Originally posted on @erwwpr’s flagship blog.
This is the third in a series of 10 posts about different aspects of CEO branding.
You might be sick of people talking about social media. That’s understandable. It can get tiresome when the hot topic of the month becomes the hot topic of the year and looks set to be the hot topic of the decade (counting from around 2005). It’s what happens with new mass-market technology. A century ago the hot topics were telephones, movies and automobiles, and I bet people got sick of hearing about them, too. Eventually those technologies became part of everyday life and people just used them without a big fuss.
I know of some businesspeople who still think social media is a waste of time and have decided to avoid it. Come to think of it, back in the ’90s plenty of businesspeople (mostly men who couldn’t type) thought that computers and the Internet were a waste of time.
As an open-minded person, I recognize that keeping technology at arm’s length might well be a viable strategy for some people; it seems to work for the Amish. But as a PR and branding professional, I must be honest and warn you: If you want to build your brand—personal or corporate—you can’t afford to disregard social media. Having a social media presence is already essential to building your personal brand and it will only get more so. You’ll be in good company. Richard Branson, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Tom Peters and Martha Stewart all use social media to connect with the wider world beyond their usual circles.
Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, social media is more than just the high-profile headliners. Beyond Facebook and Twitter, there are many more choices—YouTube, Vimeo, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, LinkedIn, Spotify, Pinterest and blogs are just the tip of the iceberg. Each is different and each offers its own way of sharing content and interacting with other users. None of them need take a lot of time, so it’s perfectly possible to use several, but there’s no need to use them all. Through experimentation you will find the mix that works for you, allowing you to be yourself (meaning your own brand) online and interact with people.
If you’re successful in business, you must be familiar with cultivating good work habits such as managing time, filtering email and tracking metrics. Using social media successfully also takes clear principles and good judicious habits. Writing in Forbes, Chris Perry came up with five pointers to guide top executives as they get social. Here they are, with my own twists:
- Realize that you shine bright online. You might be alone with a keyboard when you post, but whatever you upload is a public appearance. Assume that your comments will be picked up by the press and examined closely by your customers, staff and others watching your company. Speak and act accordingly.
- Recognize your role as Chief Narrator. Social platforms aren’t a sounding board for a CEO’s innermost thoughts; they’re an extension of other modes of communication you use as the lead executive of your organization. Social media gives you a great opportunity to share thoughts on your company or industry issues; your views will get amplified through networks that reach employees, investors, customers and the press. As with existing communications efforts, have a plan in place as you engage.
- Anticipate your remarks on social media being part of a permanent public record. Avoid posting or tweeting on topics that you would never discuss aloud in a public forum. Badmouthing competitors, going too deep into personal matters or speaking about divisive issues is not the way to go. You need to pitch your input somewhere between plain vanilla and eye-watering habanero when engaging online. However you do it, you should anticipate that what you say will generate the same reaction as if it were published in the press. (In fact, it probably will appear in the press.)
- Don’t court controversy if you can’t take the heat. It’s perfectly appropriate to express opinions on relevant industry issues and current events that affect your business. But beware of statements that might be controversial unless you’re prepared to be at the center of the storm. Rash off-the-cuff remarks can have a massive ripple effect that has to be managed by your staff, PR team and others tied to the issue after the fact. Pause for a moment of private reflection before you go public.
- Despite the inherent risks, embrace your humanity. Being judicious online doesn’t mean you can’t let your personality shine through. In fact, this is one of the best ways CEOs can engage on a deeper, more human level with stakeholders. Personal insights into what it’s like to lead an organization show authenticity. (Just remember that there are limits to what’s appropriate to share.)