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How social is your CEO?

Paul Johns
By Paul Johns on Jun 1, 2015 10:17:00 AM

THE CEO NEEDS TO EVOLVE INTO A SOCIAL ANIMAL OR FACE EXTINCTION.

There's a lot being written about CEO and C-suite involvement in social media. The rules are not changing... they have changed… and there is no going back.

Social media is creating a very different animal in the c-suite. It is putting the CEO right at the very center of customer engagement. The person in the driving seat can no longer afford to be untouchable and aloof.

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I am not going to name names here or site any glaringly obvious recent examples. The bad press - and more significantly - the 'noise' on social media and the aftermath of that noise - speak for themselves. And that's the point.

Not so long ago the very idea a customer could resolve an issue by getting in touch with the man or woman at the top was fanciful. Of course, the majority of issues between consumer and brand are dealt with satisfactorily lower down the customer service pecking order. However, what happens when a customer believes an issue has not been resolved? Back in the post social day, escalating a complaint was a frustrating process. Not now. Social media amplifies issues. It is only when the customer is satisfied that the noise is silenced. 

The social explosion has re-shaped the corporate landscape and now the buck doesn’t stop until in reaches the top. Social has put the CEO right at the heart of a brand’s customer service offering. 

If you think this is a worrying and dangerous trend - you need to think again. 

The growing power of social is also creating real opportunities for the most senior executives in a company. The Social CEO can stamp his or her character on a business - ever present, ever watchful, always available and ultimately accountable. When you command the highest salary and some of the biggest bonuses in a business why would you think you could be anything else?

The c-suite is being thrust into the social spotlight and it is being forced to wake up. Those senior company executives who are prepared to stick their necks out and dismiss the power and influence of social media in today's 'trust' economy are a rare and disappearing breed.

Two years ago a survey by Domo and CEO.com found that nearly 70% of Fortune 500 CEOs had no presence whatsoever on any major social media channels. However, according to a blog this week in the Harvard Business Review the level of social engagement within the c-suite of the Fortune 500 companies has doubled since 2010 - That's CEOs engaging through social with their customers. The same survey by Weber Shandwick and KRC Research also polled 630 senior professionals from around the world. It found 76 per cent of executives now think it is a good idea for CEOs to be social. This is encouraging… but there is a long way to go and I believe the c-suite is going to have to adopt and adapt to a 'social first' strategy or perish.

I did read last week of one CEO from a thriving online business saying he was refusing to engage in social because it created more work for him. He did, however, chose to explain his stance on a blog. The irony was inescapable and I suspect he will be eating his words on social in the not too distant future.

Marketing guru, Brian Solis, says we live in the age of ‘Digital Darwinism’. Social media is the catalyst of this industrial evolution where only those who can adapt to and embrace the new will survive. 

Strategist B.L Ochman went further: Back in 2009 when she told Business Week:  “For companies, resistance to social media is futile. Millions of people are creating content for the social web. Your competitors are already there. Your customers have been there for a long time. If your business isn’t putting itself out there, it ought to be.” She was right. But I think some of the recent examples of c-suite mishandling of social engagement during a crisis have finally shown the same edict now applies across the board. 

Social is nurturing a culture of customer service integrity.

Social media is amplifying the synergy between that brand and its CEO. The two are synonymous. This is a key benefit because social puts the brand and the CEO together and creates a corporate with a human characteristics. And if there is one thing which has been missing from consumer engagement with brands in the old call-centre and email model - its human contact. 

Social evolution is also re-writing the recruitment manual. I doubt whether a prospective CEOs will get look in at the top job unless they already have a social profile - a life and a voice and most importantly, a following on social media. The sum total of their timelines across a range of social platforms is a vital facet of their CV.  Recruiting for less senior roles via social is pretty much the norm these days. The same rules are beginning to influence executive search. 

The Scottish fashion brand, Lyle & Scott recently advertised for a new CEO on Twitter. Interviews for top jobs are now including demands for candidates to demonstrate how they would fulfill and explain their new role on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and so on. 'Old school' corporate headhunters who meet prospects at their club take note. 

I am going to succumb to the dinosaur metaphor here: Despite the seismic change taking place I suspect there is a hardcore of Diplodocus out there in the corporate swamps who will resist embracing social media...right up to the moment of their extinction. They simply have no idea of the size or scale of the comet which is about to hit them.

There is also a herd of Triceratops out there roaming the corporate plains. Thick skinned with their heads to the ground. They are the guys playing lip service to social but actually pretending it isn't happening. Their time is over. 

It is one thing to talk about embracing social its another to wrap your corporate arms around it. And it is the corporate beasts with the strongest arms who need to be doing the hugging. Escaping the dinosaur age and surviving and thriving in the brighter social landscape needs leadership. The drive towards being a 'Social First' company needs to come from the top.

Answers on a postcard please - or better still - on social. @paulj0hns

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