Social Media Has Become Indispensable for CEOs

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The current stampede to embrace social media as a valuable business tool has kicked up a big cloud of dust and created new layers of confusion for chief executives and other leaders.

Most CEOs sense that social media marks an important breakthrough for business communications, but they aren’t sure how to fully utilize the technology to gain a competitive advantage. This is because leaders often have trouble distinguishing between “actionable social” information and what I like to call plain old “social noise.” There is a substantial difference between the two.

Related: The Advantages of a Closed Social Network for Your Business

Think of actionable social as useful information that can be acted upon to improve business results. Social noise, on the other hand, involves a vast overload of data that drowns out the underlying message or meaning.

Nearly three-fourths of senior executives in the U.S. believe that C-Suite leaders who use social media to communicate their core mission and brand values are more trustworthy than those who don’t adopt social media. This surprising finding comes from the 2014 Global Social CEO Survey by Brandfog, a social media consulting firm for CEOs. The Brandfog survey also shows that 82 percent of senior leaders think executive use of social media raises brand awareness and helps establish industry leadership.

Social media offers a useful way to capture community knowledge and enhance group creativity. Yet many of the enterprise social media tools out there today allow everybody involved to interact with everybody else. This creates a dynamic in which the die-hard followers carry on and on to hear the sound of their own voices, causing many others to zone out and disengage from the process altogether. This is the unfortunate situation at too many businesses today.

Related: How Social Networks Can Boost Productivity

To succeed as a next-generation social CEO, business leaders need to engage more with their internal teams, partners and customers. But this requires leaders to contain, control and curate such social media conversations, rather than hosting unwanted social free-for-alls. This is the challenge most CEOs face regarding social, whether they realize it or not.

For social to work in the C-suite, CEOs can use crowdsourcing software or new “actionable social” tools to solicit feedback from large groups. For example, department heads or sales managers can submit their own ideas and vote on the best ones to pursue for their group initiatives. This democratic format generates greater buy-in from constituents, which in turn leads to highly motivated individuals and better aligned teams.

CEOs also need to manage which audiences participate in each initiative, doing away with the social free-for-all. For instance, some crowdsourcing projects might invite internal employees to participate, while others would query only external partners or suppliers, depending on the project focus.

Another important aspect of this process involves structuring crowd-sourced discussions around certain specific topics, and blocking out other subjects to be avoided by the group. Leaders can also curate their social discussions by making some comments anonymous in order to solicit open criticisms, while requiring users to be clearly identified and accountable when voting on shared priorities.

All of this so important to CEOs. Leaders need to get out of their boardrooms and escape their rigid hierarchies to engage with actual constituents. According to the Brandfog survey, 83 percent of senior leaders think CEOs who actively participate in social media can build better connections with their customers, employees and investors.

Social media gives leaders the power to greatly increase this level of engagement by really listening to the voices of stakeholders, then taking tangible actions based on those suggestions. Crowdsourcing also provides a constructive way to glean deep insights from the collective knowledge of an entire group, not just from an insulated leadership team.

These important benefits make up the intrinsic value of being a social CEO, while raising serious doubts about any laggards who continue to shun social media. Which type of leader would you rather work for, or put another way, which type of leader would you like to become?

Related: 3 Ways to Use Social Media to Align Your Team