Why are bosses anti-social media?

Why are bosses anti-social media?  There seems to be a lot of articles asking this question lately … perhaps even blaming bosses for the destruction of our social media hopes and dreams.

I’ve been thinking about this and think I have found at least one answer to the question in some classic management research.

One of my favorite business books is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.  This was written way back in 2001 when books had more than one idea in them.

The book is a classic and one of the lasting concepts was the “Level 5 Leader” — an executive that personifies genuine personal humility blended with intense professional will.  While we may picture the prototypical executive as a charismatic celebrity dynamo like Richard Branson (perfect social media material) more than 20 years of research led Collins to believe that the most effective business leaders are more typically shy, unpretentious, even awkward.

In other words, brilliant executives who produced the most sustained business excellence in corporate America were definitely NOT the social media type!

I think there is a personality bias in social media because it is so … social.  A lot of people just DON’T WANT TO ENGAGE (frequently followed by the words “damn it!”).  That doesn’t make them evil, or even the bane of your social media existence.  In fact, as Collins shows, they may be the greatest boss you could wish for — but they just are not going to play nice with you and tweet.

According to a recent survey by public relations agency Weber Shandwick, 64% of CEOs are not using social media, although 93% of them are using traditional methods to communicate with external audiences. That doesn’t come as a real surprise to me.

But an “anti-social” boss doesn’t mean your dreams of social media rainbows are over, it may just mean it will not involve your top executive.  Instead of spending your time trying to “change” a perfectly good boss, look for other ways to deploy in your organization. That is a key trait of an effective leader — work with the cards you are dealt and overcome. Don’t keep wishing for a Branson-boss. Deal with it. Move on.

I should end with a caveat. I am assuming that your boss is effective, but just not social.   However, if your boss is stupid, all bets are off.

Even if a boss doesn’t want to be social, they still have to understand it enough to say “yeah, go ahead.”  There is no such thing as a grassroots strategic effort. The sponsorship must come from the top.

And with that, I’ll turn it over to you, the awesome {grow} community. What problems (and successes) are you having with YOUR boss and social media? Let’s work it out together in the comment section …

Illustration compliments of toothpaste for breakfast.

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  • I know 2 CEOs of social media agencies (1 with 10+ employees, another with 30+ employees), who are oddly anti-social. Neither have blogs, Twitter accounts, etc, etc, etc. Yet, they run agencies that I would consider successful. Actually, neither of their companies have social media presences worth talking about either.

    As a result, I think growth of their businesses is highly reliant on word of mouth & traditional cold calling, interruption-type sales methods, but much like in Good to Great, if that is the way the bosses think, that’s probably the way the organization is going to work.

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  • Paul


    My direct experience with bosses and social media fell under two unbelievable but absolutely true situations:

    1. My boss didn’t like that I (or anyone else on his team) leveraged channels to gain knowledge that ultimately made his subject knowledge inferior to ours. Simply put, we knew more than he did. He enjoyed the power of his position and did not like his subordinates…er…direct reports talking in meetings where they showed more knowledge.

    2. When he did engage social media he made social media mandatory. He required that his team get twitter accounts. He did this after I left the company, but I followed the team on twitter, and for the first few months, they didn’t use the platform. Neither did the boss. They all had accounts, but never used it.

    While studies can talk about leaders and their potentially anti-social behavior, we have to remember that in a corporate setting, the politics of power and knowledge run rampant, and those caught up in that environment rarely let their teams do anything more than report to them. Sad, but very true.

  • Mark

    @Eric — So ironic and probably the ultimate case studies! Corporate culture is so overlooked in the context of social marketing strategy yet core to the success. Thanks for this great observation Eric!

    @Paul — Did you see me cringe? Right there, coming through your computer screen! Wow, that is difficult. Perhaps that is one of those bosses in the “stupid” category. Abandon ship! Thanks for this story Paul.

  • Mark –

    As always – stimulating topic for conversation from you.

