For CEOs on social media, consistency and authenticity carry the day, say Brunswick's Craig Mullaney and Mike Krempasky
In a surprisingly robust metaphor, having content go viral has been described as “winning the internet version of the lottery.” Your chances of success are infinitesimal and determined almost entirely by luck. And the big payoff seldom lasts very long – studies have found that viral content has a negligible impact on a company’s long-term social engagement.
There are many euphemisms for “going viral” – breaking through, making a splash – but whatever the phrasing, all miss the mark that leaders should be aiming for when they post online. It’s not about reaching the largest audience; it’s about reaching the right audience.
Of course time-strapped leaders want their online posts to reach as many people as possible, but the content most business leaders have to share isn’t meant to go viral. Posting regularly to one, perhaps two, social channels sounds a lot less exciting than reaching millions of people instantaneously, but this patient, long-term approach is the right one for senior executives. It cuts to the heart of what it means to lead: consistently connecting with people and inspiring them, building credibility and trust rather than trying to grab headlines or attention.
Imagine, for a moment, two relatively new business executives, both of whom face an emerging crisis. A high-profile, critically important moment for each; thousands will be introduced to these leaders for the first time. As they look to steady the ship and address concerned stakeholders, both will rely on digital channels to communicate their messages instantly and without any filters.
One executive has a track record of online posts, ranging from serious thought leadership to content revealing their career journey, values and interests. The other has posted infrequently, with content that’s clearly been written and produced by advisers. It’s obvious which leader is better practiced in delivering their message, better positioned to make sure that they are heard – and, crucially, which one is more likely to be believed.
And yet data suggests that many leaders have an online presence that more closely resembles the disadvantaged executive. Research published in 2017 by the PR firm Weber Shandwick found that half of CEOs of public companies and 59 percent of CEOs leading private companies had some sort of presence on social networks, but few were socially engaged and active. For both public and private companies, only 38 percent had posted once on a social network over a 12-month span.
This is an area in which even the most highly regarded CEOs have struggled. In 2016, DDI, a global human resources consultancy, analyzed how socially engaged the Harvard Business Review’s “Top 100 CEOs” were. With fairly lax criteria – simply having a profile photo and multiple engagements on one social platform – only 20 percent of CEOs made the “socially engaged” cut.