According to a 2014 study by DOMO and CEO.com, 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs aren’t on any of the five major social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Instagram).

While most CEOs have mandated their marketing departments use social because “it’s just something we need to do,” they themselves are saying, “but that doesn’t mean I need to be on social media.” There are at least two flaws with this scenario: expectations and credibility.

Expectations

If you’ve never run a marathon, how do you know what it takes to train for one? Sure, you can read about it. You can talk to others about it. Both will give you some understanding of what it takes to train for a marathon. But unless you’ve actually experienced training for a marathon, you don’t know what it takes. And you don’t know how it feels.

Likewise, a CEO who doesn’t participate in social media at all cannot fully understand what’s involved, and cannot know how it feels. Frankly, most CEOs with no social media experience don’t understand it. They only think of the “media” part of it for marketing purposes, with total disregard for the “social” element.

Consequently, the expectations from this CEO range from unrealistic to irrelevant. Unrealistic expectations include expecting a surge in sales, deleting negative comments, a 9 to 5 approach to the brand’s presence on social media, etc.

Irrelevant expectations can include loss of control of messaging from the corporate communications department, ignoring complaints on social media and expecting employees to respect, admire or like the CEO.

Of course, a CEO can be trustworthy or likable even if not active on social media. But let’s face it: there’s a disconnect between the top position and employees when there is no insight into his or her thinking and feelings about relevant topics in the business.

Credibility

The last point above segues to a lack of credibility. Here’s how I like to frame it: It’s 2015. Modern business communication and engagement technology is made up of email and social.

Rise of the ESN

In a large enterprise, the solution is simple. The Enterprise Social Network (ESN) is an internal social network that provides employees the ability to connect, engage and collaborate productively to get work done. The ESN is truly a social network not much different than Facebook. The difference of course is that it’s purely internal. Employees can be social with each other, share their likes and interests as well as tap into the collective wisdom of the employee population for productive work.

At Humana, their ESN is named Buzz. Their CEO, Bruce Broussard, actively engages with their workforce. Buzz is voluntary, yet available to all employees. Currently, more than 35,000 of the 50,000 employees are active on Buzz.

Another example of an active CEO is Jack Salzwedel from American Family Mutual Insurance, who tweets on average five times per day.

Lack of Time

Most CEOs not active on social media claim lack of time for the main reason. The truth is most are unwilling to admit they don’t know how to use social media. And, they’re afraid to try it for fear of appearing out of touch. Actually, this is a valid concern that should be addressed at each business.

If your CEO is willing to admit he or she doesn’t know how to use social media, offer to help. Deloitte has implemented a mentoring program that pairs social media savvy employees with members of the C-Suite for one-on-one coaching. The result is a confidence building experience in the C-Suite, plus credibility building with employees as they become more active on social.

I’ve said many times that social business is about embracing both the culture and technology of social. Learning social technology is not difficult, even for non-tech savvy CEOs. Making the culture shift though may be a bigger leap.

Making the Culture Leap

The culture leap is the most crucial step in getting the C-Suite to become social. Like the person willing to acknowledge a substance abuse affliction and joining a program to get help, the social culture leap begins with the admission that it doesn’t currently exist.

The leap is not accomplished like the flip of a switch. It must begin in the C-Suite. It should start with a conversation about the “why” of being a social business. This isn’t a 10 minute conversation. But it doesn’t need to be a month long conversation either. Identify employees who are social in productive ways.

Arrange for your most socially productive employees to meet with the C-Suite in a series of meetings to discuss “why” they are social, “how” they are social, and their impact on the business. Allow the employees to be completely honest about their sentiments toward the C-Suite’s lack of being social. Encourage an authentic dialogue about it.

If these series of meetings are orchestrated properly, relationships will begin to form between the employees and the C-Suite. These relationships are representative of the potential relationships and trust building that so often occurs through authentic engagement on social. Eventually, the C-Suite will understand what it means for the DNA of the business to be social.

While this leap is not an overnight process, the journey can transpire over the course of 6 to 18 months. Oracle UK has experienced such a journey that is paying valuable business returns.

I can frame this topic up another way. If the CEO uses email, there is no reason to avoid using social media. Email is the first iteration of social media. Don’t believe me? Email is a digital communication tool that allows us to engage, communicate and get work done. Social media is a digital communication tool that allows us to engage, communicate and get work done.

Ask your CEO if she is willing to give up email as a form of company wide and customer facing communication. Of course, the answer is no. Next, ask why social hasn’t become as pervasive as email at your company? Consider that the perceived risks of social are no different than using email to communicate and engage, internally and externally. Yet, the CEO and every employee uses email.

Source: Why Social Fluency Should Be Required in the C-Suite

About Bernie Borges

Bernie Borges is CEO of B2B digital marketing agency Find and Convert, and host of the Social Business Engine podcast where he showcases thought leaders succeeding in business through the culture and technology of social. He is an author, speaker and trainer. His greatest professional passion is enabling business transformation through new insights.

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