Fortune 500 CEOs Don’t Get Social Media! [Research]

CEOs -- don't get social mediaSocial Media – Not For Me! Say Top CEOs

70% of the Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence on social media networks according to The 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index compiled by and Domo.

Despite being influential business leaders, these CEOs lag the US population on every social media platform except LinkedIn. These CEOs myopically miss the connection between their lack of social media activity and their standing with customers, employees and the general pubic.

Social CEOs by the numbers

Here are some notable tidbits from the 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index.

  • It’s lonely at the top. Two thirds of CEOs on Facebook have less than 100 friends and over a quarter of CEOs on LinkedIn have 1 or 0 connections.
  • It’s what you know, not who you know for Social CEOs. Warren Buffett is the least active CEO on Twitter (He’s tweeted once) and he has the third highest CEO Klout score (62).
  • It helps to own the platform. Larry Page is included in more than 2 million circles on Google+. How Fortune 500 CEO participate on Social media

Based on other research by IBM, one out of six CEOs engages with customers on social media, a number expected to more than triple in the next three to five years.  This means that these senior executives need to come up to speed and become social media savvy. (BTW, we can help with this!)

3 Reasons social media frightens CEOs

Here are three reasons CEOs, especially those who head a public company, don’t want to be active on social media.

  1. Lack digital prowess. Since it takes time to acquire the experience and rise through corporate hierarchy to become a CEO, most senior executives aren’t digital natives. In their public role as company head, they don’t want to show any weakness. Ironically, showing that you’re human and willing to participate on social media can work to enhance your executive standing with both your employees and your customers. Further, in an era where customers don’t trust marketing, over 80% of employees believe social CEOs are better leaders and more trustworthy according to Brandfog research.
  2. Dread bad PR. Regardless of a CEO’s intentions, all of their messages become fodder for the media. In today’s 24/7 media cycle, senior executives are more concerned with starting a PR firestorm by misspeaking than they are with building relationships with their customers, employees, investors, the media, the government and the public. Contrary to what CEOs think, the Brandfog research revealed that over 90% of employees believe social CEOs are more ready to deal with PR crises. (Here’s what to do when social media goes bad.)
  3. Fear liability.  Not being on social media enables CEOs to avoid foot-in-mouth disease where they say the most inappropriate thing. Everything a CEO communicates, whether it’s corporate statements, speeches, email or social media, can become the basis for legal action.

3 Ways CEOs can leverage social media

When used well, social media can be a senior executive’s best ally. Here are three reasons every CEO should rush to build their social media presence.

  1. Provides a media platform. Creating a social media presence offers senior business executives the ability to offer their perspective on issues related to their core business as well as current events. Through the use of social media, executives can talk directly to their customers, employees and the public when and how they want to. For example, Scott Monty of Ford Motor Company was able to use his social media tribe to help contain a potential PR crisis.
  2. Sets an example for employees. Being an active participant in the social media ecosphere shows others how to engage publically without divulging corporate secrets. An active CEO encourages others to engage and shows public support for social media activity that helps build brand and customer relationships over time. Make sure that your organization has a set of social media guidelines.
  3. Builds a social media following. This is a critical point. Any CEO who’s afraid of public backlash should rush to create a social media presence. Having a social media base can translate to support during tough times or a crisis regardless of the cause. Understand that social media requires time which CEOs are woefully short of. Therefore focus your involvement to maximize results. Don’t think that you can get a college student who knows Facebook. Instead be transparent about your interactions. Focus on a small number of engagements and get savvy internal support.

As a CEO, it’s critical to take that first scary step into the social media stream because you’ll find that your fears will be met with ways to improve your organization’s brand, customer relationships and employee support.

What other suggestions do you have for CEOs who are standing on the sidelines?

Happy marketing,
Heidi Cohen

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8 Responses to Fortune 500 CEOs Don’t Get Social Media! [Research]

  1. Matt Ballantine says:

    From my research, it looks like a similar situation in the UK:

    My own take is that employee engagement is possibly the starting point to try and get them started.

  2. It really isn’t surprising that so few CEOs are engaged on social media. When you look at the demographic figures of social media users, it is clear that participation in most social media platforms drops off significantly as the incomes increase. Social media is a middle class phenomenon and so most CEOs would be well outside of their comfort zone on Facebook and would struggle to keep their messages to 120 characters for tweets.

  3. The problem with social media is that the major sites won’t let you divest from your personal identity.  This runs the risk of “piercing the corporate veil” if someone tries to sue the company.  As an example, Facebook requires that I create a personal account.  I cannot create a separate account that acts for the company (creating a company page is not the same).  CEOs especially must maintain the separation between themselves and their protected entity.

  4. Denise says:

    Very interesting, provokes thoughts! The way I read the post is CEO means the person not the company as an entity being present on Social Media platforms. I work for a Fortune 100 company. Personally, I would not want my CEO to engage in Social Media. I think CEOs’, of very large companies, time is better spent running the company and not twitting or managing a FB page. Their daily schedule would make mine look very simple, especially is they are traveling the globe. SM can be a time sucker. Most companies of this size have a Social Media department to build relationships.

    • HeidiCohen says:

      Denise–The research referred to the  CEO as an individual, not the corporation. While I appreciate that everyone is time strapped in today’s wired world and CEOs probably more so (as referenced above in the post), as a corporate leader, CEOs must walk the talk. I agree that trolling around on Facebook is a time suck but there are other time effective ways for a CEO to be engaged. How about an online townhall at a specific time via Google+ or Twitter or other platform? Research shows that it improves the brand, customer perception and employee engagement. Understand that your customers, employees and the public want to know your CEO is a real person who cares. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen 

  5. Anonymous says:

    Hi Heidi,  I think CEO’s should open their eyes to the potential of building their personal brand and building relationships with people they find through social media. It’s an amazing untapped opportunity and the CEO’s that embrace it will be the CEO’s of the future.

    • HeidiCohen says:

      Ian–Thanks for stopping by. I agree that many corporations would gain from having their CEOs participate on social media. It shows their human side. Happy marketing, Heidi Cohen

    • Andrea Robinson says:

      I agree. I wonder in ten years where the statistics will be about CEO us of social media? As with every thing as generations grow future leaders and CEO’s will use social in some capacity as standard. It will be the new “norm”. Future generations will be asking how did CEO’s live without sm just like we wonder how we did business without computers, smart phones and the Internet.