    I have worked in a number of “change management” positions – now in social media at http://www.hfmus.com. The approach I have learned to take is creating “positive viruses.” That is you capture your (social media) strategy and define simple executions steps. Keep your objectives and benefits simple for an audience. (You don’t need to initially lay out everything.) Share it with a number of people. Find the one person or group that is willing to take on something new. Work your @$$ off to make them successful. Then stand back and shine the biggest fringing light on them. Publicize their success. Other will follow. Everyone wants to emulate success.

    Social Steve

  • This is an interesting perspective, Mark. I think that it’s perfectly fine for a CEO or executive to be antisocial himself/herself. However, this becomes a problem when antisocial CEO dictates that the entire company cannot use social media. That’s where I’ve seen the biggest problems. I think it’s unrealistic for many CEOs to use social media. However, I do think they should trust their marketing and customer service teams to develop and implement a social media strategy that works for their business. I think all too often bosses tend to shut out things they don’t understand. Or, if they do allow the use of social media, they dictate how it should be used without understanding how the platform works. In my opinion, that’s where the problem lies.

  • I wouldn’t technically say I have a boss, but, knowing my contractor very well, I know she has dabbled in social media somewhat using Twitter but hasn’t quite fulfilled its use.

    The primary reason is that she is a traditional face-to-face person meeting people with handshakes and phone calls rather than reading streams of tweets. Likewise, I think the traditional approach uses up more time which might be considered an excuse but I think is a valid reason in this case.

    I wouldn’t say she is anti-social media either and is very freely open to it’s use by her employees (3). It would have to be delegated to the employees instead though.

  • Mark

    @Steve — I learn something from you every time you comment. Man, you are awesome. Thanks for this great strategy today.

    @Laura — Agreed. Those are the people I put in the “stupid” category. You can’t constrain professionals by your own personal blind spots. Trust people until they give you a reason not to! Thanks Laura!

    @Johnny — I think we need to respect “old school.” It is probably what built her company so who is to argue, especially if she’s wise enough to allow others to experiment on the social web? Very interesting perspective. Thanks for taking the time to share.

  • I like this definition: “In other words, brilliant executives who produced the most sustained business excellence in corporate America were definitely NOT the social media type!”

    But maybe the answer is much simpler; Maybe the boss just don’t have time.

    Most bosses I’ve had/met over the years and busy, multi-tasking people with a stupid amount of important information to deal with in their heads.

    Maybe there just isn’t time to squeeze in more.

    Now, when a person grows up with social media and THEN become a boss it will be a different matter.

  • I’m a final year student so my experience is limited, but that is not to say I have none at all!!!!

    On placement I worked for a small agency. For the month I was there our priority was getting our clients to consider using social media.

    Our typical responses were:

    “Facebook, that’s just for flirting.”

    “I don’t even know what Twitter is”

    “Why would I want to expose myself”

    I know this is hitting from a slightly different angle but I sure as hell hope you influential bloggers start influencing some CEOs so my job is easier when I get out there and start talking to them about this channel and that platform.

  • Mark

    @Robert F – This is an excellent point. I mentioned this in a previous post – Would a board of directors pay a CEO to write the company newsletter? Of course he or she will engage with customers, but at a much higher level. Time and other responsibilities are a big factor here. It’s been a while since you commented. Glad to have you back!

    @Stephen — That is just hilarious. I feel your pain. My favorite CEO quote: “I am not interested in any Facebox or Tweeter.” Thanks for taking the time to add your perspective today!

  • with all due respect, being humble is not the same as being non- or even anti- social. Collins was saying Level 5 leaders give credit to others when things go right and take blame when things go wrong.

  • Perhaps a subscription to the new BtoB Social Media Marketer newsletter may help bosses be pro-social media.

    Check it out (and subscribe) here: http://ow.ly/2WLyw

    Just a thought 🙂

  • Mark

    @Brett – Certainly you are correct. Nothing wrong with being humble! But Collins also describes Level 5 Leaders as quiet, awkward and avoiding the spotlight.

    For example, this is how he described Darwin Smith, the brilliant but shy leader of Kimberly Clark:

    “Compared with (out-going) CEOs, Darwin Smith seems to have come from Mars. Shy, unpretentious, even awkward, Smith shunned attention. When a journalist asked him to describe his management style, Smith just stared back at the scribe from the other side of his thick black-rimmed glasses. He was dressed unfashionably, like a farm boy wearing his first J.C. Penney suit. Finally, after a long and uncomfortable silence, he said, “Eccentric.” Needless to say, the Wall Street Journal did not publish a splashy feature on Darwin Smith.”

