Humanize the CEO: How to be Social

Blog   /   Social
October 3, 2013
Image courtesy of Domain7.
Image courtesy of Domain7.


Shawn Neumann
Shawn Neumann

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.

As a CEO the best way to create a more human company in the eyes of customers is to reveal your own humanity. And it’s never been so easy since your customers moved en masse to social media platforms.

In the last few weeks I’ve made a case for engaging your customers by being authentic and present on the web. We’ve talked about the fear social media stirs in CEOs and the best way to address that fear. In this final post, we’ll get into the nitty gritty of how to actually be a social CEO.

First, do your research:

Start the way you would begin any strategic project
1. Study the data
2. Talk to your audience
3. Check out the competition
4. Truly tune in to your own purpose (see last post on being your story)

Just start, thoughtfully:

Starting doesn’t require an announcement. Just begin. Start with something useful and authentic. To find your voice and determine what channels you feel comfortable with, you may want to start with your internal social networks. Start sharing through your intranet (we use Google+ for ours) or closed Facebook group. See what feels authentic and what works. Carry that over to your public channels when you’re ready.

Worry about content, not technology:

Sure, Twitter is a great place to start, and LinkedIn has a professional feeling of legitimacy. Some CEOs have great instagram feeds, and some are using Vine to connect engagingly. Just start with the content and the platform will become clear. Not all content is equal. Some content is hard to produce, some is easy to produce. A tweet can have a low cost but may also have a low ROI. Video can have a high cost, but is a very strong influencer in B2B buying decisions.

Become a curator:

To be a valuable presence on social media without a massive time investment, become a curator. This is your chance to thoughtfully shape the conversation—both around your company and the broader industry. There are three steps to being a great curator:

1. Seek an area you’d like to curate within your industry—be it shipping, retail, athletic equipment or software. Put together a list of great content sources and set aside 15 minutes a day to scan these sources and flag interesting items. There are really great apps like Pocket and Instapaper that make this simple.
2. Sense how to draw out meaningful insights that align with your personal and organizational story. Give thought to where those sources are creating value or may have missed the mark and weigh in with your own perspective.
3. Share it. When you have a steady source of interesting content, layered with your insights or additions, start sharing. Don’t stress about slotting your message into a prescribed technology – just pick the platform that works best for you and your customer base. You’ll come to be seen as a valuable source of content, engaged in your industry and poised to connect with customers.


Social is never one-sided. Now is the time to listen like never before. It’s always better to be aware of concerns and sentiments than to be ignorant of them. It means you can act. (JCrew CEO Mickey Drexler recently gave a great example of this.) Being socially engaged, even if you aren’t posting frequently, makes you accessible when it counts. Key to listening is also responding. Know when to react and have a plan before it’s required.

Watch what you measure:

As a CEO it’s in your nature to seek the ROI, but the obvious social metrics are mostly a waste of time.  Likes, Follows, Retweets—these are often just vanity metrics. Rather than tracking twitter followers, find out how many products you sell as a result of tweeting a link to your purchase path? The only worthwhile metrics are the ones that measure success at your core business:
1. Relevant Revenue: Look to your core business engine. Is it being positively impacted by social initiatives? Don’t count random one-off deals.
2. Sales Volume: Measure units. How are they trending as you increase your social engagement? This should tell you if you’re pushing something “valuable”.
3. Customer Retention: A well engaged social approach should give you *net* customer growth. Don’t just focus on new customers.

Learn from the best:

There are a few leaders who are doing an amazing job owning their social space. Start your research by checking out what they’re doing and seeing what you can apply to your own social engagement.

Richard Branson Twitter 150
Richard Branson

What they demonstrate is that being a social CEO is directly tied to being a certain type of leader. If you are authentic, transparent and people-focused, then your organization will naturally become more human. Social just makes it easier to extend that ethos. A leader may be able to physically meet with three people in a day. But social media lets you connect with a massive audience each day. A social CEO can champion company values in the social context and have unlimited reach.

This is final part 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.