Chief executives of the world’s leading companies do not take social media seriously, according to recent research. Just over 70% (352) of Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence on any social media networks, a report that looks specifically at the social media efforts of Fortune 500 companies found.
Those who do have a presence, rarely use it. The report measured Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, Wikipedia, Pinterest and blogs.
The dismissive attitude of leaders to participating in social media will damage the sales and profits of the companies they lead, says public relations and social media specialist, Catriona Pollard, CEO of CP Communications.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
“CEOs are not with the times,” says Pollard, who regularly trains leaders in how to use social media. “Their customers and staff already know social media is critical and the majority of their staff and customers are on social media. They are not engaging with staff, customers, and suppliers, and they are missing out on this competitive advantage.”
Lack of time is the reason most quoted by leaders in explaining their lack of social media nous.
They also believe, wrongly, that social media is the domain of Gen Ys. “The majority of people on Twitter are over 35 and LinkedIn is a social network entirely for professionals,” says Pollard.
“CEOs’ perception of social media – that it is a place for kids to upload their drunk photos – is wrong.”
Does it matter?
Pollard, who has 4,500 Twitter followers, all with their own followers, says social media is a tool with unprecedented power. “When I tweet, my corporate message is going out to thousands of people. As companies, we have never had that access before. An ad might reach them, but there is no engagement with that. And engagement leads to sales.”
Pollard refers to a 2012 report by branding company, BrandFog, that revealed:
- 81% of respondent believe social CEOs are better leaders
- 77% want to buy more from a company led by a social CEO
- 82% believe social CEOs are more trustworthy
- 78% want to work for a social CEO
- 93% believe social CEOs are better equipped for crisis management
- 94% believe social CEOs enhance the company’s brand
Bad stuff seeps into the empty space leaders leave in social media universe. Petroleum company, Shell, recently suffered a substantial social media attack on its environmental record.
Leaders will make social media blunders if they do not understand what they are dealing with. “CEOs of mid-sized to large companies need to understand the power of the platform, so that when their team comes to them to say we should have LinkedIn ads, or start a group, they will understand what they are talking about,” Pollard says.
Leaders prefer LinkedIn … but they don’t use it.
LinkedIn is the best-used social media site by Fortune 500 CEOs, with 129 (25.9%) having LinkedIn profiles, compared to 63 million (20.2%) of the American population.
But it’s downhill from there: 24% do not keep the information current; 41% have 10 or fewer connections; 28% have one or no connections at all.
How to join the social media elite
Pollard‘s recommended steps for social media in general, and LinkedIn in particular, are:
- Change your attitude – from fearful to open and interested. Think: this is a powerful communications tool that gives me a competitive advantage
- Pick the social media platform that excites you most. If LinkedIn excites you, go in and have a look. If you are a chatty person, try Twitter.
- Dedicate time to it. For the first month, go in for an hour on Sunday (while the kids are in the backyard) and discover it. That is how social media works. Do not try to create connections.
- Do some online tutorials – LinkedIn has good ones – or take a course.
- Import all your email contacts into LinkedIn for instant connections.
- Join some groups that are within your passions, interest and industry. Look at the discussions. Start to participate.
- Set a strategy – a small, achievable one – such as spending 10 minutes a day to update your LinkedIn status, and three times a week sharing a helpful link.
- Look after your own contribution to social media before trying to govern the company-wide approach, at least until you get to know it.