Social Media: Where's the C-Suite?

27 July 2010 Karen Albritton

Capstrat president Karen Albritton tells CEOs why the social media bandwagon is one they have to personally get involved in.

Recently, I attended the North Carolina CEO Forum, an invitation-only forum for C-level executives. The speakers were all top-notch, including Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield from – yes – Ben & Jerry's.

I tweeted from the event, along with the few fellow communications practitioners who had managed to secure an invite. But when I perused the event's hash tag, however, I realised virtually none of the CEOs were tweeting.

I noticed a couple of C-suite speakers had their social media managers in attendance to blog, tweet or capture video at the event. Kudos is due to those executives who recognised the power of social media to amplify their thought leadership beyond the couple hundred attendees. But where's the C-Suite when it comes to social media?

According to research conducted in June 2009 by the blog, out of Fortune's 2009 list of the top 100 CEOs:

• only two had Twitter accounts

• 13 had LinkedIn profiles, and of those only three had more than 10 connections

• 81% didn't have a personal Facebook page

• three quarters had some kind of Wikipedia entry, but nearly a third of the pages contained limited or outdated information

• not one had a blog.

"When we talk to executives, the concerns generally fall into one of three categories: productivity, privacy or profit."

This got me to thinking. Why aren't CEOs and other top executives more active in social media? When we talk to executives, the concerns generally fall into one of three categories: productivity, privacy or profit.

Productivity: The C-suite sets the tone for productivity and social media is often seen as a time drain without much benefit. Some companies restrict access to common social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, in part due to concerns over potential distractions for employees. Executives are often tightly scheduled during the day with meetings and obligations. Finding time to engage online is a challenge.

Privacy: Many executives are inundated with information and requests. They have gatekeepers screen their email and phone calls to filter out unnecessary and unwanted contact. They deal with sensitive information and have to be mindful of what information they put out in the public. Social media is all about tearing down walls, putting yourself out there and engaging. This runs counter to traditional behaviour for many corporate executives.

Profit: A recent survey of professionals conducted by Workplace Options showed that only 16% of workers felt social media helped them with their job. While many executives understand their company's need to have a social media strategy, there's still a fair amount of scepticism about the value that social media can provide.

Taking the plunge

At the CEO Forum, I was struck by a comment made by Chuck Swoboda of Cree regarding the adoption of sustainable products, and LED in particular. He said that executives need to use this new technology to understand it. While he was referring to green tech, I believe the same applies for social media.

"I decided
I couldn't serve my clients or my business if
I didn't use the technology too."

I'll admit I've done my share of resisting and ridiculing social media platforms. I've also dipped my toe in the water of social media, gotten in over my head and at times called in the lifeguards for help. At Capstrat, thanks to forward-thinking colleagues, we quickly realised that social media is here to stay. We made investments in talented people who understand the space and it's tempting to let them be the experts for me.

But I decided I couldn't serve my clients or my business if I didn't use the technology too. I make mistakes every day, but I'm out there, learning, engaging and, most surprisingly, making friends. More importantly, I'm building my brand and my company's brand.

I realise C-level executives are busy. I'm one of them. Yet many executives can find time to participate in the conversation. Anyone can engage even if only for a few minutes each day. If you're still on the edge of the pool, but want to jump in, here are five tips to help:

Get training and coaching
Ask one of the millennials on your staff to help you out. Your communications team and agency are probably chomping at the bit to do this. Chances are your company has a social media strategy. Ask what role the C-suite should or could play.

Start small
Engaging through social media does not have to require a tremendous amount of time, and does not mean you have to take a public stance. One of the best places for social media is in internal communications. You might begin to engage more through an internal blog or on internal social networks. At Capstrat we use an internal online collaboration tool we built to solicit ideas as well as gather comments on ideas. When we use this tool, everyone gets in the game, including the management team.

"Chances are your company has a social media strategy. Ask what role the C-suite should play."

Download mobile apps
Mobile apps allow you to easily participate in the conversation from your smartphone. I use and mobile downloads for LinkedIn and Facebook, but there are others. Tapping into social media while you are mobile enables you to make better use of your time. Again, ask around and get someone to download them for you.

Install a social media client
Installing a client like TweetDeck or Hootsuite on your computer allows you to easily view your different social media profiles from one location. There are days when I never look at social media and then there are days when I have more time to engage.

Integrate social media into your normal routine
I routinely scan several online newspapers and industry newsletters each morning. It only takes a few seconds to share relevant content with my networks through social media. And, my networks share content with me. Now I often hear about breaking news through social networks.

Once you're out there, I invite you to connect and follow me. I look forward to the conversation. You can find me on Twitter (@kalbritton) or LinkedIn (karenalbritton).