Will your brand be relevant 100 years from now? Or how about even 5 years from now?
In the year 2000, only 16 of the top 100 companies, from 100 years prior, remained in existence.
Now, consider how the pace of change has accelerated and you’re forced to confront the issue of brand relevancy.
In this age of digital transformation, where markets shift in the blink of an eye, your brand needs to come to grips with the important idea that technology alone is not the answer.
The question is, “What can we do stay relevant?” And the answer is, you need to connect to and form bonds with your customers and employees.
Yes, I’m talking about taking social media seriously and for the company’s leaders, the C-suite, to commit to making sure that it happens. Your company’s leaders must become social leaders.
Brand relevancy = social relevancy.
In this post, we’ll look at practical steps that brands can take to stay relevant and build a social culture from the top-down and bottom-up.
Where do Your Company Leaders Stand on Social Media?
In The 10 Most Social Media Minded CEOs, Harry Rollason from Conversocial features CEO Jack Salzwedel of American Family Insurance and cites a study by Domo that pegs him as the world’s most engaged CEO on Twitter. Rollason writes:
“Twitter gives him a direct-to-consumer channel, which he avidly uses to build trust and resolve customer issues. He’s replied to customer queries eight times more and posted nearly 100 times more than his colleagues.” When asked, he replied to Domo in a tweet: “My belief is social media is no longer something to consider. It is something C-level execs must engage in.”
But not every CEO has bought into social media (to put it mildly).
In fact, according to research from CEO.com and Domo, 61% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence. Then there are social rock stars such as Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh (Zappos), Brian Chesky (Airbnb), John Legere (T-Mobile) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce)—leaders that are omnipresent across the social sphere.
In the CEO.com report, the author writes, “Social media… has a major impact on brand reputation. A CEO can either participate in the discussion and influence it, or risk the implications of allowing his or her corporate image to be decided in the court of public opinion.”
According to Socialcast, those social leaders who are still hesitant to use social media usually fall under one of these three reasons:
- their desire for control and the lack of control they have over social media
- their worry that social media will just be a fad and a waste of resources
- a lack of understanding of how social media works and how it could benefit them and their company.
As a globally regarded social selling and LinkedIn expert, I get this. Most C-suite leaders do not have much free time on their hands. In my opinion, they don’t need to be everywhere. However, those in the B2B space must create and maintain a LinkedIn presence. The use of Twitter certainly helps the cause as well.
Are the majority of corporate leaders making a mistake by not diving into social? I got some interesting perspectives when I asked some of my friends in the industry…
“There is still resistance from the C-suite on using digital channels to ‘be social’ either with their employees or their customers. In my opinion, this is a huge mistake and one that needs to be rectified sooner rather than later. The executive who continues to remove him or herself from digital engagement will eventually have that decision bite them (and their company) where it hurts—the pocketbook.”
~ Ted Rubin, CMO of Photify, Author of How to Look People in the Eye Digitally
“If a company is using social media as part of its communications and marketing mix, it’s important for the entire company to embrace the concepts of two-way communication, authenticity, and advocacy. It shouldn’t just be dependent on the brand itself. And if the company supports that, then the C-suite needs to not only support it, but needs to participate as well.”
~ , Former Global Head of Social Media at Ford Motor Company, Keynote Speaker & Futurist
How can corporate leaders be “social” with so little time available?
By not letting it become a chore. When inspired, leaders can share insights, tips, or high-quality content. Many leaders may be surprised to know that employees, customers, prospects, and other industry leaders are very interested in their perspective, on just about everything. They should share it!
How Brands Benefit from Leaders Getting Social
CEOs and other company leaders that get serious about social media often become thought leaders in their industries, generate all kinds of free PR, and increase positive sentiment towards their brand.
Consider the example of T-Mobile CEO John Legere who currently has 5.7M Twitter followers—more than the corporate accounts of many of the company’s largest competitors.
The “magenta-wearing, customer-loving” Legere claims to be focused on ending wireless pain points and scaring competitors. He has a genuinely good time tweeting about Batman, his travels, T-Mobile heroes, T-Mobile customers, T-Mobile services and a host of interesting observations that make his tweets worth “T-ing-up.”
It works for Legere. It works for T-Mobile. Also, it works for many other social-minded head honchos.
In a report by Dataconomy the top three ranking executives, Brian Chesky (Airbnb), John Legere (T-Mobile) and Marc Benioff (Salesforce) were viewed positively for being leaders of successful companies—but more interestingly—as being accessible communicators that displayed leadership on social and political issues.
LinkedIn published a page on their site “Ways CEOs Use LinkedIn,” and in it, they listed six of the benefits for CEOs using the platform:
- Help your team: By connecting to your team, you can help them extend their network. Net result: You accelerate your business.
- Manage the demands of your time: Evaluate opportunities and manage requests for your time to determine if an opportunity is a good use of your time.
- Hire smarter: The best people are not always looking for a job. Your HR department can and should be leveraging LinkedIn to proactively find talent.
- Find and reach experts fast: LinkedIn provides a rich directory of experts you can tap into. You can use LinkedIn’s advanced search to research every topic, industry, company, and member.
- Gather competitive intelligence: To stay socially relevant it’s important to watch what others (companies and leaders) are doing in your industry. You can also learn much from leaders in other sectors.
- Gain insight: You or your team can learn so much by watching how others are approaching new markets, revamping processes and resolving problems.
Allow me to add a very important seventh benefit: employee advocacy. Employee advocacy—the promotion of a company by employees—can immensely heighten brand visibility, accelerate marketing programs, increase sales, and strengthen recruiting efforts.
