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FOMO: why your CEO needs to get on social

Hiding in the corner office, avoiding employees and customers, has always been a sure-fire way to reinforce a leader’s unpopularity. Not being on social media is the 21st century equivalent.

So described a report last year from management school INSEAD that looked into the landscape of CEO activity on social media.

The presence of C-suite executives on social media platforms is thin, despite the prolific use of services such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn by billions of consumers worldwide. Our own research in Asia-Pacific found fewer than 10 per cent of executive leaders are active on social media. This is worrying for future business success because social media represents a cultural shift, not just a technological one.

Recently, a commentary in the Wall Street Journal argued the inherent risks to companies and CEOs that are active on social media platforms. The commentator, a former CFO, went a step further to suggest business leaders stay off Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn altogether. Business leaders may perceive social media as too time-consuming, as too fraught with the danger of making ill-advised remarks, or simply not a business priority given the difficulty of measuring return on investment, he said.

Yet, avoiding social media carries its own risks – most notably, the risk of missing out on opportunities to nurture and grow the business. Embracing social media is vital for a company’s external and internal health, helping to build brand value and to engage and retain employees. According to a survey we conducted of more than 100 financial services leaders in Asia-Pacific, more than 50 per cent of leaders believe their organisation’s social media restrictions or inaction are resulting in missed business opportunities.

Social media is increasingly viewed as a direct reflection of a company’s values and credibility. In an era where public trust in corporates and governments is waning, social media is an important tool to establish the firm’s character efficiently, and at scale. Luckily, trust levels are not as low in Asia as in other regions, but that isn’t a reason for CEOs to sit on their laurels.

Research shows social engagement positively influences perceptions of authenticity, approachability and transparency, which in turn leads to public trust particularly when executives are involved. From our data on social media perceptions, we found three out of four consumers in Australia say a CEO’s presence on social makes a brand more trustworthy; and companies with active social media leaders are perceived 23 per cent more positively than companies with inactive ones.

Likewise, more and more CEOs recognise the opportunity even if they have been slow to tweet, snap, like and share. In the survey of Asia-Pacific’s financial services leaders carried out in August, 82 per cent believe brand perception and trust is positively impacted by social media.

CEOs’ social media activities are well received internally, too. It helps to motivate employees and build confidence in the future of the company. By posting on their preferred platform, the C-suite can open direct lines of communication with staff, establish an immediate connection with teams, and encourage exchanges between CEOs and frontline employees. Some 63 per cent of leaders in APAC believe social media is important to staff retention, according to the leaders we polled.

Smart CEOs – even those who are not naturally tech-savvy – can find ways to make the most of social media’s opportunity. The first is to focus. Carving out a defined period of time to scan social media and gauge industry trends will ensure social doesn’t become an unwelcome distraction.

The same rule applies for posts themselves. As with any form of publishing, quality posts count for more than quantity. Use social media to create a buzz around an upcoming product announcement, or to share business-related management initiatives that are fresh, real-time and relevant in a tone that best reflects your personal style. Social media is most powerful when the C-suite use it to share good customer or employee stories.

Finally, used capably social media is an influential medium through which to communicate clearly and to reassure. AirAsia’s CEO, Tony Fernandes, used his Twitter account of 1.49 million followers to provide updates on the airline’s 2014 crash, express condolences to families, and to thank staff during a difficult time. He was widely praised for his direct, swift and compassionate response.

The best leaders take an active and high-profile role. Use social media to step out of the corner office and be the hero for your business.

Roger Graham

Roger Graham is the Senior Director, Growth & Marketing at Hootsuite Asia Pacific.