Yet in this age where two billion people are connected through it and Americans spend nearly two hours on it each day, can the leaders of the world’s biggest brands afford to be disconnected?
Some fear that it’s a sinkhole for time with limited upside. Others see it as impinging upon their PR department or as an unnecessary risk, as Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s social media response to customer concerns over the ban seemed to be this past month.
Here are the CEOs who don’t think so.
Jack Salzwedel proves that no industry is too stodgy to develop a personality: Twitter gives him a direct-to-consumer channel which he avidly uses to build trust and resolve customer issues. A study by Domo pegged him as the world’s most engaged CEO on Twitter. He’s replied to customer queries eight times more and posted nearly 100 times more than his colleagues. When asked, he replied to Domo in a tweet: “My belief is social media is no longer something to consider. It is something C-level execs must engage in.”
Richard Branson teaches us that a CEO with a finger on the “Tweet” button is worth a thousand press releases. He's the marketing and PR maven whose stunts like an attempted transatlantic hot air balloon crossing to celebrate Virgin Atlantic’s opening have earned him global headlines. He now utilizes social media to achieve the same effect, only for much cheaper.
“Even if you have all the money in the world to spend, the best way to get eyes on your business and get eyes on your product is to establish a social media presence,” he said, when interviewed on the Virgin Group Blog. And with 9.6 million Twitter followers, from Barack Obama to Bill Gates, he holds a truly vast network.
Is any list of socially connected CEOs complete without Bill Gates? He’s the ultimate champion of social causes on, well, social. With a hefty Twitter following of 33 million, he uses social media to educate a much larger audience of consumers than his non-profit’s website can reach, with only 330,000 visits per month, according to SimilarWeb. His tweets give him a global podium to promote awareness about diseases, highlight international poverty, and to give public recognition to his employees.
Few CEOs are more accessible than John Legere. He’s legendary for responding on Twitter to consumer comments within minutes and has built a cult following among millennial customers for being entirely human, even through his apologies following controversial comments. Entrepreneur contributor Jonathan Long Tweeted at him while writing an article and received a direct message response within minutes. "Not all CEOs operate on the same wavelength that Legere does” writes Jonathan, “which is undoubtedly responsible for the company’s strong second quarter.”
Sallie Krawcheck is an advocate of women in the workplace and relies almost exclusively on social media to spread her message and drive business. This keeps Ellevest keyed into consumer interests and “gives us additional avenues if we have the creativity to take advantage of them,” she told New Jersey Business Journal. Her message of professional empowerment has found a welcoming home on LinkedIn where she boasts 1.6 million followers and on Twitter, where she has 44,000.
Elon Musk is the master of brewing hype for his companies. He posts frequent, short bursts of content which leave his audiences begging for more. In July of 2016, following a big meeting, he tweeted "Working on Top Secret Tesla Masterplan, Part 2. Hoping to publish later this week” which received 14,000 likes, was retweeted more than 4,000 times, and received coverage from Vanity Fair, Fortune, Forbes, Reuters, and more.
Mark Bertolini as head of one of the U.S.’s largest healthcare insurance providers and uses social media to cast his company in a positive light. His Twitter account is stuffed with relatable pictures of his family and dogs, but also engages the Aetna community and he isn’t shy about using it to weigh into debates that typically happen behind closed doors like Aetna’s recent scuffle with the U.S. Department of Justice. Social media "is a listening tool," Bertolini told Barrons. "It helps make health-care reform real, and ensures I'm on the right path."
Tim Cook uses social media to connect Apple's with the world. In May of 2015 he became the first Fortune 500 CEO to create a verified Weibo account, a Chinese Twitter equivalent, and quickly accumulated 300,000 followers after posting about Apple’s sustainable manufacturing initiatives there. Similarly, viewers of his Twitter account which boasts more than 4 million followers will find posts in French, German, Turkish, and the languages of virtually every country that he tours. For Cook, social media shows global markets that he cares.
Described by Fortune as a “social media tycoon,” Garyvee (as he’s known on Twitter) shows us that CEOs can build a social media brand through complete customer focus. His raw, inspirational, career-focused videos took off in 2013 and catapulted him from selling wine to internet stardom. Most notably, he doesn’t use his videos to sell audiences anything. “The only thing I want from them is their attention and in return I’m willing to give them everything I’ve got,” Vaynerchuk tells ABC’s correspondent Rebecca Jarvis. His notoriety has vaulted his branding agency VaynerMedia to success.
Mary Barra shows us that just because you’re the head of a Fortune 500 brand and among the largest employers in the country doesn’t mean you have to stick to a sanitized script. She uses Twitter to advocate for social causes like empowering female leaders and nonprofits like GirlsWhoCode. As a result of her work, the company has been showered with awards from Human Rights Campaign, Equal Opportunity Magazine, and Military Times Magazine, and has attracted a generation of new bright-eyed millennial recruits.
These CEOs show that personal social media accounts can be a powerful force for good in customer service, brand building, and market-moving. But before that can happen, they first have to be on it. Not only that, but when you're responsible for the bottom line of your business, you choose the platform that delivers great ROI.