The 3 C-Suites Least Likely to Be Social Who Could Be Key to Unlocking Its Benefits



What makes a great leader? That depends. Different times or situations demand different skills and styles.

So what does leadership look like in a world with 3 billion people online, where 2 billion use social media and each chat impacts the way we connect, communicate and do business?

It’s a different mindset.

Social leaders ‘get’ how deeply interconnectivity impacts relationships and the choices people make and are hungry to learn how to leverage it, not laugh it off.


These are rare birds.

While 8 new users come online a second from around a planet of people that posts, likes, shares and tweets – in the upper echelons only 15 – 30% are signed up.

Many of those do little else other than sign up, the equivalent of turning up to a business lunch and standing in the corner, not really what networking is about.

This absence speaks volumes.


There is little doubt senior executives are pressed for time. But so are their customers, stakeholders, suppliers and people.

It’s about what kind of time counts?

Right now there’s a perception, a misperception in my view, that time on social is wasted rather than well spent. Instead social is collaborative, creative and generates productivity.

In an interconnected, transparent and open world, C-suites need to be interconnected, transparent and open. This is the leadership for our time. And that means being social and having a social leadership team.

The Social C-Suite


While there are a lot of interesting ideas on disrupting existing work models, unless you’re a start up, deep structural change can be overwhelming and even a disincentive to taking steps in the right direction.

Being a social business does not have to be an all or nothing affair. It’s practical to look at how to socialize structures you already have.

Trying to peek into the crystal ball of ‘future leader’ is always speculative and a key problem with reports on emerging roles is that they are based on interviews with people currently in the role.

A savvy CMO will give a different answer on digital impacts to an old school marketer who bats back social out of ignorance or a fear of being usurped.

Good senior executives have strong strategic skills that can be effective in any context, once the context is understood.


A recent report by HBR found generic leadership skills become more important up the chain where ‘technical and functional expertise matters less than leadership skills and a strong grasp of business fundamentals.’

I think this is true but I would add that in my view, the only way to understand social is to do it, if not forever (although why not?) then at least to get a sufficient grasp on how this stuff works, why its important.

This is less about learning the technical benefits of social media (the marketing or web team can manage search engine optimization or strategic placement of social advertising) that the mental ‘aha’ that comes from experiencing the business synchronicities and synergies first hand.

It goes without saying that digital and social media skills are vital for marketing, communication and sales professionals.

But I want to take a brief look at three roles that are often discussed as if they are beyond the realm of social but could be key to unlocking it’s benefits – the CEO, COO and CFO.

Chief Executive Officer 



Being a social CEO does not mean you have to tweet, or that you don’t have to tweet.

It’s frustrating when social is reduced to the transactional level, where much of the debate sits.

The issue splits people.

Mark Schaeffer says having an executive embrace social web can be an advantage but that most don’t and shouldn’t have to – good if they do, let it go if they don’t is his advice.

On the other hand, Forbes contributor William Aruda says a social CEO will thrive because social is the most effective way to create emotional connections and relationships with the right people, including influencers.


It’s also hard to explain the synergies that emerge from a social ecosystem unless you’re in it.

It’s not about training a reluctant CEO to tweet so much as providing them with an opportunity to explore how rapidly and deeply algorithms connect you with people and vital pieces of information that impact the way that you think.

Wire a vision-oriented, strategic brain to such an ecosystem sparks fly. This is one of social’s most valuable contributions.


The CEO set the strategy (collaboratively) and tone for the workplace culture and builds trust, in particular public trust, as the face of the company.

But as the Edelman Trust Barometer shows, trust in CEOs and institutions has fallen; while trust in friends, peers and internal subject matter experts has grown.

This makes sense.

People are sick of companies telling them who they are and why you should use them. Instead, if a friend tells you the best coffee in San Francisco is such and such, that is where you go. You know your friend gets no benefit other than the glory of steering you in the right direction.

Where are these peers and friends? Online? Where is the question asked and answered? Online. Does it matter? Yes it does. Virtual trust is as powerful an influence on decisions as face to face.

And virtual trust will also become more, not less, important.

In a recent study, Crowdtap and Ipsos showed that for millennials user-generated content (UGC) is 20% more influential on a purchasing decision than a professional review and 35% more memorable than other forms of media.

Bazaarvoice’s Erin Nelson says that for the majority of millennials the comments of strangers who have used a product are more likely to influence purchasing decisions than anything else. What they really value is relevant experience.


Guardian Media Group CEO, Andrew Miller (@AndrewMiller100) is on Twitter because that’s where his readers are.

CEO of Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra, David Thodey (@davidthodey) is also there along with millions of customers, suppliers, and employees.

Want to reach them? Click the link. What happens next is part of strategy, cultural tone and public trust. That’s the shift.

  • A LinkedIn-Altimeter study showed 76% of executives want to work for a social CEO.
  • Weber Shandwick found 80% of employees want to work for a social CEO.
  • 2/3 of customers say that their perception of the CEO impacts their perception of the company and a Brandfog survey found people trust a company more if the CEO is social.

CEOs may not want to be social but their peers, people and customers sure would like them to be.

CEOs worry they may say the wrong thing, they may. But they are smart people hired to manage difficulties – online is just a different environment. It’s also not the Wild West. Laws that apply offline, apply online.

