The Social C-Suite. Let’s get real.

social c-suite

Sometimes the hype of social media outstrips common sense. This is one of those times.

There seems to be a growing amount of buzz and attention about creating a “social enterprise.” This is a good thing. Complicated, but good.

But somehow in this same conversation there is this expectation that the CEO, CMO, and other executives should blog and tweet. This was the topic of a lively debate with some friends at SXSW recently and it was heated enough that I thought that perhaps this is an issue for some readers too.

Should your CEO tweet? Probably not.

There are many benefits to executive engagement on the web. It puts a human face on your company, reinforces a brand image and creates an influential voice of authority within an industry. In a time of crisis, communicating through an already-established channel can be an advantage. Having an enthusiastic executive authentically embrace the social web can be a great advantage for a company.

But the fact of the matter is, most executives don’t post, blog or tweet and they shouldn’t have to. If an executive is not interested in enabling the benefits above and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Twitter, I would be perfectly fine with that.

My friend Jay Baer once said that if you don’t love social media, you will suck at social media. Why make people do something they don’t want to do? The risk of embarrassment, awkwardness, or abandonment of the account might outweigh the possible benefits.

Is this how they should be spending their time?

Have you ever spent time with a CEO of a major company? The pressure and demands on their time are overwhelming. Is paying attention to a social media account and responding to tweets really the best way to spend their time? Can they justify that to a board of directors?

In my mind, it’s kind of like asking the CEO to write the company newsletter. Let paid professionals handle the demands of social media … unless those individuals are passionate about being involved.

So here is my advice on the social C-Suite:

1) If they get it, embrace it, and love it … help them to turn this into a true marketing asset.

2) If they are resistant to it, leave it alone. Social C-Suite does not have to be a marketing priority.

What has your experience been? I’ll bet there are some great stories out there for the comment section!

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  • Mark – I agree that it is not the best use of their time. But, a well thought out and timed message can definitely help humanize and show interaction.

  • David Cameron, the GB Prime Minister, tweets.

    What’s interesting is that they’re obviously from him – not some underling – and quite often he shoots himself in the foot. See the Nigella Lawson trial.

    But… somehow this makes him more interesting, give him a bit of personality.

  • I think companies see people like Richard Branson, who is engaged with social media and uses it brilliantly, and think “if RB does it then that’s what we have to do!”. As you state it’s only beneficial if the CEO/MD etc have a true passion for SM and know how to factor it into their schedule and have the time to create/respond/share/discuss and do all the other activities that make up social.
    Our MD let’s me take care of social media for our business, there’s a lot of trust involved but that’s what I get paid to do. He gets paid to run and grow the business – and pays me to take care of the virtual world 🙂

  • I’d rather see them putting that time in communicating with employees. And we’ve seen countless, countless examples of what happens with loose-lipped CEOs on social media.

  • One of the things that I think your post points out is the “one size fits” all approach that seems to accompany many of the digital marketing strategies.

    Having spent the majority of my career in corporate America, I can’t even imagine any of the C levels I worked for tweeting or blogging, in more than a couple cases it would have been a disaster for the image of the company!

    Thank you for this practical reminder that just because there’s hype around a topic doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.

  • Mark, I’m glad you wrote this, you are spot on. No, executives do not need to be social for a business to succeed or fail.

    I think the other side of the discussion, and where this often starts, is the idea that executives need to be on board for social to be successful. While I think this varies by company and the type of marketing activity they already support (or shun), social has a longer ramp and that longer ramp time requires a different type of support than the direct marketing or lead generation that dominates some marketing plans.

    I’d love to see your thoughts on the need for, and the alternatives to, organizational support of social. Skunkworks; promotional outposts, extensions of community/forum efforts, … ?

    Thanks for the long overdue dose of reality on this topic!

  • Allen Roberts

    A real issue with several people/enterprises I work with, all SME’s. CEO’s behaviour sets the tone, and modifies the culture of any organisation, so the engagement he/she has, with any function, is really important.
    There is room for a CEO to “get it” and encourage it, without necessarily tweeting and pinning themselves, but I am a great believer in “hands dirty” management, if you have not done it, at least a bit, you cannot really understand it.Bit like swimming, no matter how many books you read, and webinars you attend, until your head hits the water, you do not really understand swimming.
    Marketing is now to my mind the core function of every organisation, the CEO is the chief marketing officer weather he likes it or not, as in a homogenised world, the capacity to deliver unique value is life and death, and to be the CMO, CEO’s must understand at a visceral level social media which can make or break their enterprises almost overnight.
    PS Love the cartoon, says it all.

