If you work for SalesForce, General Electric, or Hewlett-Packard — whose head of social customer care is an Open for Business contributor, by the way — you are one of few employees whose CEO is active on social media. You might take it for granted, but research shows that as of the end of 2014, 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs had no social media presence on major platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter,Facebook or Google+.

However, CEOs like Apple’s Tim Cook and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella are active on Twitter, with General Electric’s Jeff Immelt and Hewlett Packard’s Meg Whitman having more than 100,000 followers on LinkedIn. It is not always possible for your organization’s CEO to be a social media guru, but it does make the job of the marketing team a lot easier.

Social CEO Logic: Successful Employee Advocacy Is About Culture And Leadership

Over the last three years, I have interviewed social media and marketing professionals in ten companies, including GE, SAS, EMC2 and IBM. It became clear that, due in part to their inherent culture and exemplary leadership, some companies had a head start with employee advocacy.

Leaders like Salesforce.com’s CEO Marc Benioff have done an outstanding job of being present on social platforms like Twitter in a way that encourages his employees to follow suit. It’s a sign that says, “Hey, I buy into this!”

Other companies have struggled to generate the level of employee participation required to make social media employee advocacy sustainable. Part, though not all, of the challenge is getting their business leaders to walk the talk. Over recent years, more reasons have been uncovered as to why CEOs should be social that dispute some of the risks involved in putting one’s self out there.

Social CEO Problem: Research Shows It’s A Good Idea But It’s A Hard Sell

The 2014 Brandfog Survey on the Social CEO reveals the perception that executive participation in social media leads to better leadership had grown from 45% to 75% between 2012 and 2013. Respondents to the survey also believe that it builds brand trust (which could really come in handy during a crisis). For a CEO looking for reasons to participate in social media (rather than reasons not to), consider that much research has shown CEOs to be viewed as more trustworthy if they participate on social.

How might you encourage your CEO to be more social? A recent article on IF suggests that training your CEO is out of the question and recommends fitting social around the CEO rather than trying to fit the CEO into social. A fair bit of researching and convincing needs to be done to move a non-social CEO into social media. This is indeed the reality.

Social CEO Reality: Your CEO Is Probably Too Far Away Anyway

While top executive support helps and inspires over 50% of employees, one global social media manager at a top social brand told me that it is more important to have a layer of middle and senior managers that support and engage in social media employee advocacy programs.

Depending on the organizational level that a social media manager is trying to influence, the CEO might be just too far away to be an effective role model. The CEO’s participation might mean little to the shop floor guy—who could be valuable as a thought leader on a corporate product co-creation blog. It is also worth noting that the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer: 52% of consumers trust an “average” employee more than a CEO, a statistic that rose 30% between 2009 and 2014. It appears therefore that middle management might be more influential—not just internally, but externally with customers as well.

Social CEO Trend Line: The Future Of Employee Advocacy

During my interviews with social media managers, I found that managers at different organizational levels reinforced values by talking about them and behaving in ways that supported them. Employees are empowered by this.

With the appropriate guidelines and support, employees are beginning to participate. A recent article in Fast Company shows that employee advocacy programs have grown by 191% since 2013. Is there a similar growth in CEO participation on social media?

I don’t think so — not in Fortune 500 companies yet, anyway. But perhaps this change is coming.

About Yekemi Otaru

Yekemi combines her engineering and business background to offer a unique perspective. She is a well-respected strategic marketer in the oil and gas industry, undertaking senior roles in large multinational companies including Schlumberger and General Electric. As part of her roles, Yekemi has delivered branding, market segmentation and digital strategy, as well as leading employee advocacy programmes.

Yekemi is the author of The Smart Sceptic’s Guide to Social Media in Organisations, a must-read for senior leaders seeking to implement social media advocacy programmes and sustain employee participation. The book provides a 3-step framework, based on her research and includes real life examples from companies like General Electric, Block Imaging International and SAS.

Prior to her career in marketing, she took on engineering roles before completing her MBA (with Distinction) from Henley Business School, UK in 2012. Yekemi now studies part-time for a doctorate degree, examining how firms can achieve positive outcomes in digital innovation projects.

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