Searching for Leadership | Brunswick Group

Searching for Leadership

Research revealed in Brunswick’s 2022 Connected Leadership report shows how critical it is for executives to be conscious and deliberate about their online reputations.

An executive’s reputation directly impacts the company, from market value to talent attraction and retention. In fact, 74% of employees say that the overall reputation of their CEO is an important factor when deciding to stay with their current employer, according to Brunswick’s 2022 Connected Leadership report.

Put simply: if you do not define your online reputation, others will. Even if an executive is absent from social media, they have an online footprint—from a biography on the company website and Wikipedia results to historical media coverage—and that footprint will inform the perception of key stakeholders. Without proactive steps, the first impression received by stakeholders risks being driven primarily by third parties. Conversely, a concerted focus on digital presence can increase an executive’s reputational resilience.

A range of stakeholders—from existing and potential employees to investors and journalists—use digital channels to form their impressions of companies and their leaders. In Brunswick’s 2022 Connected Leadership Report, we found that 82% of employees will research a CEO’s online presence when considering whether to join a company or not, with 62% of employees forming their first impressions from the company’s corporate website. And as skepticism of media intensifies, this year’s Digital Investor Survey found that investors are leaning on company investor relations websites and have high levels of trust in IR sites, Google search results, and Wikipedia.

“Our CEO is very authentic, very high energy. He’s the face of the brand. His engagement online is a great advertisement for the company and in attracting great talent.” Global Financial Services Company, Brunswick Group’s 2022 Connected Leadership report.

Showing up online in an authentic—and visible way—is vital, regardless of whether an executive opts to use social media. To help on your journey to create a more discoverable and authentic online executive presence, here are top best practices to follow:

  • Claim the Google Knowledge Panel: The Knowledge Panel is a highly used and helpful summary of an individual or brand, taking up significant real estate on the first page of Google search results. This is extremely advantageous for leaders looking to increase their discoverability and humanize executive language.
  • Update corporate and IR website biographies: Build on generic website leadership bios and career highlights with rich and engaging information. Depth and color will humanize executives and help audiences get to know leaders, understand their past successes, hear their latest insights, and learn what drives them—inside and outside of company walls. Keep in mind:
    • Transparency: expanded biography and career CV, track record of tangible achievements, their official job description.
    • Authenticity: videos—both interview and films—that cover everything from business strategy to personal interests.
    • Expertise: recent thought leadership articles, interviews, presentations, and speeches.
    • Ease of use: assets for journalists and others, like downloadable images and biographies.
    • Consistency: join things up with any social media channels through links, shared content, and tone.

Great examples of this in practice can be seen via bp’s and GSK’s IR sites. GSK’s site even features a headlining video from CEO Emma Walmsley on the company’s latest earnings. Make the profile engaging and informative.

  • Publish search-optimized content to the company website: Create a comprehensive and search-optimized FAQ to the site as its own page, linking to it from leaders’ corporate biographies. This could include leading questions that address frequently searched terms, maximizing its visibility on search platforms to own the narrative.
  • Upload videos to YouTube: As a Google subsidiary, YouTube content is a crucial component of an SEO strategy and increasing discoverability. Include leaders’ names and roles in video titles to unlock its full potential. One helpful example of this can be seen on Zoetis’ YouTube channel, where CEO Kristin Peck regularly showcases her signature interview series, “On Purpose,” unlocking SEO benefits.

Leaders’ online presence is a priority now more than ever, and when done authentically, it can fortify relationships and build trust amongst stakeholders, chipping away at the screen barrier.


Craig Mullaney is a Brunswick Partner based in Washington, DC. He is an experienced advisor and a New York Times best-selling author. 

Rick Sellers is a Partner based in London and leads the research and strategy aspects at Brunswick Digital.

Georgina Malloy is a Director with the Digital team based in Brunswick’s Washington, DC office. 

Meredith Hessel is an Executive with the Digital team also based in the Washington, DC office.

Illustration by James Yang.