CEOs are missing a major opportunity by ignoring social media

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CEO's and social media

Connected Leadership, as new research suggests, is essential to understanding how executive communication and leadership influence are being redefined using social media.

“Leadership has been fundamentally redefined,” says Craig Mullaney, a partner in the Digital Practice of Brunswick Group. “A modern leader needs to influence, inspire and inform people with direct, engaging and authentic digital communications. Social media gives them the speed, the scale, the clarity and accountability that their audiences demand. The old playbook isn’t enough.”

Craig Mullaney is one of three partners in the Digital Practice of Brunswick Group, focusing on the meaning of leadership in a digital world. It’s a role he is well qualified for having previously spent five years at Facebook leading the Global Business Influencer Programme. Marc Wright went to meet him to find out more about his work.

By a ratio of more than two to one, employees say they would prefer to work for a CEO that uses digital and social media as part of their work.

“We have just published the first in-depth research findings on the digital behaviours of leaders and the business case is compelling,” says Craig. “There is a strong demand signal from the audiences CEOs care about – their employees and shareholders – yet still only half (48%) have a social media presence. This is because they are not yet convinced of the business value and are not confident they can do it well. Our work around Connected Leadership hopes to change that.”

Connected Leadership is a new platform from Brunswick for understanding how leadership is being redefined in an increasingly complex and connected world. Craig continues: “From the start, we have envisioned this as a platform through which to explore the answers and not just a published report. Using our proprietary methodology and more than 100,000 data points, we have produced robust survey insights, in-depth profiles of hundreds of CEOs, and a ranking of the Top 100 Connected Leaders.”

Craig Mullaney
Craig Mullaney of Brunswick Group

A majority of CEOs at S&P 500 and FTSE 350 companies are effectively offline at a time when their customers, employees, and investors are very much online. These executives have an opportunity to update their leadership habits.

The majority of respondents (60% US, 54% UK) would research a C­­EO’s social media activity when considering joining that company.

This inaugural Connected Leadership Survey measured the expectations of CEOs from 4,000 employees and 400 financial readers in the US and UK:

  • The new, one-of-a-kind Connected Leadership Index documents the digital profiles of 790 CEOs in the S&P 500 and FTSE 350, an analysis built upon more than 100,000 data points.
  • The Top 100 Connected Leaders list showcases those CEOs who have found the greatest success across widely used digital platforms including social media.
Social Media
Still only half of CEOs have a social media presence

Key messages for internal comms

While CEOs have traditionally been expected to focus on financial and strategic issues, there is now an increasing expectation for direct communication with employees as well as the wider public and investors. A majority of US and UK employees believe that communication on social media from a CEO has a positive impact on the company’s overall effectiveness (66% US and UK) and reputation (71% US, 72% UK).

62% of the Top 50 CEOs on social media are present on more than one platform.   

“One of the key out-takes from the data is that there is a strong preference (more than 2:1 ratio) of employees who prefer to work for CEOs who are active on social. The desire to hear from CEOs in a crisis is also very strong at 80%.  It’s important in talent attraction too with 60-70% employees searching for a CEO’s social platform activity before applying for work in that company. Why? It’s a believable signal to that company’s commitment to stated values and this direct access to a CEO is certainly important to employees – a feeling that is even stronger among younger employees.”

“In a tight labour market, having authentic leaders active on social is the one thing companies should do to attract talent” Craig believes.

Learn from the best

While the Top 10 are all from the US, there are plenty of UK CEOs in the list, but not necessarily those you might expect. Craig continues, “Interestingly, the research confirmed that a leader’s effectiveness is not influenced by just how popular they are or how popular the brand is. This certainly accounts for some ‘big’ names being lower down the list, or absent altogether.

At least one CEO is active on social media in every major industry, indicating that a CEO is setting the example across industries.

So, what do the Top 50 do differently to earn their ranking? Craig again: “There are three distinct social behaviours that we see with the top performers and these behaviours inform the advice we give to clients. First, they post highly visual content, secondly, they post twice as often as others and thirdly, it’s quite clear their content is authentic and created with passion and personality.”

It is worth pointing out too that, contrary to expectation, all industries are represented in the Best Connected Leader list so there is a CEO setting a great example across the business landscape.

Channel choice

The research looks at four social channels: LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Unsurprisingly LinkedIn, a professional network by design, is the most popular channel with 44% of CEOs active on it. Twitter is the next most popular with 15% active but with a faster pace of conversation and a less predictable user base, it can be a daunting environment for risk-averse executives. While a smaller percentage of CEOs are active on Facebook and Instagram, the ability to reach wide and diverse audiences, especially with visual content, should not be overlooked.

Of the Top 50 Connected Leaders, 62% are active on more than one platform demonstrating that the most successful Connected Leaders branch out from their first platform. It’s perhaps worth noting that the research found audiences are 3 times more engaged with leaders on Instagram than on Facebook or Twitter.

Part of a digital strategy

“While most communications teams recognise the necessity for these channels, you do need a protagonist and a personal storyteller at the centre,” adds Craig. “You need a digitally fluent equivalent of the speechwriter today.” In fact, one of the fastest growing job titles is Executive Communications!

“The use of social in executive communications is set to grow hugely,” states Craig “in the way it is now used in politics.” And Craig should know – he worked on the Obama campaign back in the day. “Although these are public channels, CEOs are using them specifically for employee comms. For example, David Solomon, CEO of Goldman Sachs knew that, with two thirds of the workforce being millennials, he needed a newer platform to communicate effectively with them and started using Instagram in October 2018.  Lloyds of London have benefited from a reverse mentorship program and are now also using Instagram to good effect.

“Perhaps one of the best examples is Walmart, whose recent CEO speech was streamed on Facebook Live and watched by over a million people! Doug McMillon has been using social channels for a while now and it has taken four years to achieve this level of impact and reach at Walmart, summed up by a quote from one of their associates that we use in the research report: “Doug McMillon’s ownership of social media has changed the game for this company. He understands that it connects us, drives us, and builds morale within the store. His presence gives that extra ‘spark’ we all need.”

Opportunity & expectation

Today’s workplace presents CEOs with a new challenge in how they lead. There is an opportunity, as well as increasing expectation, for business leaders to connect with employees and other stakeholders using social channels. Connected Leadership requires a strategic approach rooted in business objectives, and a redefined approach to influence and leadership – one that relies on digital presence and digital performance.

Connected Leadership

Conected Leadership
The Connected Leadership Report by Brunswick group.

If you would like to find out more about Connected Leadership and how the Brunswick Group are helping executives update their leadership habits, elements of this research are publicly available as a reference for others to find inspiration and information.