The True Influence of CEOs on Social Media: Relevance Trumps Followers

What’s better than boasting a million followers on Twitter? For C-Suite executives, it’s achieving a high degree of relevance and influence within an industry. Having a handful of industry luminaries believe that their point of view and content are relevant and share-worthy on social media is better than a massive group of not-so-engaged and not very influential followers.

Put simply, executives on social media will be judged by the company they keep. Why? Because it’s more important to have the right people around you that add value to your business, rather than legions of non-essential followers. On social networks, C-Suite executives that are positioned as ‘central’ to the most prominent players in the industry have increased authority, and benefit from the flow of interesting ideas, achieving insight into trends happening inside their community.

In mathematical terms, this is called network centrality. Within the world of social media, centrality closely matches what we think of as influence or prominence in a given community. With the rapid evolution of online business networks and the flood of meta-data available from Twitter, network centrality has become an essential tool for understanding online relationships and activity.Most importantly, it allows us to move past the outdated correlation of influence to follower numbers, as we can now analyze an individual’s true influence based on engagement with a select few. This is a more accurate measure of executive standing.

This quality vs. quantity distinction is becoming increasingly important as senior executives across a wide swath of industries begin to adapt to a social world. When CEOs wade into the waters of social media for the first time, they quickly discover that there are myriad strong and disparate voices that influence the industry. These power players ignite and guide discussions on trends, and they enjoy a sizable share of voice on specific topics. “Communities of interest” for business leaders can be examined and cataloged to determine the level of importance they have for the individual executive. The relationships within the communities can be mapped and visualized to better understand an executive’s most relevant network — the people creating and sharing content that will truly add value to a business leader’s busy day.

As C-Suite leaders are still discovering, social media has emerged as a full-fledged leadership tool. Successful engagement comes from listening to, and adding your voice to conversations within influential communities. That means creating and sharing smart, relevant content consistently, commenting on emerging trends and directing others to insights from respected sources. This grows and strengthens thought leadership and reputation. Success hinges upon how well executives can tap into the existing networks of the powerful few — high-profile analysts, market researchers, scientists, technology leaders, journalists, and big thinkers. These are the individuals who exert the most gravitational pull within the community. Having other thought leaders amplify a message because they found it useful ─ this is the holy grail of social media for the C-Suite.

At BRANDfog, we work with CEOs to build leadership profiles and establish enough of a rapport and mutual respect with key members in the community that he or she can reach out to arrange a meeting in the real world. This occurs more frequently than people think, and includes meetings with industry press, analysts and other prominent business leaders that would not have happened otherwise. Therefore the relevant social ROI metric becomes one’s position relative to those who make up the innermost circles of influence within the community — and the extent to which he or she is able to pick and choose influencers to connect with in the real world.

The concept of network centrality lends itself nicely to an analytical approach to measuring true influence in social media. In an upcoming post, I will share more details about how C-suite executives can define their most relevant community, interpret their place within the social networks centered on that community and its most influential members, and then execute a strategy to improve their standing.

Social media is much more than a networking tool and a numbers game for CEOs. It’s the key to establishing leadership prominence, building relationship capital and transforming influence into loyalty within communities that matter.

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