CEO’s and Social Media: Opportunity or Threat?

Last week I did an interview with Canadian Business on the subject of social media and CEO’s. The reporter asked me this question (I’m paraphrasing):

“But shouldn’t you be worried that your CEO might say something that has a negative effect on the company? What if he/she does something offensive in public?”

I can understand why people would worry about things like that but frankly it’s a doomsday scenario that just hasn’t played out even though social media continues it’s march into the mainstream. Can you name me a single example of a CEO that has gotten into serious trouble because of their use of social media?

Not that I don’t think it’s ever going to happen.  I can give you dozens of examples where a CEO has put his/her foot in their mouth in traditional media so why would social media be any different?  We don’t question that our CEO’s should engage with traditional media (even though there are risks), because we understand the benefits.   While I don’ t believe that every CEO should have their own blog or Twitter account, I do believe that every company should have a social media presence of some sort and that the CEO should occasionally use that forum to share their views with the world.  Like traditional media, the benefits far outweigh the risks in my opinion.

The full text of the article is here.

What do you think?

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http://www.canadianbusiness.com/managing/employees/article.jsp?content=20101122_10035_10035

27 thoughts on “CEO’s and Social Media: Opportunity or Threat?”

  1. Great post April – I think corporations and businesses paralyze themselves about having the CEO interact online with their communities. The same credo of “don’t say something you wouldn’t want to see in the papers the next day” resonates as well online.

    The difference is you control your message – don’t be afraid to share it and interact with those you want to hear it. Cheers,

    Andy

    1. Hi Andy,
      I totally agree with you. If anything social media is a much more controlled environment (i.e. I don’t have to worry about some reporter mis-quoting me or taking my statements out of context). It’s like traditional media except you own the newspaper – why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that?
      April

  2. It’s interesting when you see this anxiety over social media. People have been saying stupid stuff in public since people have existed! The great part about social media is that if something stupid gets published, you have nobody to blame but yourself.

  3. April,

    Well put. Tony Hayward will be the poster boy for foot-in-mouth disease for the next decade.

    One component of social media by CEOs that I’ve seen lately is how personal it really is. They may be comfortable on a dais or in front of a camera but they’ve had someone briefing them beforehand – they’re prepared to a standard comfort level. Social media, like Twitter, requires them to be on a level of “intimacy” (for lack of a better word)or impulsiveness that they are not used to or do not desire. Their fear may be more the fear of intimacy than the fear of saying something wrong. Any CEO who is afraid of saying something wrong doesn’t deserve to be a CEO.

    One CEO I am working with surprisingly doesn’t like the limelight, preferring to put others forward to take the glory. The Twitter account is in his name but others are being trusted to make it go.

    1. Hi Tim,
      Thanks for the comment. The issue of the CEO not liking the limelight is a valid one. Again, I don’t believe that every CEO should have a Twitter account or their own blog but occasionally there are things that happen where it makes a lot of sense for the CEO to address folks but a press release or email just doesn’t cut it. That’s the value of social media (even for the intimacy-phobic) 🙂
      April

  4. Great post, April!

    CEO trepidations stem from concerns about 1) the ROI of social media; 2) the permanence of what they post (hard to say that a Tweet is taken out of context); and 3) time needed to effectively engage via social media.

    Considering the reality that much of CEO’s external-facing commentary is scripted means that shifting to the live stream that is Twitter is a significant departure for most. Agree with you that there are some who are better suited to social media ebb & flow than others.

    It’s up to us in corp comms to figure out what channels maximize an executive’s strengths while steering them clear of ones which aren’t a good fit for their leadership style or personality. IMHO, creating a shell Twitter handle for a CEO who delegates the discussion stream to others defeats the whole purpose & value of social media.

    1. Thanks so much!
      I couldn’t agree with you more that one of the main jobs of a good marketing comms person is to determine which channels make the most sense for the exec. This is a fact that is lost on a lot of folks that believe that everyone should just be present everywhere. And I totally agree that having a Twitter handle for a CEO that doesn’t write it is just kind of goofy 🙂
      April

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