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AUGUST 9, 2017 //     

Why aren’t more CEOs on social media? The case for digital thought leadership

By: Todd Sommers and Jacques Couret

What do Richard Branson, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have in common? They’re billionaires who created some of the most popular products and services on Earth. But in the process, they’ve also built some of the biggest social media followings.

They each have an ever-growing and well-engaged audience of more than 7 million followers. Leaders of some of the largest and most innovative companies -- Google, Tesla, Facebook, Virgin, Expedia, Sales Force – all share regularly their thoughts on social media. More than company news, they’re shaping public opinion on the future. And unlike a Kardashian sharing their political views, people actually want to hear from business leaders.

Today, the C-Suite is almost expected to voice an opinion, political or otherwise, particularly by younger generations. Yet 60 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are not on any social networks. Examining the numbers, those executives are missing out because:

  • 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media
  • 200 million people log in daily to LinkedIn looking for professional opportunities and updates
  • 65 percent of journalists look to social media when researching stories

As an executive, you always keep at least one eye on the bottom line. So you wonder what’s the return on investment. The financial returns can be difficult to plot, but the benefits are clear. Adding a digital layer to your thought leadership strategy requires you to humanize your brand by sharing interesting stories, create a deeper connection with consumers to gain insights to inform your business strategy and develop a direct line to communicate your vision at the time you choose.

 As an executive who aims to add a digital layer to your thought leadership strategy – and if you aren’t, you should be – it’ll comfort you to know audiences want more than just political opinions and pictures of your meals. There’s a big market out there for thoughtful content. And audiences, be they customers, fans or peers, have shown they won’t punish executives for voicing reasonable opinions. You just can’t cross the Kathy Griffin Line.

Social media gives Branson, Musk, Zuckerberg  and other executives a direct method to share announcements and make news – plus, importantly, they get to control their messages. That’s a powerful tool if used wisely.

You don’t need to be to an iconic “tie-loathing philanthropist” like Branson or have a vision to colonize Mars like Musk to build a large audience for your thought leadership brand. You can build large audiences in several ways: 

  • Share expertise about your fields – industry peers are a particularly great place to start. Most people yearn for insights to help empower them to do their jobs better, especially in these rapidly changing times.
  • Share content that grabs your attention or makes you rethink your point of view. Show how you think by sharing items with which you agree and disagree.
  • Be authentic and share information about your non-work passions. You should not be defined solely by your job and the old journalism maxim holds true even in the age of social media: People love reading about people and their interests.

The bottom line is if you want a reporter to call to get your insights, give them a great reason. A speech at a conference will be heard by those in the room, but most of the audience will likely be on their phones looking for more engaging content anyway.

It’s time for more executives to realize their personal digital strategy is just as important as their company’s.

In our next digital thought leadership post, we’ll share some of the most interesting examples of that we’ve seen in 2017.

Todd Sommers is Vice President, Integrated Marketing. Jacques Couret is a former journalist who currently serves as editorial manager of All Told, Allison+Partners global integrated marketing offering. 

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