Chief Operating Officer 


McKinsey recently made a radical suggestion that if anyone should lead social media it’s the COO.

By default many of us think of COOs as 2ICs delivering the CEO’s vision, practical, but not always innovative.


McKinsey’s point is that business success is increasingly tied to the quality of customer experience and that –

  • 71% of consumers who have a good social media service experience recommend a brand.
  • 70% of brands are trying social customer care (I’d love to see who they interviewed).

Bain reports that customer service teams can convert a detractor to a promoter more than 30% of the time.

Nevertheless with customer service located in operations, putting social customer care there makes practical sense.

A customer-first mindset is critical in business, from how you build your web (what words would someone who doesn’t know we exist use to look for something we offer) to complaints handling.


COOs know a great deal about what is going on in business areas and can broker synergies.

McKinsey provides the example of a financial services company that achieved competitive gains by getting marketing and operations to collaborate.

They developed a new service to enhance customer experience and improve productivity at the same time, by giving the COO ownership of service with the specific objective of diverting traffic from call centres.

This pivotal role could be enhanced using enterprise social networks (ESNs) for internal communication and collaboration and mean at minimum COOs must have an internal social media presence.

Companies like Salesforce, Microsoft, and VMware have already implemented ESNs. Icreon Tech Founder Himanshu Sareen ESNs are changing the way we work and that while they may not entirely replace email, could change how workers collaborate and share ideas.

With COOs instrumental to supplier and B2B relationship there’s no reason to restrict a social presence to internal networks.

Chief Financial Offer


As we continue to globalize, and according to Pankaj Ghemawat we are barely getting started, CFOs must understand how to assess strategic opportunities and risk across geographies and in real time, using real time data.

The HBR report shows how significantly the role of CFOs has changed, from that of bean counter to strategic partner and big data is likely to continue shaping the role.

Operational and financial data is being continually generated and allows a leadership team to tweak or even overturn business strategy in real time.

CFOs must be digitally literate to understand, for example, that the business case underpinning an IT project is different from that of a social media project, although the impacts may be as dramatic.

Given that more of the business dollar is likely to be spent on technology or technology-related initiatives, CFOs must ask (and answer) questions like:

  • How will data translate into useful knowledge and be used for business outcomes?
  • What, if any, is the relationship between digital investment and productivity?
  • Can social media be used strategically and what is the ROI?

There is rising awareness amongst CFOs of the importance of social media for business.

VP of Oracle Karen dela Torre says MIT Sloane/Deloitte and Towers Watson point to the growing importance of social media in business, 57% of CFOs now rate social media as a priority.

According to Deloitte, most CFOs dot not plan to leverage social media for investor relations but 60% plan to use these channels to distribute material company information.

Although social media rules vary across jurisdictions, regulators are increasingly providing guidance on its use. Understanding and responding to legislative and regulatory requirement often rests with the CFO in collaboration with General Counsel but also the CMO.

It’s likely given increasing specialization that roles will emerge specifically to deal with jurisdictional issues whether for marketing or compliance.

For example –

  • How does a multi-national company reach different target audiences across the globe on networks of choice?
  • What do you say on WeChat in China versus Twitter in America or Australia or Facebook in France?
  • How to you keep up with emerging networks and changing algorithms?
  • What are the legal implications of activity on the networks in different jurisdictions.

For example, in the US in 2013 The Securities and Exchange Commission said companies could use social media to announce key information in compliance with Regulation Fair Disclosure (Regulation FD), in Australia, the ASX updated Guidance Note 8 with respect to social media monitoring, Australia has an ASX-first approach to continuous disclosure.

More CFOs are also using social media.

Lead tail says CFOs are engaging in social to get a better understanding of the medium that creates business disruption.

It also connects them with colleagues and contacts with shared interests, including prospective customers.

CFOs can also use social to identify and nurture relationships with talent to create effective teams.

Like COOs, CFOs have a business-wide view of activities and potential synergies; ESNs can provide a low-cost, low-risk entry point that helps them drive innovation, productivity and process improvement.

The most likely unlikely

Perhaps counter-intuitively, with their business-wide perspective and strategic heads, these unlikely candidates may be key to unlocking the potential business benefits of social that Gartner says may not be realised in part due to inadequate leadership.

Dionne’s latest book is The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business.

About Dionne Lew

Dionne Lew is the CEO of The Social Executive® a consultancy advising boards and executives on social media for business. Dionne is a professional speaker and author rated by Kred in the top 1% for global community influence. She is a graduate and member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Dionne is the author of The Social Executive – how to master social media and why it’s good for business (Wiley), A Manifesto – why social media is vital for leaders and the eBook Relevance! how to thrive in the social era.

Dionne contributes to Forbes, Salesforce, Leading Company, Smart Company, Women’s Agenda, Uncluttered White Spaces and Company Director.

She is a highly regarded, inspirational professional speaker, active on the speaking circuit since 2009 as a conference chair, keynote speaker, panelist and contributor to thought leadership roundtables.

Click here to hire Dionne Lew for your next event!

Dionne's latest Meddles

Subscribe to OP|EN for BUSINESS!
Receive A Weekly Digest of the Most Popular Posts to Your Inbox!