Should You Socialize Your CEO?

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From Facebook and Twitter, to Instagram and Pinterest, social media continues to prove it's not just some trend, but also an emerging platform for individuals and brands to connect and converse. But, as social media expands into an enterprisewide initiative, more companies beginning to consider to pros and cons of bringing their CEO into the mix. While many feel this step would bring an added human element to their business, others worry that exposing their CEO to public scrutiny may backfire.

From Facebook and Twitter, to Instagram and Pinterest, social media continues to prove it's not just some trend, but also an emerging platform for individuals and brands to connect and converse. But, as social media expands into an enterprisewide initiative, more companies beginning to consider to pros and cons of bringing their CEO into the mix. While many feel this step would bring an added human element to their business, others worry that exposing their CEO to public scrutiny may backfire.Here at 1to1 Media, we spoke with Jean Dobey, CEO of Hibe, to explore the current state of the social space and how brands can navigate the decision-making process:

1to1 Media: Before CEOs and other such leaders create an online social profile, what factors must they consider first? Should all leaders approach social similarly, or decide on a case-by-case basis?

Jean Dobey: When CEOs and other such leaders create an online social profile they must consider, first and foremost, their philosophy and why they want to carry out that vision. CEOs are visionaries and their beliefs and ideologies must be the driving force behind their desire to create. When it comes to social media, there isn't a "one-size-fits-all" solution for CEOs because the nature of their industry will actually determine their approach to their online persona. For example, if you are a CEO of a company that has created a product or service that adds to the consumer's personal life or identity, you should be as bold and genuine on social media as you are in real life. Take Richard Branson or Steve Jobs, for example. In the eyes of the consumer, these leaders are as identifiable as their companies. When we buy their products or services, we are highly aware of the visionary behind the label and, in most cases, that lends to the credibility and strong desire to be associated with that brand. Consequently, if you are a CEO or a leader for a company that offers products or services that fulfill a need, but which do not add to our personal lives or identities, then your behavior on social media shouldn't be front and center. In these cases, the identity or persona of the CEO doesn't directly impact our purchasing decisions.

1to1: Should company leaders develop separate personal and public social profiles?

JD: Like everyone else, CEOs are social beings. They have the right to share experiences and memories with their families and friends. However, since their company image is always associated with them, their behavior online should be filtered and clearly defined along the lines of personal or professional, private or public. Time and time again, we've seen where people in the public eye have shared personal information or content that has been taken out of context and has required PR damage control. In the interests of both their personal and brand images, CEOs must gain greater control over the online personas they present and the content they share.

1to1: What are the potential ramifications if they blend work and play?

JD: Again, this comes down to the type of industry that the CEO is in. It could be argued that, if you're the CEO for a company that offers products that add to our identities and our personal lives, then blending work and play in social media is not a bad thing. Again, take Richard Branson, who is genuinely an adventurous risk-taker in both business and his personal life. He is seen as a trailblazer in the eyes of the consumer, which only adds to the perception of his brand. His persona contributes to the feelings of excitement that consumers associate with that brand. Difficulties arise when things are taken out of context. The speed at which news travels online means the company leader or CEO must be prepared to react quickly to any negative fallout on social media. Above all, they must do so in a genuine way that positively reflects and reinforces their vision.

1to1: How do leader profiles impact company reputation? Should others be allowed to maintain such pages on the leader's behalf?

JD: CEOs that are the brand should manage their own social media. Consumers need to know that everything the CEO does or says is genuine. For that reason, CEOs need to exhibit a level of authenticity in their online behavior that reflects their company's vision and philosophies. A brand's reputation can be highly impacted, both positively and negatively, by a CEO's activities on social media. In many ways, CEOs are like artists. We associate songs and music with an artist--who is the CEO of their brand--and everything they do impacts our desire to be a part of their music or not. We don't buy an album because of the record label it's under. Once other people start managing a CEO's online identity it will become very difficult for that CEO to be aligned with his or her vision because their actions are no longer genuine. Consequently, the passion that fuels their vision will also be lost. Even though they are accountable to shareholders and advisors, CEOs aren't puppets. When it comes to their integrity and the integrity of their companies, their behavior online and offline shouldn't be directed by outside influences.

1to1: For those who are still fairly unsure of how to approach the social sphere, what are some essential do's and don'ts that all should keep in mind?

JD: When it comes to the approach a CEO adopts on social media, it depends greatly on whether they're the visionary behind the brand or not:

If it's your vision, just be yourself

If you're the CEO and true visionary of a company that creates products that add to your consumers' identities, it's important to be genuine. Just be yourself, show your passion and explain why you believe in the products you've created. Share the philosophies behind why you developed these products and highlight how they can change people's everyday lives. It's easy if you really use the products you've created. Faking your passion for a product you don't really use won't work. Consumers are smart and will see right through false testimonials. Social media also gives you the power to humanize your company--something CEOs shouldn't underestimate. While image is everything in traditional media, social media is more about being human. It's the perfect medium to help your consumers identify with you, your vision, and the products you've created.

Be a good actor or be prepared to let others act

If you're the CEO, but not the visionary behind a brand, it can be difficult to naturally engage with consumers and answer their questions through social media. Usually this is where there is an element of acting with the lines that have been provided by the marketing team or visionary. However, the open and real-time nature of social can mean a CEO's philosophies and vision can be challenged by anybody online at any time and it can be very demanding and difficult for him or her to constantly lean on their marketing team or brand visionary for appropriately-worded answers. This is why these types of CEOs should not manage their own social media accounts.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION