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Over the last few months I’ve been publishing a weekly ‘Social CEO of the Week’ blog post. What does it mean to be a ‘social CEO’? What qualifies a CEO to get the label? All the CEOs I’ve featured so far share certain characteristics. Some are stronger in some areas than others, but they all show these features to some degree.

So, what makes a CEO ‘social’?

Transparency

Being on social media – especially Twitter – requires a certain degree of transparency. How much or how little depends on the individual and how much of themselves they decide to show. Having a basic profile but not sharing information about themselves, their organization and their industry isn’t very transparent. Neither is lack of engagement. It’s only by sharing their thoughts and opinions and interacting with people that they remove the façade of elitism and cease to distance themselves from their stakeholders and employees. Loot at Jack Salzwedel for a good example of a transparent CEO.

Authenticity

It’s no good a CEO having a huge Twitter following if he or she isn’t the person doing the actual tweeting. That’s just corporate PR. All the CEOs I’ve featured write their own tweets – they don’t rely on a PR person or assistant to do it for them. They also make their posts interesting, mixing in corporate messages, comments on business or social trends – and even tweets about their hobbies and interests. All of this shows them to be real human beings who their customers and employees can relate to.

Engagement

Broadcasting isn’t good enough – anyone can do that. Social media is about engagement and conversation. Peter Aceto, CEO of Tangerine Bank in Canada, says: “I’d rather engage in a Twitter conversation with a single customer than see our company try to attract the attention of millions in a Super Bowl commercial.” Talking to his customers on Twitter helps him – and his brand – stand out from the competition. That’s his USP. A CEO obviously can’t respond to every tweet, but they can respond to some.

Regularity

Tweeting once a month doesn’t qualify as social I’m afraid! Social CEOs are active on Twitter daily – or at least several times a week. An individual tweet may be seen by a small number of followers, but most will never be seen – so a CEO can tweet the same thing several times over the day or week and no-one will mind. And the more they tweet, the more followers they’ll get.

Humility

OK – not every CEO I’ve featured has displayed humility. A certain John Legere (CEO of T-Mobile America) describes himself as “a vocal, animated, and sometimes foul-mouthed CEO.” No shrinking violet he. But Legere’s the exception – most of the CEOs I’ve written about are humble on Twitter and don’t blow their trumpet. Many talk about their employees – publically acknowledging their achievements. Even John Legere does that.

Fearlessness

Social media is public – that’s its beauty and its power. There’s no point in a CEO ‘going social’ if they’re afraid of being taken to task by what they share. They’re human, their customers are human, their employees are human, their shareholders are human. Don’t be afraid to be human on social media.

They are the brand

The CEO is the head of the organization. By being on social media they’re making a powerful personal statement about themselves and their brand (be it a bank, a phone company or a charity). CEOs can’t get away with ‘all tweets are my own and don’t reflect my employer’. They do. All the CEOs I’ve featured use social media to their advantage by embracing it and by being their brand online. John Legere of T-Mobile America is the brand’s biggest ambassador – and his 2.47 million Twitter followers love him for it.

How many CEOs do you know who display any of these characteristics on social media? Chances are, not many. They are, as Jim Claussen calls them, ‘Blue Unicorns’ – rarer than rare. But as CEOs and other leaders start to understand how important having a social media presence is for their organization’s reputation, we’ll start seeing a lot more.

About Damian Corbet

With almost 20 years’ experience in B2B PR and communications and, more recently, social media, Damian helps organizations and leaders connect with stakeholders.

He’s especially interested in the impact of social media on the C-Suite. He recently founded The Social C-Suite (http://thesocialcsuite.net/) to help leaders get the most out of social media for personal branding, networking and business intelligence. As well as the website he also manages The Social C-Suite LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook groups and @TheSocialCsuite Twitter account.

Damian was born and raised in Zimbabwe but now lives in London. Follow him on Twitter at @DamianCorbet.

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