Your CEO Social Networking. Do you cringe? Do you embrace the thought? Do you hope the CEO won’t read this headline? Or are you a CEO who is sitting there thinking “it is time and I need to get on with this”?

Do you cringe? Do you embrace the thought? Do you hope the CEO won’t read this headline? Or are you perhaps a CEO who is sitting there thinking “it is time and I need to get on with this”? All worthy provocations.

I just read a Marketing Magazine article posted by Cision the following:

“this year’s Signal Social CEO Index revealed that only 53 per cent of Canada’s top CEOs are on even one social media platform, and only 16 percent use two or more networks. With 78 percent of Canadian journalists using social media for work purposes, an executive’s absence spells missed opportunities for brands.”

Further information related to the Signal Leadership communications article can be seen in full here.

As a Chief Corporate Affairs Officer for Molson Coors Canada, I had the early support of our CEO early in 2007; and the Chief Legal and Corporate Affairs Officer. They gave me permission to explore and engage in social networking for the business. I was leading corporate communications and the concept of social networking was starting to explode. In fact, we created a blog with initial counsel from Dr. Mary Donohue, given that traditional media wasn’t necessarily carrying our message about all the good that was being done for multiple decades via the Molson Coors Donations Fund. I digress.

Two Factors for Success of C-Suite Social

For me, there are two critical factors at the C-Suite level when it comes to social media. First, the support by the C-Suite for the communications team to fully engage, explore and ignite social networking in a buisness. Second, for the CEO to actually take a role and play a part in that social networking activity. I think that the Signal PR report points out the gap that is most apparent in the second factor.

It is great to have C-suite support for your communications initiatives. It is even more powerful when that team of C-Suite executives actually take a role in the communications effort.

I would also want to dig deeper into the “53% of CEO’s engaged in social” to truly find out who is managing their content. I applaud the CEO who decides to step into social. It takes courage and it is not a natural role to assume. I celebrate the CEO who steps into the space with their voice, their thoughts, positions and their actual participation and engagement in the network.

A strong and successful social networking strategy will be set up for success when the CEO and communications team work together, rather than independently, on the CEO social strategy and action plan.

Managed by Communications Folks

Don’t worry communications teams, I am not suggesting that your CEO or C-Suite folks take on social networking in isolation from you and your team. In fact, the CEO should be as strategically relevant and “on message” as anyone else in the organization. Let’s face it, they set the tone from the top for all the other aspects of communication and business strategies. Why would we change that here?  Better yet, why would they think any differently?  This should be a collaborative strategic extension of marketing communications if the CEO is actually speaking out from their position in the business.

CEO’s directing their Communications

Building on working with the communications team, the CEO can powerfully add their voice and their humanness to the social networking for the business. Simply posting what marketing feeds them, or what PR approves is not truly authentic. A CEO that talks a bit about their education, interests, hobbies, family, weekend adventures, travel interests, passions for food, use of their business products; will help build engagement with the CEO social networking and a human side of the business that they are leading. The CEO as a champion and ambassador for their brand can be a valid, believable place on the team.

Respect for the Medium

A caution for all who consider taking a role in social networking for their business. From the CEO through to the delivery person, remember to have respect for the medium. Please understand that what you post is public. I liken social media to traditional media. How would you respond to a call from a reporter at the Globe and Mail? It is likely that the CEO would confer with their communications or PR counsel internally. If there is not internal support, it is likely that they would call their agency supporting them in PR and communications. Naturally, there would be an assessment of how that response to media and story told would show up in the press. Social media is no different. Social media is actually posting to a social media network. When it is posted and out there – it is in the world of media. Recall also that from the Signal PR report that 78 percent of journalists using social media for work purposes. You can follow relevant journalists and they can easily follow you. If they are interested in your business, they are likely already following or observing.

Plan the Journey

As with marketing, media relations, sales, business development, strategy, logistics – the social networking strategy takes planning. Let’s face it, your CEO social networking is a pretty sensitive concept – right ? Setting up the profile and entering the network takes minutes. Actually doing it strategically takes some planning. What to post? When to post? Why to post? Who to follow? How to respond? How to monitor? How quickly to respond? All of these are good questions. The answers are not necessarily standard. Much of it may depend on the personality of the CEO. Some of it may depend on the business and some of the regulatory peculiarities of that business. Best practices? It is up to you to create what is the best practice for your business and the personality of your CEO. An integration into the overall communications for the company will need to be reviewed. This is so that the CEO is not just some isolated, independent extension of all else going on with the business. There does need to be a plan.

CEO’s in social networking can be a powerful asset for the business. Your CEO social networking can truly position your business for leadership in your sector or category. Your CEO social networking can also be a disaster if there is not a well thought out plan in place. At the Devins Network, I’d be pleased to engage further with any CEO who might be interested, or with any communications team that might be entertaining the thought. I have passion and commitment for your success. Let’s start that conversation.

Thanks to Marketing Magazine, Cision and Signal PR for raising the matter. A gap worth closing in the corporate communications mix. @FergDevins @DevinsNetwork