"We're working hard to resolve the @GM ignition switch recall," tweeted GM CEO Mary Barra, shortly after the crisis hit. "I answer some of your questions in these videos," she continued -- providing the necessary link to the videos. Rather than staying silent on the sidelines, letting others speak for her or the company, Barra accepted her role as communicator-in-chief by engaging directly with the public in the midst of a difficult recall situation. This one courageous moment signaled a sea change in the way social media is perceived in times of crisis.
Consumers, employees, investors, and members of the broader community look to a company's top leader to understand what that company stands for -- in good times and in bad. With social media, CEOs have a unique opportunity to be tell their story directly, immediately, and openly.
Social media provides CEOs with a platform to build trust and goodwill by shaping the story and values of the company and making personal connections with stakeholders. Today especially, when we are highly attuned to purpose, meaning, the environment and social good, we look to leaders to help us to believe that their companies care. We're not pushovers, though. We expect leaders to deliver. So we require companies to be accountable and transparent. And we react swiftly, virally and online, when companies betray our trust.
CEOs who are not present are simply left out of the dialog. "Conversations taking place on Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Medium, YouTube, Instagram, and other social channels do not stop because management is not participating," explained Ann M. Charles, Founder and CEO of BRANDfog. "When executives fail to speak for themselves, other voices fill the void and conversations continue without them. The opportunity cost for executives who ignore social media is the loss of voice, and it enables others to shape the brand story and influence brand reputation."
If you have any doubts, take a look at the striking results of BRANDfog's 2014 Global, Social CEO Survey. Results are based on surveys of 1,000 US and UK employees in companies ranging in size from startups to Fortune 1000 companies, and spanning various industries.
Is Social Media Part of the CEO's Job? You bet! Here's why.
The big take-away: People are more likely to buy from you if your CEO is on social media.
- 61 percent of US respondents and 50 percent of UK respondents are more likely to purchase from a company whose values and leadership are clearly communicated through executive leadership participation on social media. BOOM.
The point is that through your most compelling spokesperson -- your CEO -- the one whom the whole world is watching, your company can tell its own story, unfiltered, when it wants (first, if you're smart), and how it wants. And that your CEO can listen to customers, employees, investors and the community directly.
- 82 percent of US respondents and 71 percent of UK respondents believe that CEO engagement on social media helps to communicate company values and shapes a company's brand reputation.
- 77 percent of US respondents and 68 percent of UK respondents believe that social media is a powerful tool for building thought leadership and enhancing the credibility of C-Suite executives with stakeholders, including press.
- 80 percent of US respondents and 67 percent of UK respondents agree that social media enhances the image and reputation of executives.
Through social media, CEOs can build trust by engaging directly with stakeholders, with no filters.
- 71 percent of US respondents and 61 percent of UK respondents agree that a company whose C-Suite executives and leadership team use social media as a public relations channel to openly communicate about its core mission, values and purpose is more trustworthy.
- 77 percent of US respondents and 69 percent of UK respondents agree that executive use of social media fosters brand transparency.
- 83 percent of US respondents and 73 percent of UK respondents believe that CEO participation in social media can build better connections with customers, employees, and investors.
- 77 percent of US respondents and 68 percent of UK respondents believe that executive use of social media creates a channel for authentic engagement with a company's stakeholders.
Executive engagement in social media can mitigate risk.
- 84 percent of US respondents and 76 percent of UK respondents believe that social media is an effective way to monitor conversations about a brand online and to help brands prevent potential reputation crises.
- 79 percent of US respondents and 68 percent of UK respondents believe that having socially active C-Suite leadership team can mitigate risk before a brand reputation crisis occurs.
- 87 percent of US respondents and 79 percent of UK respondents agree that having a social media policy in place allows a company's leadership team to be proactive rather than reactive in response to company challenges.
The bottom line: Social media is vital to today's public relations and communications strategy.
- 80 percent of US respondents and 71 percent of UK respondents believe that social media has become an essential aspect of a PR and communications strategy for C-Suite executives and brands.
Read more here about BRANDfog's 2014 Global, Social CEO Survey. And learn more about the role of consumers, employees, and investors in driving sustainability, transparency, and corporate communications in "A Better World, Inc.: How Companies Profit by Solving Global Problems...Where Governments Cannot."