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CEOs And Social Media: Are There Any Business Benefits?

With everything on a CEO’s plate these days, it is not hard to understand why being active on social media is not a priority. In fact, it is not hard to see how many CEOs might perceive social media as potentially having greater risks than rewards. Even corporate email, once considered secure, is increasingly becoming a platform in which CEOs must watch what they say and to whom they say it.

Characterizing the CEOs who do embrace social media is difficult. Warren Buffet and Rupert Murdoch, both among the oldest of active CEOs are willing to mix it up on social media along with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Larry Page, both of whom own social media platforms.

[Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng: image]

Even if social media were the dominant issue of the day, it would be difficult to get a consensus of opinion on the value of social media from the C-suite. However, some insights can be gained from annual Social CEO Report published in September of 2014 by CEO.com which focused on CEOs from the current list of Fortune 500 companies. This report focused on F500 CEO engagement across five major social media networks, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and Instagram.

One of the big findings was that 68% of F500 CEOs did not even have an account on any of the five social media platforms included in the study. Even when factoring in the social media engagement of the remaining 32% on all five of the social media networks included in the study, it seems clear that F500 CEOs have other priorities.

What’s the point?

Regardless of the degree to which their organizations may be using these platforms for marketing, customer service or brand awareness, the overwhelming majority of CEOs at this level clearly don’t see sufficient value in social media to spend much time with it. Said another way, it isn’t seen as a productive investment of time or effort.

Given that the overwhelming majority of F500 CEOs engage on social media at minimal levels or not at all, could it be that they are taking a more realistic view of the value of social media than the rest of us? Or, could it be that they are overlooking the potential of social media? These questions raise additional questions that may provide insight.

Are CEOs really doing social media?

Is it really Tim Cook or is it a social media account manager posing as Apple’s CEO and feeding predigested pablum to the masses? Many times, it is hard to say. When Meg Whitman’s Facebook account goes over 100 days without an update, we can assume that neither she nor a social media manager is updating the account, but this is about the only way. Given that half of the F500 CEOs that do have Twitter accounts have fewer than 100 total tweets, it is probably safe to say that they haven’t hired social media managers either.

Either way, with social media managers who post all the time or CEOs who post once every three months or so, it seems clear that most CEOs don’t value social media personally.

What are the risks of social media?

No one can forget Anthony Weiner, nor should they. When all it takes is a single tweet to destroy a career, and the ease with which inappropriate content, such as photos of new product prototypes or personal images, seem to find their way onto twitter, why even risk it becomes a valid question for anyone with something to lose.

Are there any business benefits?

There is no intrinsic value to piles of likes or legions of followers. Elon Musk may have over a million and a half followers on Twitter, but few of them are likely to be buyers of electric cars or trips to outer space, and clearly only a minuscule fraction of these followers might be personal relationships.

If Elon Musk and other CEOs are engaging on social media, it is probably because they enjoy the process personally rather than doing it for the business benefit.

Who is actually listening?

If it isn’t buyers and personal friends who are following CEOs, who is really attending to what CEOs have to say on social media? Some CEOs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk have established themselves as celebrities in addition to being talented CEOs. Staying in the public eye is essential to maintaining celebrity status.

Most CEOs probably don’t really care about being celebrities. In fact, they probably want to protect their private lives instead of inviting millions of social media voyeurs into their lives.

Additionally, Elon Musk and Richard Branson have reputations as risk-takers, a trait that many CEOs might actively eschew.

Like anything else, social media has its benefits and its detriments. F500 CEOs, the leaders of industry in our age, seem to be overwhelmingly of the opinion that social media just isn’t something to prioritize personally, regardless of the degree to which their companies may be using social media for other purposes. What do you think?


Hilary Smith is an online journalist and technology enthusiast. With her background in media marketing, she enjoys sharing tips she’s learned along the way. In addition to covering social media, her writing also covers everything from start-ups and entrepreneurship, to business communications and the impact of business globalization. You can read her another article “4 Vital Twitter Features to Utilize to Make Your Brand’s Page Pop.”

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Featured Columnists at the CEOWORLD Magazine is a team of experts led by Camilla O'Donnell, James Reed, Amarendra Bhushan, and Amanda Millar. The CEOWORLD Magazine is the worlds leading business and technology magazine for CEOs (chief executives) and top-level management professionals.
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