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Why CEOs Need to Embrace Social Media (and How to Do it)

A beginner's guide to connecting with an online audience.

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Most business leaders leave money on the table by remaining invisible. They have zero presence and the remaining CEOs are just on .

Twin Design /

It's simple: If you want to be rich, you can't ignore potential revenue streams. If your company is on social media, then you need to be, too. Having a presence isn't just about the convenience of , but capitalizing on a cultural shift happening across the world.

This shift isn't mysterious. When people want to make sure that brands share their own values, they check out the leader of that company directly. You'd research a product before buying it, so why wouldn't you research the CEO before committing new products or services? This has never been more important for business-to-business () companies, in particular.

Here's how you get started without feeling overwhelmed.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Pick your communication principles

Before you take to or Snapchat, consider what you want to accomplish. It's one thing to put yourself out there for its own sake -- that's the base level of marketing your -- but there's more to it than that.

First, decide on three main talking points you want to drive home. These will define your brand as a person and as a company. That's how every marketing plan starts, and your social media presence is no exception.

Your points don't have to be identical to that of your company's, but they should be similar. You want to establish a clear relationship to the company you lead, after all.

Look at Elon Musk. While and exude futurism, prestige, and cutting-edge technology, his personal brand on Twitter covers more of his personal side, including the vision behind his ventures.

When a project goes wrong (like the SpaceX explosion from last September), he speaks to people at a down-to-earth level. He also geeks out over the cool stuff he finds, connecting with his audience of science and tech enthusiasts with a shared passion that goes beyond sales or promotion.

There's a clear connection with his companies, but his personal values shine through to build a deep rapport with his followers.

You don't need to be perfect, and you don't need to be corporate (in fact, "corporate" doesn't work on social media). But you do need to say something that's worth hearing and on-message with the brand you're trying to build.

Start with one or two networks that work for you

Once you've decided on your message, you can choose a network and start posting (or scheduling). It's not hard, but it does take some diligence. As a CEO you don't exactly have all the time in the world, but you can squeeze out a few minutes between meetings or tasks on one network, to start.

Survey the networks out there and see which one might suit your style.

Picking the right network is as much about where your audience lives as it as about how you like to communicate. If you communicate with visuals (or just appreciate them), then Instagram or Snapchat are good places to start.

On the other hand, a more traditional audience that likes to read longform posts would live on . If you imagine yourself firing off a few quips when you have the time, then head to Twitter. Cultivating a traditional image of professionalism would be more at home on LinkedIn -- especially if you have a hand in B2B sales.

You can focus on a second or third network once you're comfortable with the tempo of posting on your first channels.

Related: Social Media May Soon Drive More Traffic to Your Website Than Search Engines

Talk to your audience, not at it

Everyone needs to make announcements directly once or twice per week (at most), but social media isn't just an ad channel. It's a two-way street in which you can move around corporate personas and strict brand marketing guidelines to build a rapport with the people who buy from you.

If you're good at it, those buyers may even start advocating for you, increasing sales even further.

The best way to accomplish this is by talking to specific people on a given channel. Tag them in your posts by asking questions and opinions or crediting them with ideas in your thoughtful posts.

However, one of the single best ways to gain followers is by responding to as many of them as you can.

If you can't respond to all the comments, choose the influencers or most interesting comments or threads on your posts, or have a community manager in your company help with the load.

Lead and frame the news

It's best to have , in theory, but you won't have enough for fresh posts every day (much less two or three times per day). It's perfectly okay to curate the news in your industry with added commentary.

Consumers -- and even other businesses -- expect you to have values. We aren't talking about being a "family company" -- that doesn't cut it anymore. You need to stand for something even if you don't shout it from the rooftops, and commenting on industry developments is a good way to do that.

Share headlines in your industry with your thoughts on those developments. Invite discussion, either from the crowd or from other influencers you know (as a CEO, you'll know a few).

This is where you should be tagging other high-profile players on social channels. This gains you extra exposure with the audiences connected to the people you "ping."

Related: 12 Social Media Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make

Build your own content

Eventually, you will want to graduate from just commenting on the news by helping your business grow directly with an inbound funnel. This will probably be content from your business, but it could be something else -- perhaps you want to leverage your reputation or expertise by gaining leads through a seminar (or webinar), for example.

The core idea is that you have something of value on the other end of a post. That could be a blog, a landing page, a video, an eBook or an infographic. It's what you use to become a trusted advisor to prospects and advocates alike, which means sharing useful information or insights.

Take a look at the Twitter feed of Brian Halligan, the CEO of . He uses content to bring people into his sphere of influence and builds trust with thoughtful, credible work.

Getting these five steps down to a process is straightforward, though not always easy because it takes discipline. But it is worth it. Ignoring social media is just leaving money on the table, whether that takes the form of actual sales lost or even opening the door for competitors to reach your customers.

Decide what you want to accomplish, start doing it and talk to people. Build trust with useful content of your own, and you'll be an industry influencer in no time.

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