Despite the mass appeal of social media, the C-Suite has become notorious for ignoring sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Most organizations have embraced the use of social media as a marketing function to engage with their customer base, strengthen relationships and build stronger brand loyalty.  Many individual CEOs, however, have been slow to adopt a presence in the social sphere.  That slow adoption may come from their perceptions that social media has little value outside of marketing.


CEOs Are Avoiding Social Media in Striking Numbers published its second annual Social CEO Report in Q3 of 2013. That report took a deep dive into the social networking presence of the CEOs of each company on the Fortune 500 list. According to the report, 68% of CEOs have absolutely no presence on any major social network.


At the time of the study, only 140 of Fortune 500 CEOs were on LinkedIn, only 35 were on Facebook, and a mere 28 were on Twitter.  The report cites four reasons for low participation:


  1. Lack of time
  2. Uncomfortable with the level of transparency required on social media
  3. Increased risk
  4. General resistance to change


Looking more closely at that list, readers can break them down into into two major reasons why CEOs avoid social media: lack of perceived value and fear.  In general, people fear the things that they do not understand, and they won’t make time for things that they do not find value in.


This fear likely stems from the fact that CEOs misunderstand and misplace the true value of social media. The value lies not in the talking, but in the listening. Executives can use these platforms to establish thought leadership and tell their stories. However, when they take the time listen to their customers, observe their competitors, and interact with employees, they can expose themselves to new products, new customers, new markets, and a host of new opportunities.


Josh James, the CEO of Domo, which sponsored the report noted, “CEOs who use social media are growing their businesses, attracting lifelong customers, generating exposure for their companies and closing new deals. As consumers become more social savvy, so must company leaders.”


Social Media


Brian J. Dunn, CEO of Best Buy, recently opened up about his shift in thinking when it comes to social media. In a piece penned forThe Harvard Business Review, Dunn discussed his own conversion, and encouraged his fellow executives to get on board with social media sooner rather than later.


Dunn got off to a rocky start with social media. He had been using Facebook and Twitter very lightly, and he used it to talk about a variety of subjects. He was well aware that his profiles were public, and that he needed to measure what he said, how he said it, and when. In 2012, he was on an overseas business trip when he began to receive frantic messages from his team.  His Twitter account had been hacked, and the hackers posted some rather “adult” content on Dunn’s very public feed.


The blogosphere quickly exploded with the news, and the obligatory screen captures of the offending Tweet. In fact, if you Google “Best Buy CEO Twitter hack,” it generates over 111,000 results almost two years later.  An embarrassing incident like this could be enough to turn most public figures off of social media for good.


Embracing the Good With the Bad


Rather than tuck his tail between his legs and retreat from the platform, Dunn pressed forward. He was already converted to the church of digital marketing. He understood early in his career with Best Buy that e-commerce would be the retail giant’s answer to remaining relevant in the digital age.  He taught himself how to harness the power of the internet to help drive business forward.  And Dunn recognized early that social media – though frustrating, confusing, and often times banal – was truly the next frontier. By listening to his friends and followers online, he began to see that the real power of the platform was its ability to help him and his company establish real relationships and stronger loyalty with customers in an era where personalized services seems to have fallen by the wayside.


Dunn notes that he often gets asked by fellow executives how he plans to monetize social media. He believes that this is the wrong way to approach it.  He writes, “The right question is, ‘How am I going to deepen my relationship with customers and employees and deepen the conversation that goes on where they are?’”


Best Buy, and by extension, its CEO, has decided to be part of the conversation rather than letting the conversation happen around them. They have set up unique social media communities where customers can receive technical help for free, and where they can reach out to one another to learn about the products they own, as well as new products.  Best Buy understand that giving away free advice helps strengthen customer loyalty and relationships.


Dunn also uses social media to connect with his employees. He regularly tweets about experiences that he’s had in stores, and reaches out to his employees both as a group and as individuals. He replies to employees who address him directly, and that helps build employee morale that can’t be bought through HR programs or benefits packages.


Social Media


Other CEOs should take a page from Brian Dunn’s playbook. Customers are already on social media. They are having conversations about the products they use and the companies they do business with. It’s not enough to just have the marketing department posting on behalf of the company. CEOs can add a lot of value. They are, after all, the face of an organization. By overcoming their fear and embracing the value of social media, they can expand their digital marketing reach, but they can also build real trust and loyalty among current and new customers.