What does it take to be a “Social CEO”?

imageLately there has been much talk about “Social CEOs”, and I’ve been thinking about this post for a while.

Two other posts prompted it – namely

1) The top 50 “social CEOs” list published on Huffington Post by Vala Afsha

2) a recent blog post titled “Why CEOs should not be involved in social media

Today the Guardian had a “sponsored Q&A” on the subject as well.

A recent Weber Shandwick study showed that 76% of global executives wanted their CEO to “be social”, and the report found that employees at companies with social CEOs say that their leader’s participation makes them feel inspired (52%) and technologically advanced (46%).

But what does it really mean to be a “Social CEO”?

I’m going to put myself forward as an example of one extreme of a social CEO – to explain how the “grades of social” might apply to different CEOs, and that I don’t expect every CEO to behave like I do on social.

I’ve been a CEO in several roles – my first being back in 2001 when I was the CEO of PropertyLook, a commercial property website. We did not have Twitter and Facebook back then, but we were at the cutting edge of digital – and I even pioneered the use of unique short links on press ads and property signboards to directly link to property listings on the website (pre-dating bit.ly by some 7 years).

More recently, I have been the CEO of Kred, the largest influencer platform (we compete directly with Klout), so I am the CEO of a social company – but does that make me a “social CEO”?

On its own, my view is no.

UPDATE 11 July 2013: I saw Tom Standage (@TomStandage) present today at a conference in London. Following his talk, he tweeted (incorrectly) about Michael Dell, and Dell replied directly – he’s a social CEO!

Let me lay out my social credentials for a moment and let you decide if I qualify as a social CEO.

I am somewhat at the cusp of a couple of groups. I am turning 45 this year (Gen X), so I am a fairly young CEO when you compare my age to those running much larger publicly listed companies.

I am also at the cusp of another group. I am “young enough” to have been playing with all things digital for a long, long time.

  • I was first online in 1983 with bulletin boards (BBS) and dial-up modems
  • I have had a website since 1994 (when studying for a Master’s of Engineering, the university gave us a server to experiment with)
  • I have had my own domain andrewgrill.com since 1999
  • I joined LinkedIn in 2004
  • I’ve had a blog since 2004
  • I started using Twitter in 2007
  • I run all of my own personal websites, including 30 domains, DNS, servers
  • I have my own URL shortening toolbookmark tool, and mobile app

In short – I’ve been playing with all things digital and social as a hobby, now as a business for more than 30 years, and I live and breathe digital.

When “social media” came along, I adapted to it easily, and have integrated it into my daily life (sometimes integrated it too much according to my wife!)

When I became CEO of Kred, I didn’t have to learn any new tricks, I was already social.

In fact there have been numerous examples of how I have been using social while at Kred.

Those Kred members signed up to receive email will see that I sign everything with my @name – as I welcome and encourage interaction on social.

I also regularly reply to people talking about Kred, or messaging me directly.

Some months ago, after an email campaign we sent, I spotted some criticism brewing on Google+.

My natural instinct was to jump right in, posting as me to directly address the concerns of the community. The response to this was overwhelmingly positive, as people saw the CEO of Kred jumping straight in and addressing the issues head on.

But I’m the first to admit I am not a “normal” CEO. My 30 years of training and experience with social and digital, extensive media training and hundreds of speaking opportunities have made me well aware of how powerful social can be, and how to best use it.

So if you have read this far, you might be saying that I am being unfair to expect CEOs who have not “grown up digital” to jump right in and behave the same way I have.

If I am an example of a social CEO at one extreme, then how can I use my experience to advise other CEO’s to “get social”?

First of all, social media may not be for everyone. I am loathed to suggest that every CEO needs to have a social presence. An authentic social voice cannot be forced, and it certainly cannot be outsourced. Imagine outsourcing an appearance on TV by your CEO, instead saying it is the CEO, but having a PR person there.

On social, communities can quickly determine if you are being genuine and the real deal.

If your CEO is “too busy” or is uncomfortable owning their own social profile, then either get a new CEO, or don’t use social in the mix.

We must also assume that some CEO’s will need their “social training wheels” on for a while – like this one spotted by Luke Brynley-Jones

A simple first step might be to get a younger member of your company to “reverse mentor” your CEO on how to get onto social, and lose the training wheels in a short space of time.

The social CEO’s of the future

The millennials coming up the ranks will be social CEO’s by default – in their eyes there is no other option. A great report on Millennial Leaders by Telefonica gives us a good idea as to what a social CEO of the future looks like

In closing, I thought I would offer some practical suggestions for CEOs (or those that manage CEOs) looking to start in social, or improve their social presence.

1. Start a blog – don’t update too frequently – as often as you feel comfortable and talk about something you are passionate about. You do need to write and publish all your own posts though to be a real social CEO and be authentic.

2. Sign up to Twitter – in your own name. Start by following other CEOs (I sometimes say interesting things as @AndrewGrill so why not follow me)

3. Don’t just promote your own company – comment on the industry – trends, issues – things that you can offer your own perspective about

4. Reply to people who @message you directly on Twitter – they will be shocked initially it is really you

5. Share and RT interesting content from your followers – show you are contributing to your social community

6. Maintain profiles across multiple networks such as Google+ and LinkedIn. Here Google is your friend and people seeking out your credentials as a social CEO will see very quickly that you “get social”

I’m also happy to meet CEOs in person, or via Skype or telephone to help you get started so why not contact me?

I promise I will reply.

There is also a great list compiled by @DebWeinstein of social CEOs on Twitter.

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