful executives will no longer be measured just by stock price. Managing and communicating with shareholders, employees, government, community, customers will be table stakes in the future. They are talking about your business anyway.” Peter Aceto CEO, ING DIRECT Canada, Forbes.com Why not be included in the conversation?

2. Show Your Personality

Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook Profile Rocks!

If you want people to relate to your brand then there’s nothing more effective than providing a face behind the company. Mark Zuckerberg has mastered this technique by sharing personal stories, insightful career advice, through Facebook. Yes I know he is CEO of the world’s largest social platform but it’s fantastic that he really believes in its power to help share his philosophy and way of working.

3. Demonstrate Thought Leadership

When Hootsuite analyzed the world’s top 100 CEOs on social media, one common thread was that these CEOs offered valuable content. As Hootsuite goes on to say;

“Establishing yourself as a thought leader, who people want to follow, begins with sharing quality, value-added content. This can include industry insights, leadership tips and advice, commentary on news and trends, video Q&As with followers — and more. With your social and content teams, craft, plan and share this type of content regularly through your social channels.”

4. Thank Employee and Customers

Showing gratitude to both your employees and customers is essential for leaders. While adding a personal touch is always recommended, sometimes it’s hard to thank everyone. Social media provides an opportunity for CEOs to thank the people who have supported them in their company building. Apple CEO Tim Cook excels at this. If you follow him on Twitter you’ll notice that he has lots of tweets and pictures thanking Apple employees and customers for their support.

5. Squash Disasters

As CEO you’re bound to run into a couple of disasters along the way. Social media provides the best platforms to address and handle a crisis for a CEO. For example, the Chairman and CEO of Emirates, Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum and his team handled the EK 521 incident by ensuring he personally sent a message. It focused key facts and the solution and action taken by the brand for the best of interest of Emirates customers. Be a leader, show empathy, respect and assure your ongoing support.

Emirates Crisis Statement During EK521 Incident

6. Learn From Other Leaders

Effective leaders are constantly looking for ways to expand their knowledge of how best to build their people, their companies, and themselves — which they can pass on to others. Connecting with other thought leaders on social media is a simple and easy way to learn something new. Bill Gates has said “I see what other people are doing, what they think is interesting, so I’m learning from other people. I can do all kind of searches on Twitter and say, is there any global health stuff out there, is there any education reform stuff out there?”

7. Engage With Journalists

As already mentioned, social media is an incredible broadcasting tool that provides CEOs the chance to engage and interest their customers, employees, and stakeholders. It can also be used to engage with journalists. Tesla’s Elon Musk not only shares the latest company updates on social media for journalists to report, he also tweets press kits and has one-on-one conversation with journalists.

8. Share Your Values

There is no one better to showcase how to share your values with the wider population that HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He has 1.7 million Instagram followers, 3.5m on Facebook and 6.4 million on Twitter to showcase his vision to encourage a constructive dialogue and come up with creative ideas to help in the development of the Arab society, especially in light of the belief of His Highness in the importance of using these communication mediums to better serve the Arab society. The UAE considers communication as a key principle and this is evident through the UAE leadership’s keenness to utilise new social media platforms in bringing together all components of the community and open direct communication channels with people in order to know their opinions and interact with their comments so as to be able to achieve their aspirations and ambitions.

HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Facebook Page

9. Provide Accessibility

How many times can a customer engage and interact with a CEO? Prior to social media, that was a rare occurrence. “CEO’s usually spend millions on sophisticated software to set up ‘cockpits’ that allow them to obtain information throughout their companies, and from their markets. In one fell swoop, social media, particularly Twitter, gives this power to us at no cost!

I receive real time critical feedback, inputs and market responses from the entire universe of our stakeholders,” according to Mr. Anand Mahindra, Auto Industry tycoon from India ranks third in the first ranking of top 30 CEOs on social media prepared by world of CEOs and is a Linkedin Influencer.

10. Recruit New Talent

The best CEOs understand talent is a competitive advantage, use social media to attract that talent. You can more easily connect and keep up those who have high potential whether it’s a good time to hire them or not. The aggregate network between employees and the CEO often represents several million people.

So there you have it. If you want to be successful it’s now more important than ever not just to be a great leader but to share your thoughts and experiences, values and mission as a leader with the rest of your world, your customers and your employees. I’ll wait for the phone calls! Or Tweets, or direct messages….