    @Rae — Thanks for the link!

  • Mark, I really enjoyed this article and like that it illustrates a reason (and route around*) an otherwise great boss may never be suited for social media. The best CEOs I’ve had the pleasure of working with all have had the ability to inspire those around them. Each have done it in different ways but they all had the ability to make their employees (and marketing agency) aspire to excellence and feel part of a shared and very worthwhile endeavor. I’ve left conference rooms and large corporate gatherings after hearing these leaders speak and thought to myself “I love working for this company and that leader”.

    But as I read your article and thought back through all the years and all these leaders, I can only imagine a few that would have been natural bloggers much less twitterers.

    As Fransguard mentioned, being too busy to blog is probably a realistic reason many bosses aren’t suited for social media either. That fact brings back the lively debate you engaged in recently with @mitchjoel about guest and/or ghost blogging.

    I believe it’s worth a creative effort by any marketing or PR staff fortunate enough to have a great and inspiring boss to find away to convey that to their marketplace via social media in some shape or form. Maybe it’s through quotes or notes or repurposing other recorded content where the boss more comfortably communicates.

    But some bosses just have no Branson in them at all. That’s no reason to give up on them, or give up on social media as part of your markteting mix.

    *As you say, “The sponsorship must come from the top” or your social media and inbound marketing efforts are built on a fragile and flawed foundation.


  • Please excuse all my typos and missing words. Just read what I wrote and noticed my mistakes. Too late now.

  • Mark

    @Billy — You have become the “color commentator” of {grow}. You always have these great stories that put flesh on the bones of my blog. That grand-dad story you told last week — I’ll bet I have used that 10 times since. A great analogy for the casual and legitimate warmth of Twitter friends. You are really outstanding writer and a true friend to take the time to share with this community. Thank you so much!

  • Kathy Snavely

    Mark, read your post and let me re-spin in light of an experience I had today that keeps getting repeated. We should communicate with our customers, our audience in a way that is meaningful to THEM. If we really care to create relationships that a reciprocated, you meet people where they are. And for some of those people, it’s not social media – but for GROWing numbers of the populace, it’s the only place to be. But this message is lost on the deaf.

  • Kathy Snavely

    Oops – I Billy-ized too. But if there’s someone I’m not afraid to emulate, it’s @billymitchell1. Relationships that ARE reciprocated.

  • You know, I think the most important point in your blog was “more than 20 years of research led Collins to believe that the most effective business leaders are more typically shy, unpretentious, even awkward”.
    A leader doesn’t need to be good at everything. If fact a good leader knows how to find people who are better than they are in certain areas. The key is the leadership needs to recognize the value even if they not necessarily have the skills to participate. I think in some cases, we are being to hard on our corporate leaders and expecting way too much.
    To “us”, social media is everything. To corporate leadership, it’s just one of many “things” they need to be paying attention to.

  • @Billy “But some bosses just have no Branson in them at all. ”

    haha, love that phrase. I’ll borrow that for the earliest suitable meeting 🙂

  • Mark

    @Kathy — So Billy has become an adjective now? Usually that’s a bad thing but I clearly see this as a term of endearment!

    There was a post written recently by a PR blogger in the UK which said that social media would die down and that true PR pros should focus on traditional media. She was completely serious. I should have known better, but I commented, got scalded, came back for more, got scalded again. The numbers are just so overwhelming. The success stories are piling up. The best marketing companies in the world are leading the revolution now. How can somebody not notice? But the resistance is very strong and emotional sometimes!

    Thanks for chiming in. I feel your pain!

  • Mark

    @Steve — You get the gold star today. Wow that just sums it up beautifully Steve! One purpose in writing this was to encourage people to be more open to the possibility that their bosses really do know what they are doing and that writing a blog may be number 2,000 on their to-do list. I sometimes challenge people by asking them if they would expect the CEO to write the company newsletter, a press release or even their own speech. Of course not. Then why is there an expectation that they are going to have the time AND ABILITY to blog or tweet? Let’s get real folks. Well said, Steve.

