Social media for CEOs

The explosion in the use of social media over the past five years has changed the way that people interact. Allan Biggar discusses why CEOs need to switch on to using it

I seem to spend most of my life on a plane, or on the way to the airport or at the airport. Thank God for Blackberry, iPhone and the plethora of handheld devices that allow businesses and people like me to function in today’s world.

I can read and respond to emails about my business, view memos and forecasts, helping me make the most of my time, whilst my plane is grounded by snow as was the case recently. I seem to spend most of my life on a plane, or on the way to the airport or at the airport. Thank God for Blackberry, iPhone and the plethora of handheld devices that allow businesses and people like me to function in today’s world. I can read and respond to emails about my business, view memos and forecasts, helping me make the most of my time, whilst my plane is grounded by snow as was the case recently.

CEOs and any c-level executives despite the tag of never leaving the office are secretly grateful for being connected to technology - helping to maximise their time. It makes business sense doesn’t it?

So why is it that not many CEOs look beyond using this integral wifi enabled tool to reach out into the marketplace via social media?

A survey of the top 100 Fortune companies found that only two CEOs used Twitter and 81 per cent didn’t have a Facebook. Even Linkedin the so called ‘Facebook for grown-ups’ had a mere 13 CEOs on it. You could argue they are successful business leaders because they don’t waste their time updating their status or share their pearls of wisdom on a regular basis. However what the savvy ones are doing at present is using the social media to listen to the marketplace.

Social media, it is safe to say, is not a fad that will disappear anytime soon. In 10 to 15 years’ time, the vast amount of consumers will be of the ‘Facebook generation.’ They will expect to be reached via social media, it’s where they will share experiences and suggest products and services to their friends and online groups. It is also where brand reputation will be built and or panned at the same time.

In the old days companies would rely heavily on broadcasting their message, selling the benefits and USPs of their products over that of competitors. Those that shouted the loudest would be heard and would be successful, so the theory went. Companies would define everything from the price, the values and direction and why the consumer needed the product. That relationship has now been turned on its head, thanks to the internet age and surge in the use of social media. Shouting the loudest in a crowded marketplace is no longer possible as the number of channels in which people get their information has increased. Business in order to differentiate itself must listen to the consumer and hear what they want.

Consumers now set the parameters that were once left to business. Every single tweet, status update, blog and hash tag is an opinion. As these opinions are spread across peoples’ social networks they connect with other people with similar views on products and services. From this we now have consumer groups that are hyper-connected and are able to influence and define the value of a brand, company or product. From a business perspective once an opinion has been formed by an online community, it is important for a company to go with the grain if it is positive, or change the brand in the hope it will change peoples’ views.

The trick here for c-level executives is to listen lots and talk a little. Hard for some CEOs, I know!

Knowing what the market is thinking by following what is trending, about their product, their company and their competitors is hugely beneficial. It gives an insight that is real-time and not from a structured focus group. I know it does not replace them as an affective tool at gauging public opinion, but it does serve as snap shot as to what consumers are saying.

So now that the market is defining your company, brand and product - CEOs can help shape the debate in their favour - by commenting on and directly engaging with customers. Doing this takes the consumer beyond having a relationship with a brand and makes them feel they have a relationship with the person at the top. This helps only to intensify the relationship between the two parties and can build brand loyalty.

But one of the main functions where social media can be leveraged is building brand value with the CEO serving as the company’s main advocate. Of course CEOs do this all the time in the media, but this is usually through press statements, interviews and opinion pieces via the traditional media. However, this is usually read by small majority of people compared to the millions online.

By sharing their feelings behind a brand, the industry prospects and opinions a CEO can generate discussions amongst online communities that in turn can reach more people that traditional channels would miss. Any social media-savvy CEO or c-level executive can in fact shape opinion around a brand more quickly than any amount of press releases or TV and print advertising could.

So to sum up: innovation needs to be your mantra - consumer needs are changing fast due to the social media age and these needs are being broadcast online, by millions of voices. My advice to CEOs and business is listen-up and use social media to do just that.

Allan Biggar is founder and chairman of All About Brands. For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit www.freshbusinessthinking.com

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