Jennifer Van Grove
Today’s CEO is not social. So says Forrester Research’s CEO George Colony. Very few of the CEOs at top companies in the U.S. and the rest of the world have any material presence on the popular social media sites. Colony believes they should be social though, and all signs are pointing to a future filed with CEOs who can speak the language of the people — social media.
While one can only speculate about the future of CEOs and social media, there’s no question that social media plays a huge part in life and the world as we know it right now.
As younger CEOs replace older ones, news consumption habits change and social media continues its trend towards ubiquity, there’s little question that the man (or woman) at the top will need a firm grasp on social media — whether that be for recruiting, scouting, public engagement or social CRM.
The Next Generation of CEOs
When it comes to CEOs, there’s a vast disparity between the young ones heading up startups and the more seasoned CEOs running the world’s most powerful companies. That disparity is social media — the young are more versed than the old. The difference between the two groups can be attributed to different generations and different attitudes around content and information meant for the public and private domains.
No one is predicting that the venerable CEOs will be booted from their lofty perches for lack of a Twitter () account. In fact, younger CEOs with a predilection and savvy for social media may find their visibility to either be a contributing factor to their rise or a liability once they graduate to bigger, hence more vulnerable, publicly traded companies.
Let’s have a gander at some stats on the status quo. In April, Colony let it be known that most CEOs are not social. In fact, by his own research and calculations, Colony has concluded that, “None of the CEOs of Fortune Magazine’s top 100 global corporations have a social profile.”
Social media abstinence even appears to extend to CEOs of tech companies. “Eric Schmidt of Google is an infrequent Twitterer and is not a blogger; Steve Ballmer at Microsoft has no blog and no Twitter account; Michael Dell is on Twitter but is not an external blogger … Steve Jobs of Apple, and Larry Ellison of Oracle have no Twitter, Facebook (), LinkedIn (), or blog presences that we could find.”
His findings paint a bleak present tense. In the coming years, however, there will be a changing of the guard that favors social media over silence.
We Live in a Social Media World
Let us pause and reflect on the fact online users spend 22.7% of their time on social networking sites. That’s twice as much time as we spend on any other online activity. Consider where people are getting their news today. More and more, it’s not through direct sources like USA Today, The New York Times, or TV broadcasts, but through social networks.
Plus, industry is social. In the future, every company, no matter how small or how big, will be influenced and impacted by social media internally or externally. In the entertainment industry, for instance, social media has the potential to significantly bump up live television viewing audiences. Network executives such as Greg Goldman, formerly an executive director at ABC and now CCO at Philo, are nearly certain it’s happening now and will become more obvious with time.
Take what you know about the world today and then ask yourself, can a CEO remain relevant if they’re not versed in the new language of the people they serve?
SCVNGR’s youthful CEO Seth Priebatsch doesn’t believe so. The 21-year-old CEO says he’s “never lived in a world where I didn’t use social media.”
Priebatsch compares social media to cloud computing, and makes the analogy of how building applications for the cloud is a given. “It never occurred to me that you would write software to run on machines as opposed to access it through a browser. Why would you do that?”
For Priebatsch, social media is a given.
“Those companies that actively monitor, react and engage with what people are saying about them are at a huge advantage. If I’ve just launched a new feature on SCVNGR and people like it (or don’t) I know immediately. And that’s powerful. And what’s even cooler is that I can dig deeper. Someone says on Twitter: ‘Hey @SCVNGR, love the new social check-in. Way cool!’ and I can tweet back immediately ‘Thanks @user. What have you been using it for?’ And immediately get more information on how people are using SCVNGR, why they like it (or don’t) and how to make it better. That’s real power. It combines huge scale (tons of people talking) with massive granularity (ability to dig deep into one response).”
CEOs and the Future
The business leaders of tomorrow will be versed in social media, and we don’t need a crystal ball to predict how CEOs in the future will use social media. It’s the socially versed CEOs of today who help manufacture the following:
LIVESTRONG CEO Doug Ulman, himself a social media advocate and user, believes that perceptions around social media being too risky for CEOs are beginning to change.
“I would predict that more and more executives will see this as an opportunity rather than a risk,” he says.
Certainly the opportunity is there. Ulman pulls from his own work at LIVESTRONG as proof of concept. “Transparency and authenticity are two important factors in our work and social media allows us to amplify both in a significant way.”
Plus, given the digital landscape of the world we live in, future CEOs using social media is practically a given.
“Those who are currently growing up using these tools and mediums will have them integrated closely with their daily lives as they begin to enter the workforce, so they will come to expect their colleagues to be engaged as well,” according to Ulman.
Colony also sees social media as a platform paved with opportunity. He believes that CEOs should be social if the CEO “has something valuable and distinctive to say,” and has “a specialized strategy for social.”
For CEOs looking to start their social path, Colony prescribes a four part methodology that involves targeting the right audience, defining a clear reason to be social, setting up social expectations, and choosing the right platform(s).
Edelman Digital’s Senior VP and Director of Insights Steve Rubel also sees great opportunity for how CEOs will use social media in the future.
One opportunity lies in public engagement, or as Edelman CEO Richard Edelman calls it, “the third way.”
“Companies need to complement their usual paid and earned media strategies by embracing new, social and owned media,” Edelman argues.
Rubel believes that CEOs will drive adoption of the third way. “They [CEOs] will lower the internal barriers within the organization so that it can engage the public at every level directly in achieving shared outcomes.”
Rubel’s own personal use of social media, his day-to-day dealings with the CEOs of client companies and his astute observations of corporate and market dynamics make him an expert on the subject.
While bullish on CEOs making organizational changes to better incorporate social media, Rubel does not see reason to predict a huge uptick in social media broadcasting from the CEOs themselves. “I see CEOs more laying the groundwork in vision and process than necessarily participating actively themselves,” asserts Rubel.
Recruiting and Scouting
Talent is a commodity. Facebook, Google () and Twitter often cherry pick each others’ employees. The company with the brightest minds is the one that’s most likely to excel. As such, recruiting is key and social media gives CEOs the ability to scout out potential hires and follow what they’re posting and what others are posting about them.
In a related fashion, CEOs will scout out the competition and search for potential acquires via social media properties. Many executives have already been doing this for years. Venture capitalists like Fred Wilson, for instance, have discovered the added benefits of maintaining a professional blog.
Wilson uses his blog to find companies to invest in and build relationships with entrepreneurs. It’s certainly no coincidence, then, that Union Square Ventures has an impressive portfolio of companies that includes Fousquare, Twitter and Tumblr ().
Social Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
Niyogi asserts that the social media dashboard will become a fixture inside the enterprise. “Every business unit will be using social media within the enterprise – customer support will use it to answer questions using tools like CoTweet (), sales organizations will use it to get a better read on what’s happening with their customers in real-time, marketing organizations will be using it as a new channel to connect with new or existing customers. It’s already happening right now.”
What are your thoughts on how CEOs will use social media in the future? Let us know in the comments below.