Go Public With Your Praise | Brunswick Group

Go Public With Your Praise

How can a CEO show gratitude in a time of social distancing? On social media, says Brunswick’s Craig Mullaney.

The benefits of expressing gratitude, according to decades of research, are as extensive as they are measurable: Employees’ mental health, decision-making, and productivity all improve (so do employee engagement, retention, resilience ...)

Yet leaders today find themselves in a curious position as they try to realize those benefits. On the one hand, they are brimming with reasons to express gratitude—the stress and uncertainty of a pandemic has produced so many small acts of heroism, sacrifice, and contribution. However, executives can’t deliver those thank-you’s face-to-face—a manner many not only prefer, but are better practiced at.

Replicating in-person engagements with video meetings isn’t sustainable or scalable, which is why a growing number of executives are using social platforms like LinkedIn or Instagram to praise, recognize, and thank employees.  

What these platforms lack in familiarity (at least for some executives), they compensate for with efficacy. Social posts can reach any employee with a smartphone and are designed to convey a level of humanity often missing from emails. Rather than being straightjacketed by plain text, executives can post a photo with a short caption, or share a brief handheld video—and do so in less time than it would take to draft an email.

It’s better for those on the receiving end, as well: Would you rather have your boss talk about the great job you did in a private email, or in a post your colleagues—and thousands of other connections—could see?

Encouraging engagement requires a leader to post consistently—gratitude, appreciation, and recognition are safe, effective topics for executives to regularly write about. To prevent those posts from becoming formulaic, they can be tied to an event—Thanksgiving, an earnings announcement, a product milestone—or interwoven into separate posts. An ideal post conveys a connection with the person or team being thanked—whether that’s a photo of the executive with them, or a brief but memorable story in the caption.

More important than the words themselves are the extent to which they are aligned with—and reinforced by—actions

Emmanuel Faber, Chairman & CEO of Danone, does this brilliantly. He frequently takes to social media to praise employees. Zoom CEO Eric Yuan uses Twitter and LinkedIn to highlight a different group: customers. Yuan posts his appreciation for corporate organizations, schools, and even individual users. While impossible to measure the effect these posts have, it’s not a stretch to suggest they improve a leader’s reputation: Yuan leads more than 2,000 employees while Faber leads more than 100,000—both boast an approval rating of 98% on Glassdoor.

Showing recognition and gratitude remains more art than science, yet it’s worth keeping a few guiding principles in mind. If you stumble over your thank-you message when reading it aloud, it’s overly written. If the praise could apply to most anybody—“hard worker,” “showed real commitment”—then it needs to be personalized. As ever on social platforms, authenticity carries the day.

More important than the words themselves are the extent to which they are aligned with—and reinforced by—actions. Executives that publicly thank employees while cutting pay or benefits leave themselves exposed (and communicate a very different message than gratitude with their post).   

The pandemic has changed the tactics of how leaders express their gratitude, but has left unaltered the importance of doing so. Social platforms enable leaders to communicate simple, powerful sentiments—“Thank you,” “I appreciate you,” “You did a great job”—with a reach and richness that email can’t match, and allow them to say it using more than their words.


Craig Mullaney is a Brunswick Partner, based in Washington, DC. Mr. Mullaney is an experienced advisor and a New York Times best-selling author. This is the first article in a series on Connected Leadership, spotlighting how modern executives use digital and social media to communicate and lead organizations.

Illustration by James Yang.