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For a Company to Rise Above the Rest, the CEO Must Engage on Social Media To stay ahead of the curve and gain a competitive advantage, CEOs need to be active on social media.

By Stephanie Newby

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

With hashtags dominating advertising and the recent addition of "selfie" to the Oxford English Dictionary, it's probably not surprising to hear that 74 percent of American adults use social-networking sites. What may surprise you, however, is that just 32 percent of today's Fortune 500 CEOs engage on social media. The remaining 68 percent have no social presence at all: no Twitter, no LinkedIn, no Facebook. Nothing. What's going on here, CEOs?

There is, of course, the age factor. Most CEOs tend to be older, and social engagement does not come as naturally to their generation as it does for their millennial counterparts. Additionally, doing social media right requires a time commitment, which poses a challenge for busy executives --regardless of age. Many CEOs may also feel anxious about revealing themselves publicly and ending up in the doghouse if they say or post the wrong thing. Or it may just come down to ego as CEOs are used to wielding power within their organizations but gaining influence on social media requires them to start from scratch.

There are plenty of good reasons for Fortune 500 CEOs not to be on social media, but for CEOs who want to build competitive businesses with all-star teams and resilient brands, social engagement is a must.

Related: 7 Communication Skills Every Entrepreneur Must Master

Here's how social media can buoy your business – and why you need to get on board right now.

Market intelligence

Whether you work in finance, education or technology, staying up-to-date on the news, trends and leaders in your market is paramount. It used to be that getting this information required scanning through your paper copy of The Wall Street Journal or The New York Times to find relevant news and op-eds. Today, we have a much faster, more targeted way to get news: Twitter. While this requires some time upfront in terms of finding the right publications, journalists and influencers to follow, it ultimately gives you a curated stream of headlines that you can browse while sipping your morning coffee. Plus, when you see a headline that grabs your attention, you can simply retweet it to share the news with your network.

Employee engagement

For leaders of large organizations, it can be difficult to devote time to getting to know each employee and establish strong relationships with those outside of your immediate team. Social is proving to be a powerful tool in this regard. At a company event? Instagram a shot of the team. Read a great company blog authored by a colleague? Tweet it out and tag her. Want feedback on vacation policies? Pose a question on Yammer. Stumble upon a brilliant article you want employees to read? Share it on LinkedIn and tell them to check it out. It's not just about sharing, either. By following your employees on Twitter and other social outlets, you'll gain insights about how they collaborate, what issues they care about and how they support one another.

Related: 5 Steps Toward Building Influence as a Great Thought Leader

Recruitment

Headhunters better watch out. With LinkedIn, CEOs have the world's best recruitment tool at their fingertips. Building out your professional social network gives you the chance to reconnect with old colleagues, classmates and partners -- the types of people who may very well know the ideal candidate for that position you've desperately been trying to fill. Similarly, if you are in the process of evaluating a candidate, you can visit her LinkedIn profile to see if you have any connections in common, and if so, reach out to them as unofficial references. On the flip side, if you are eyeing a candidate on LinkedIn and are hoping to recruit her, simply seeing whom you know in common can be a great first step.

Corporate culture and brand

CEOs with strong social presence can help establish positive company culture and build dynamic brands. Just look at Richard Branson. The top executive at Virgin uses Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to showcase his distinct leadership style and celebrate his company's values, people and achievements. He embodies the Virgin brand, and in doing so supports the company's overall social engagement, customer loyalty and sales efforts. Being active on social also gives him the opportunity to get ahead of crises, such as the recent Virgin Galactic crash tragedy. Immediately after the crash happened, Branson took to Twitter to thank the community for its support and let his followers know he was heading to Mojave to join the team. As the CEO, you are in essence the voice of your company. If you're not on social media, the entire brand suffers.

While taking the social media plunge certainly comes with its risks, the business benefits are simply too large to ignore. Company leaders must understand that turning to social isn't just about telling the world what cereal you're eating or sharing selfies from your morning commute. It's about extending your leadership onto new platforms so that your company can reap the benefits. Go share, go connect, and most importantly, go listen.

Related: 15 Behaviors and Traits of Great Leaders

Stephanie Newby

CEO of Crimson Hexagon

Stephanie Newby (formerly Hanbury-Brown) is Crimson Hexagon’s CEO, responsible for the company’s vision, values, corporate strategy and operational excellence. She is also the founder of venture investment firm Golden Seeds.

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