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Too many of Atlantic Canada’s top executives are MIA on social media. Why are they so timid to press send, and what can we learn from the few doing it right?

While reviewing the Top 50 CEO list from 2017, Atlantic Business Magazine made a startling discovery: just two CEOs from last year’s tally have an Instagram account; only 15 are active Twitter users. Even more surprising? This isn’t a phenomenon exclusive to Atlantic Canada: according to the 2016 Signal Social CEO Index, only 53 per cent of Canada’s highest paid CEOs were using social media; a meagre seven per cent had Twitter. While many companies have active corporate accounts from anonymous professional communicators, top executives remain conspicuously quiet.

Let’s get real: social media isn’t going anywhere. Businesses and their executives have to get online to get with the picture (and it needs 300 dpi at that). Social media management magnate Hootsuite did a study of the Australian financial sector and found that executives who were active on social media gained 6.54 times higher engagement than the generic corporate account and that there’s a 40 per cent increase in employee engagement directly connected to CEO social media activity. Socially speaking, the time is now.

CREATING COMMUNITY
When Krista Ross started out as CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce in 2011, she didn’t even know what Twitter was (her inaugural proclamation? “I’m a tweeter now”). Now she has more than 3,200 followers and routinely interacts with Chamber members and the public. The initial few weeks were a trial by fire as she learned how to “live tweet” events and slowly grow her following by interacting with Fredericton’s online community. “In 2011, I averaged 18 tweets a month and in 2012 it had increased to 50-plus tweets per month. By 2015, I’d increased to 60 tweets a month and this year so far, I am well over 100 tweets a month,” says Ross. Indeed, social media interactions have become a staple of modern marketing and a key contributor to corporate success. There are more than two billion people on social media all over the world; Facebook alone has over a billion active users. “The idea of publicly communicating with the world via social media is here to stay. Up and coming executives are even more social media savvy than today’s executives and as time goes on, will continue to be even more-so,” says Ross.

David Shipley, CEO of Beauceron Security in Fredericton, has 2,400 followers on his personal Twitter account. He notes that accounts networking in an interesting way will be the ones to get traction. For him, “the first step for social media is to get on and listen to what clients, prospects, the public are talking about. The second step is to share and to help—don’t jump into self-promotion.” This methodology doesn’t only apply to external audiences: fraternizing with staff on social media can create a sense of community at the office, as well as project a unified front to the public.

Vigilant Management’s CEO Terry Hussey, who has more than 2,000 Twitter followers, is a strong advocate for open communication. “There is no better way to provide access to people than by putting yourself out there. It also goes a long way toward keeping you humble as nobody will call you out faster on something than someone on Twitter.”

While some CEOs can interact with their customers on a regular basis in the real world, Twitter and other platforms allow them to interact with employees and customers on a much larger scale. The last Weber Shandwick study on “The Social CEO” found 76 per cent of all executives believe it is a good idea for CEOs to be social, and Hussey agrees: “I believe accessibility is a critical part of being a business leader.”

YOU ARE NOT THE MARKETING DEPARTMENT
CEOs who only promote their companies on social media risk being seen as lacking authenticity. “I see a lot of executives who are essentially just parroting their corporate messaging on Twitter, which doesn’t yield a lot of engagement,” says Hussey. This is why companies which only have a corporate account seem, well, too “corporate.” Having top executives on social media with their own (active) accounts makes a giant company seem as accessible and real as the mom-and-pop shop next door.

“I also think it is easier to attract members and volunteers to an engaged organization (or in the case of a business, clients) and, to attract great employees as well! An engaged CEO is one who will attract others who are engaged,” says Ross.

THOUGHTFUL TWEETS MAKE WAVES
There are, in fact, many valid arguments why a top executive shouldn’t have a personal account on social media. Last year, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “Why CEOs Should Steer Clear of Social Media” claiming the risk was too high and pushed executives too far out of their comfort zone.

Ross warns that the permanence of online communications can sometimes be daunting, especially “if you’ve made a mistake, an error in judgement, or aligned yourself with someone or some group that later has a tarnished reputation.”

Shipley says he is well aware of the pitfalls when it comes to discussing political views on social media and carefully states his opinions are his own. Still, he notes: “I don’t take stances on social media that would be in conflict with Beauceron’s values.”

Navigating the social media waters can be choppy and knee-jerk reactions can make a bad situation worse. Take a deep breath to consider what you want to say before pressing ‘tweet.’

THEY’LL LIKE YOU; TRUST THE WAY YOU ARE
The trust is there for executives to gain: According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report, the public actually trusts CEOs more than government officials. In the recent G&S Business Communications study, 35 per cent of those surveyed (both millennials and Gen Xers) say they trust information from a company more when it comes from social media.

Demonstrating leadership through this extreme transparency can be a real change agent. Shipley uses social media as a way to deal with his customers, but also as means of inciting public discussion. “(I value) the ability to share some of the fantastic achievements of our team with our clients and supporters and to have a sense of humour to balance some of the fear and anxiety that can come from our global state of cyber(in) security.”

For those who are ready to take the plunge into social media (having a LinkedIn account isn’t enough), how do you blossom into a social media socialite? Ross encourages the trial-byfire method: “Don’t hesitate! Just do it! It is fun and a great way to engage and communicate—and it is also easy!” Shipley takes a more tactical approach: “Like any good business move, start with an objective and a strategy. Commit to being on social and evolve your strategy and tactics to achieve clear objectives.” Hussey says: “Be yourself, be respectful, and above all have some fun. If someone is ignorant to you just mute/block them!”

Whatever tactic you choose, it’s time to get online and get social.

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