Leaders that Engage on Social Make People Feel Heard and Important
I was speaking at an event in Spain, when the speaker who spoke after me got up on the stage, she couldn’t contain her excitement. She shared with the audience how an industry leader and influencer she admired retweeted one of her tweets.
Remember that saying: “People don’t remember what you do, they remember how they make you feel.”
After publishing my most recent book “LinkedIn Unlocked,” a senior level executive at LinkedIn posted on LinkedIn that my book had been ordered and was on the way to LinkedIn HQ. As one of their most prominent brand evangelists, this was a smart business move!
These are just a couple examples of how leaders using social media can turn people into Brand Ambassadors for years to come.
What if a corporate leader did this, even just a few times a week, made an employee, a customer, or a fan, feel heard and seen? How could this impact a company?
It could create an army of new Brand Ambassadors!
That’s social relevancy, resulting in the amplification of brand relevance.
Where’s the ROI in Social Relevancy? It's in Brand Relevancy!
Is it fair to connect social media use by the C-suite to the company’s bottom line?
A post on the blog at PageExecutive casts a strong yes vote…
The author claims CEO engagement through social can have a demonstrable boost to revenues. The article cites a Hootsuite survey of the Australian financial services sector, claiming that such organizations were 51% more likely to reach their quota.
A Forbes’ report on the top 50 “most engaged” companies claims brands such as Amazon, Google, and Starbucks that lead the way regarding social engagement enjoy annual growth rates of between 11% and 27%.
Forbes’ found 93% of the list’s executives understood the importance of engagement. Moreover, that brings up an interesting question…
Can Leaders Embrace a Social Culture without Doing Social?
“I’m less about leaders using social media and more about leaders embracing the people that are a fit for social media,” says Scott Stratten, bestselling author of UnBranding, UnMarketing, and UnSelling.
Jay Baer, New York Times bestselling author of Talk Triggers, Hug Your Haters and Youtility seconds that. “While it is outstanding if company leaders participate in social media personally, it isn’t required.”
Baer adds the organization must also BE social, not just DO social media. “That spirit of sociability only works—in my experience—if the C-suite embraces it. They alone can make it okay for employees to use social to interact in an empathetic, interesting, and non-robotic way. They set the agenda.”
Robert Scoble shares that “It is the job of the C-suite to push forward the story of the company they are leading. You can do that without being public. Apple execs rarely engage in public, for instance. So, I don’t look at it as a “must do” but rather a powerful tool if you do choose to use it.
Being public with your story means you are open to others engaging with it. Doing that is very powerful because you are opening your company to feedback from all directions. Often that leads to finding new customers who you wouldn’t find otherwise. It also means you might find new potential employees you wouldn’t find otherwise. Through your presence, you can guide the public discussion of your industry. I have seen many a CEO get quoted in the press from their blogs or tweets.
This is a powerful way to guide your internal culture, too. Look at how Marc Benioff, CEO at Salesforce, uses Twitter to do that.”
What Does it Take for Company Leaders to Become Social Leaders?
We conclude: CEOs can take to social media networks like the caped crusader of T-Mobile or embrace a company-wide social culture.
A “social leader” might do either. Having seen my share of C-level leaders become social stars, fail miserably, and all points between, I’ll offer what I believe to be critical characteristics of a social leader:
Social leaders who are authentic stand out. Their followers can’t miss their unique voice. Their voice comes shining through consistently and is evident in all that they say, write and publish. Social leaders don’t hide who they are.
Social leaders are sensitive to how their decisions impact other people and use other peoples’ viewpoints to understand events.
People buy from people they know, like and trust. This indisputable notion applies to buying tangible products, a message or the person. As such, it’s critical for social leaders to be likable by being open and approachable and ensuring others are heard and feel important.
Social leaders recognize the best business decisions are co-created as a team. They don’t like corporate silos, so they encourage collaboration across teams, departments, disciplines, and geography.
5. Strong communications
Leaders must motivate, instruct and discipline the people they are in charge of. They’ll accomplish none of the above if they lack communication skills. Listening is an integral part of communication.
6. Encourages brand ambassadors
Social leaders recognize every employee provides an opportunity to speak for the organization’s culture, quality and standards and become brand evangelists. By leveraging social media, particularly LinkedIn, every employee can become an ambassador, especially your sales team. Messages amplified by the employees are authentic and believable. This is amplified even further when your customers and followers connect to your brand through your leaders and become brand ambassadors.
Social leaders also recognize social media creates the opportunity to expand his or her network through ongoing communications and efforts to forge meaningful connections. Those that are passionate about social business are passionate about actively engaging with employees, customers, and communities.
There’s a solid seven list of things it takes to embrace social leadership.
Brand relevancy involves creating a social culture that goes from the bottom-up and top-down.
Key Takeaways on Brand Relevancy and Socially Relevant Leaders
- Relevant brands are focused on social relevancy.
- Building a social culture will have a direct and positive effect on your bottom line.
- Consumers associate company leaders with the company itself more now than ever.
- Enabling and equipping your employees with digital skills is essential for an effective social media advocacy program.
- When employees see their leaders using social media, it is an example that can be rolled out companywide, especially within your sales and marketing.
- Digital disruption will continue. Those that excel going forward understand the need to make an emotional and social connection with employees and customers.
Corporate leaders do not have to spend endless hours on social media, in fact I wouldn’t even recommend that. But the leaders who engaging in social media and build a social culture are enhancing their brand relevancy and building a community of people who positively associate them with their brand.