    @Fransgaard — Billy is one of my favorite writers. He can turn a phrase so beautifully and is so wise. I highly recommend his company’s blog and Billy’s latest post:

  • Good post, Mark. What all this means is that those executives who want to be social should be, and those who don’t? Well, don’t force them to be! Like I tell clients, if a CEO or another executive does not want to write a blog or have a YouTube channel or whatever, then you can’t make them have one. If they aren’t passionate about it then they will fail miserably.

    PR at Sunrise

  • Mark:

    The deck is stacked…you are a great blogger, because you are a great
    writer. You have also tied all the pieces together under the Social Media
    (SM) tent. I read your blog today about Anti-Social CEOs and AGAIN think you
    are on target.

    I was lucky enough to do a very brief class with Jim Collins at Stanford 15+
    years ago where he described being ‘expunged’ from HP because of
    misalignment of personal and corporate goals (HP was ALL tech…he,
    well…not). It stuck with me. He did not present it as failure, but as a
    welcomed progression…and then ‘Good to Great’…big change.

    Social Media is ‘big change’. Is it technological, generational, both or
    other? I wonder if Collins is a better fit for HP today as social must
    drive tech more to soft skills. I can’t imagine the Fortune 100s of my past
    navigating this with any skill. So I am sure you have a great market, with
    100s and small business alike.

    My mind is getting ‘fat’ from focus on day-to-day ops of business instead of
    learning, so I have really enjoyed your class and hope to return for your
    Nov. blogging class.

    This email and rule of 160/140 asks…twitter dictatorship? When the


  • I’m surprised no one has mentioned Risk, Liability and Damage Control. I would think THAT would be a key reason why bosses seem to be anti-social media: the potential risk to the company incurred by comments published may be greater than the possible benefits they might reap.

  • Yikes…reality! Sally G is right–the bigger they are, the more right she is. Unfortunately the risk assessment is impossible to do from the benefit side (now) so the downside will look enormous to most managers. Why do it? Could survival hinge on Social Media for some companies now? I don’t know…but that would be the ‘why’.

  • Mark

    @Worob — Well said! Very wise counsel. Thank you!

    @RJ — Thanks for your kind words. I’m completely jealous that you got to meet Jim Collins. Absolutely one of my favorite authors! And on your point about risk assessment, very true. Both the benefits and risks to a lot of this is intangible.

    @Sally — Very true. A local CEO got into hot water because he broke SEC violations with a tweet! You make an extremely good point! Nice to see you back online!

  • Very complex issue here Mark. You cover a very broad swath of people, roles, duties, job titles etc.

    I can posit that bosses should look to incorporate social if it benefits the group, org or business. It doesn’t mean every person in an org can be social. And work vs personal time needs to be separated. Should the line technician be on facebook at work? Or the code writer or finance guy spend much time on twitter during work?

    But can the technologies be used to lower cost and increase internal communication like an Intranet does? or email?

    When it comes to marketing will a boss rate the spending buckets based on ROI and see Social on the low end since it is so hard to measure?

    What about the C Suite of a public company putting in 12 hr days 6 days a week trying to make their numbers and social to them is a waste of time. I can vouch for this Mark. My last corp job I made great money. I started viewing every activity as time vs money. Should I iron or dry clean? Time is money. My buddy makes 500k a year. I can imagine if he was working balls out for 10 hours a day he might view what he could lose from those 20 mins a day? He doesn’t use Facebook or Twitter but he likes the phone and email. He never found the time vs money value proposition and I bet many C level folks are the same.

    As to be against social the majority of us barely use it. I estimate 10-15mil active US twitter users and 27-30mil active Facebook users in the US each day based on the published activity numbers, site visits, time spent. Heavy users are a minority big time. Active meaning participating. For every 2 Facebook logins there is only 1 Like, Comment, Share combined. So I wonder what everyone is doing! LOL So wonder how many people watched the Facebook Southpark episode and found it silly to be on the site (so glad they haven’t done a Twitter episode!)

  • Superb points Howie. Thanks for the well thought-out contrinbution!

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