  • I think your right — if they don’t get it leave it alone. But even so, a socially engaged executive is like jet fuel for business. The upside, in my experience is tremendous, because so many of them are not engaged: it’s rare and by definition defies expectations. In addition, it comes down to leadership — if being a social company is important — then you’ve got to lead by example.

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  • Agreed… best to leave it alone unless they are keen. Too bad, as there are some very talented leaders who could be fantastic if they just tried. Reading your books has helped bring a few around. 😉

  • Agree with your point Jonathan.

  • Dangerous to point to the outliers as the case study! Thanks for your comment.

  • Great topics to consider Eric. You have my wheels turning.

  • No question that leadership needs to come from the top. That is where the culture is ultimately set. Thanks.

  • Thanks. You made my day : )

  • Well stated, Mark. I wonder though, if all the industry hype around “social C-suite” hasn’t confused the conversation for most of them? (After talking to several hundred leaders, we discovered that most of them had plenty of angst about social media, but have no idea what to do about it.) In other words, maybe the CEO shouldn’t tweet to the public … but he/she might be well served to learn the craft of microblogging (for example) to engage and align employees inside the enterprise as a first step. In any event, thanks for sharing your insight!

  • Agree. That’s exactly why I wrote Social Media Explained! That’s my target audience : )

  • Damian Corbet

    I’m currently working on a project called The Social C-Suite. However, at no point do I propose that the C-Suite should be tweeting or blogging. If they want to, fine, and there are plenty of examples of directors who are very active on social media, but that’s not what I’m getting at.

    My approach (and that of people like Fay Keeney, Dionne Kasian-Lew and Walter Adamson) is more about making the C-Suite aware of the importance of social media as a global trend – one that is going to affect all businesses at some stage, whether they bury their heads in the sand or not. If the C-Suite does not understand it and realize its huge potential, how can they set company strategy?

    Mark touches on this in his book and sets out the ‘value proposition’ of social in a clear, no-nonsense way. I have in fact recommended his book to all the execs in my company.

    Where I disagree with Mark is where he says (in this current blog post): “If an executive is not interested in enabling the benefits above and doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Twitter, I would be perfectly fine with that.”
    Sure, an executive does not have to tweet, but all execs should give a rat’s ass about Twitter – and LinkedIn and Google+ and Facebook – because not understanding these platforms, how they work and how powerful they are as business tools, is negligence.

    Would love to hear people’s thoughts on this!

  • My blog post was specifically about forcing executive tweeting and blogging, not their overall sponsorship of the activity. As you noted, I take a strong position on this in my book Social Media Explained. In fact, that’s why I wrote the book. I do not believe we disagree.

  • Damian Corbet

    You’re absolutely right that hands-on social media activity by executives is not necessary. I guess I miss-read the statement quoted above and took it to mean that execs could ignore social completely. I’m glad we both agree that they shouldn’t 🙂

  • ScottRyser

    Despite my best efforts, my Kindle already overflows … but that sounds worthy of adding to the queue. Thanks.

  • Amy D. Howell

    OH wow! Mark, I am so glad you wrote this! I agree. Most of my clients are CEOs. They don’t do social but the best thing they do is SUPPORT it. Concept and reality are 2 very different things. Busy CEOs rarely have time to email much less tweet. Great post….and why it’s been slow to take hold.

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  • Awesome to have you comment Amy. Thanks for the support!

  • Always an honor to have you comment Frank.

  • rhonda hurwitz

    Glad to read this, sensible and realistic. But I do wish the CEO of a company I consult for would do his own Linkedin. Not a fan of someone standing in as him.

  • Very true. That stinks.

  • I am not sure I agree with this view Mark although I can see where you are coming from with respect to CEOs being time poor – but they are not the only ones –

    Unless you’re in social it’s hard to explain the synergies that emerge as a result of the ecosystem – take a vision-oriented, strategic brain and connect it with such an ecosystem as I have done training senior executives and you see the sparks go off –

    Apart from the sense of openness and trust in fact (rather than as a stated but empty value) that being on social can give a C-suite executive – I think it’s what the experience can contribute to their own thinking that is really valuable –

    Time is limited and social is energy-demanding and CEOs have to prioritise like all of us – it’s not always easy to see where social fits in but the benefit is greater than ‘just’ the CEO being accessible for customers to engage with – it’s deeper – it’s about the way we think – and how being online influences that –

    Can you see where I am coming from? Or do you feel that even in this way it’s not the space for CEOs?

  • In the fourth paragraph I explained some of the benefits of an executive being involved on the social web. I thin you added some nice nuance to the discusssion. I’m not saying they should be prevented from doing it … if they want to be involved that is an asset. I’m juts saying they could not be forced to do it, espcially considering all the other things they need to be involved in. The latest research shows that very few top executives have a public presence on the social web and I am OK with that. Thanks for the thought-provoking comment!

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