On April 2, The Wall Street Journal published an interview with me: “CEOs Face Reputation Pitfalls If They Avoid Social Media.” It focuses on the dangers social media poses to executives, and on the reasons mistakes seem to happen so often.
The article is behind the newspaper’s pay wall, but you can read the full text here.
I would like to elaborate on some of the important points the interview touches on. Social media can be an attractive way of engaging with your consumers and the broader public, but it can easily turn into a reputation headache. No executive should have a Twitter account – or any presence on social media – unless she or he has a very clear strategy and measurable goals. And for executives in a regulated industry, or that have already been the target of negative publicity, our advice is to stay off.
Your Presence on Social Media May Not be Worth the Exposure
Why? Unless being active on social media serves a specific objective, it isn’t worth the exposure.
In some cases, social media can be a very effective tool. If the public strongly identifies the CEO with the brand, that CEO can use social media to build the audience for the brand. Elon Musk is a good example. He is Tesla (and everything else his company does). Mary Barra is on Twitter and uses it well. Social media is also often a good match for senior execs in advertising, media, fashion and transportation.
On the other hand, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, is not on Twitter. But Starbucks itself is, and has over seven million followers. Howard Schultz gets plenty of media exposure already. If he had a Twitter account there is a chance he may get too much attention…and attention that would detract from the Starbucks brand.
Social Media Tips for High-Profile Leaders
If you are a high-profile leader in any industry – or organization – and have not yet adopted social media but are thinking about it, consider taking these steps:
Study the social media landscape, paying special attention to what your peers are doing. Who is doing it well? Who is not? Who is staying away entirely?
Identify what you hope to achieve. Consider how it could impact your organization and its brand. Who will manage your account?
Mistakes do happen. How will you respond to a crisis? Are the benefits worth the possibility of a crisis? An example of one: 500 Twitter followers lampooning your last tweet…and then protesting your salary and recent layoffs at your firm.
The golden rule for social media is to stay neutral. If you want a presence but don’t want to create waves, post about topics that are safe. Avoid stating opinions that aren’t in line with your organization’s brand. That will help you avoid joining the list of executives whose social media gaffes have made headlines.