A 2021 resolution for CEOs: Put social media to work for you | Brunswick

A 2021 resolution for CEOs: Put social media to work for you

Many of us are probably hoping to minimize our time online; executives should head in the opposite direction. By Craig Mullaney.

Few New Years’ resolutions come as a surprise. Cultivating a meditation practice, exercising more, using our phones less—how many times have we heard some version of these? Yet our advice for 2021 may come as something of a surprise: Every CEO should resolve to establish an effective social media presence.

Our research finds that by a margin of five to one employees would rather work for a leader who’s on social media. Similarly, we found 93% of financial readers expect to hear from a CEO online during a crisis, and 7 out of 10 people trust a CEO who’s online. This isn’t about leaders spending more time communicating—it’s about using that time to lead more effectively.

The most effective resolutions aren’t inspired by facts alone, otherwise our first reading of meditation’s benefits would see us become ardent practitioners. Instead, resolutions that succeed tend to have two ingredients: a spark and a system.

The spark ignites an awareness that the status quo isn’t acceptable: the heart attack that inspires a better diet and exercise, the explosive argument that leads to therapy. Last year certainly offered that jolt for the offline CEO. “The world has gone digital” more closely resembled an operational reality than a vague truism. Digital was how the most effective CEOs engaged their employees and spoke out against racial injustice. For most, leadership through a screen was the only option.

A spark awakens us to the need for change, but a system sustains it. “It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis,” James Clear writes in his bestselling Atomic Habits. “Too often, we convince ourselves that massive success requires massive action.”

In our experience, successful Connected Leaders can invest as little as 15 minutes of their week to discuss their weekly social media strategy and 5 minutes per day to engage online.

  • Review notifications to like or reply to comments and mentions, in accordance with their online engagement protocol.

  • Scroll through their feeds to find opportunities to engage with influencers and peers.

  • Share relevant, interesting news of the day.

  • Look to trending topics for sources of content inspiration.

That’s a worthy resolution to aim for in 2021: 5 minutes a day. Small can sound underwhelming, but it accumulates. Over the course of a year, 5 minutes a day, 5 days a week, totals more than 21 hours.

For the executive totally in the dark about social platforms, step one might be asking your comms team to connect you with a peer who uses social media well, or to simply familiarize yourself with a channel. For the executive who’s online but rarely posts, maybe it’s committing to post once a month. For the leader already posting, it could be engaging with at least two comments on each post.

Clockwork discipline is crucial—consistent rather than piecemeal. Build these mini-sessions into your calendar. As with any resolution, motivation and willpower are likely to fade. Distractions will arise. “It doesn’t matter what you are trying to become better at,” Clear writes, “if you only do the work when it’s convenient or exciting, then you’ll never be consistent enough to achieve remarkable results.”

Our research finds that by a margin of five to one employees would rather work for a leader who’s on social media. Similarly, we found 93% of financial readers expect to hear from a CEO online during a crisis, and 7 out of 10 people trust a CEO who’s online. This isn’t about leaders spending more time communicating—it’s about using that time to lead more effectively.

Craig Mullaney Partner

This individual commitment is most powerfully realized with the help of a team. They can create a content calendar and help you keep to it, while working in the background to amplify your posts, analyze their reach, and adjust the tactics accordingly. Your chief of staff and communications team must leverage your time and words to maximum effect.

The social media resolution, at its core, isn’t about being tech savvy; it’s about being a leader. Because surely any definition of corporate leadership entails regularly engaging with employees, connecting with customers, and delivering your message to policymakers and investors. Many of those stakeholders now spend roughly two and a half hours a day on social media—what does it say about the CEO who is too busy, or too reticent, to meet them there for five minutes?

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Craig Mullaney is a Brunswick Partner, based in Washington, DC. Mr. Mullaney is an experienced advisor and a New York Times best-selling author. His Connected Leadership column spotlights how modern executives use digital and social media to communicate and lead organizations.