The Social Executive: Are You a Social CEO?

Shawn Neumann
Shawn Neumann, President and Founder of Domain7

Shawn Neumann is the President and Founder of the web agency @Domain7, and a contributor to the HootSource Blog. This post originally appeared on Channel 7

Last week I explained why it’s time for organizational leaders to earn their place as the face of their companies, using social media.

As I speak with other presidents and CEOs, I often encounter fear and reluctance towards the social space. In fact, where social media is concerned, I think the typical CEO can be lumped into one of three personas:

Branded Brenda 

Brenda is pushing corporate branded content, but she’s rarely engaged in two-way dialogue. She recognizes social has a role, but she plays it supersafe and always toes the corporate line—or does nothing at all. BestBuy CEO Hubert Joly is a great example: he’s got a branded twitter channel without a single tweet. Instead Best  Buy’s messaging comes solely from the PR channel—and even that’s completely one-sided. Last year Forbes shared a great piece about BestBuy’s social (and commercial) decline with some lessons we can learn.

Automatic Otto

Otto has a marketing team that manages his social, which is generally just an impersonal regurgitation of corporate-blah, lacking any personal value. He doesn’t engage, and his “contribution” is just a quaint part of the corporate culture. Kenneth Cole demonstrated the risks of being Auto-Otto a couple years ago during the Arab Spring. A careless approach can cause big trouble when companies aren’t engineered to think and react socially. Your customers are taking social seriously, and you should too.

Engaged Edward

This savvy CEO is listening AND talking; championing his story from within the organization and building loyalty by being real and accessible. Peter Aceto at Tangerine is doing a great job of this—fostering a two-way conversation and showing a human face to what could otherwise be a big impersonal financial organization. There’s a great interview with him on the topic on the Financial Post.

Image courtesy of Domain7.
Image courtesy of Domain7.

So, which one are you?

If you’re not an Engaged Edward, your reluctance to get social is probably due to one of these common concerns/complaints:

  • Lack of understanding: I don’t “get” social media
  • Personality: It’s just “not me”
  • Fear: I’m afraid I might say the wrong thing
  • Value: I can’t see the ROI
  • Time: I’m too busy
  • Seems frivolous: I don’t want to tell people what I have for breakfast
  • Prestige: It cheapens the brand (personally or organizationally)
  • Security: We have privacy rules and bureaucracy

Many of these objections reveal a CEO who hasn’t clued into a shift that the web and advertising have forced upon their role. CEOs used to maintain a knowledge “advantage”—they knew more about their industry, their product, their business than anyone else. But that advantage has dissipated. In many cases your customer will know MORE about your product than you do.

Instead of trying to maintain the knowledge advantage, CEOs need to be the knowledge creators. It’s a whole new challenge that requires different type of leadership—a creative role that necessitates a creative approach. It means being the one who shapes your corporate and personal story. Engaging in social media isn’t a question of process or technology—it’s a matter of story, strategy and leadership. If you know your story, there’s nothing to fear.

Unless you’re an Engaged Edward you are likely on the path to obsolescence.

In my next two posts I’ll talk about how to move towards engagement: first by knowing your story, then with some practical advice for how to manage your social from the top line.

This is Part 2 in a 4-part series about being a social executive. Want to learn more about being a Social CEO? Read our list of 5 Non-tech CEOs who are doing big things with social. Want to know more about HootSuite? Visit our Enterprise site and request a demo.