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Gini Dietrich

Fortune 500 Executives Aren’t Using Social Media and That’s OK

By: Gini Dietrich | July 16, 2012 | 
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Some of you may have seen the report last week that shows 70 percent of Fortune 500 executives aren’t using social media.

I’m not sure why we needed a study to tell us this. I mean, really. Is that a surprise?

Fortune 500 executives have one job: To grow the company and provide value to its stockholders. They have teams of people who build the brand and communicate with customers and protect the reputation.

Big company leaders have never sat in the customer service center and taken phone calls or emailed back and forth with upset buyers (with the exception of Steve Jobs who did it with great joy).

Executives Using Social Media

So why do we expect them to be using social media?

In fact, the more time I spend on the road with business leaders of companies of every size, it’s more and more apparent no one at the top is using these tools to communicate with their families, let alone their customers.

It is a completely different conversation than it was four years ago, when I began my speaking career. I remember one entrepreneur told me the hardest job is the one holding the lantern while leading everyone down a dark path.

Now there are lots of lights along the social media path. Executives understand this is how their customers want to communicate with them. And they understand this is how the young professionals joining their organizations right now expect to communicate with them.

But is it up to them to be the ones using it on behalf of the companies they lead?

The Stats

There are some interesting stats from the survey:

  • Five of the 19 CEOs on Twitter have never tweeted.
  • Twenty-five of the 38 CEOs on Facebook have less than 100 friends.
  • The only social network that these CEOs outdo the U.S. public on is LinkedIn (129 of the CEOs have profiles vs. one-fifth of Americans).
  • Only four CEOs are on Google + (and that includes Larry Page).
  • None are on Pinterest (which has 12 million American users).
  • Only one CEO blogs (John Mackey of Whole Foods), but it hasn’t been updated since November 2011 (so does it really count?).

Is it with Ease?

We’re straddling at least four (if not five) different generations at work right now. The Traditionalists and Baby Boomers do not understand how social media can affect their business growth. They are now beginning to understand why they should be considering it, but asking them to participate is akin to rewiring their brains: In some cases, it’s impossible.

Even my peers, the Gen Xers, are resistant. We didn’t grow up with technology; most of us got email either late in college or not until after we began our careers. Taking a computer class meant learning how to code on DOS.

So using the computer to communicate is about as foreign as learning a new language.

Grow Your Company or Be Active on Social Media

Mitch Joel asked that very question on a blog post he wrote about the topic last week: Should you grow your company or be active on social media?

I don’t think it’s an either/or question.

For instance, I run a growing company and I use social media to communicate with prospects, clients, my team, and even competitors. But does that mean Mr. Fortune 500 CEO has to do the same?

Should every company be using the tools their customers are using to communicate? Absolutely!

Should it be the CEO managing those tools? Not necessarily.

If the leader has the time and the wherewithal AND sees a return on their investment (i.e. increased revenues, improved margins, or a shortened sales cycle), by all means, tweet away! But there are plenty of people inside these organizations who can manage it, as long as the strategy is led by the corner office.

What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

94 comments
Karin 2
Karin 2

The comment from David Churbuck is a great example of a failure to see the opportunity in using social channels both internally and externally to develop a stronger link between the employee experience and the customer experience. The content of what a CEO or an HR person posts to any social network is within their control and provides an excellent opportunity to share knowledge, respond quickly to problems, and match the branding message to the humans inside the organization. It is the silence of the people with the “C” level titles to recognize that the more remote they are from the employees in the organization and the customers the more difficult the recovery will be. When problems arise, be it a dive in the stock value, a large recall due to quality issues, a class action lawsuit based on poor employee relations practices, an oil spill etc., the more difficult the recovery will be. People are no longer content with the stock PR responses to problems as they tend to generate distrust based on too many experiences with a PR response that does not reflect the real actions of the company decision makers. Perhaps one of the most frustrating experiences for a customer is that the marketing and advertising messages bring one to a business only to discover that the people behind the brand do not reflect the expectations set out. A significant contributor to this disconnection is internal communication weaknesses that can be found in many organizations but the larger the organization, the bigger the problem. This type of problem is often found in the presentation of a role and company culture by a recruiter and hiring manager vs. the experience of the employee once on staff. Consider this one point for now: the outsourcing of many jobs overseas has resulted in not just job loss locally but in an upsurge in customer dissatisfaction. There are noted problems with quality, shipping issues for tangible products, difficulty understanding the CSA, inability of the CSA to satisfactorily respond to a problem. Yet, companies are still taking this tactic in a bid to save short-term dollars while ignoring the long-term costs. This has become such a huge issue for large corporations in particular that customers and employees alike are no longer committed to the success of the business. There is sufficient evidence in the social network realm for any CEO to gain awareness of how significant the problem is-yet they remain invisible, only briefly showing up behind a PR façade.

daverage
daverage

@markwschaefer and info realise the irony of what I write about not harassing influential people and my previous message to you.

daverage
daverage

@markwschaefer hi mark. Wouldn't normally do this, but it has some relevance to you last shared links. http://t.co/cCa7JkeR my latest blog

biztag
biztag

With exception of Steve Jobs... Wait, what is the most valuable company in the World again? Doing and understanding can be one in the same, to be a great deligator you must engage in driving forces. If that means learning new and trending strategy, then adoption may be key to reaching new stock holding success. CEO's are exposed to so many interesting scenarios every hour of every day, sharing their insight, thoughts and ambition may present unique opportunity throughout the world. ie #askrichard ...trending! *biztag

PavelNovel
PavelNovel

@markwschaefer This is a great take on the issue. Thanks for sharing it Mark! And thank you @ginidietrich for writing it!

pavelnovel
pavelnovel

Great article. Refreshing take as well. Many people get caught in the "hype" of social media and treat it like the only activity that's worthwhile. You make a great point about that it shouldn't be an either/or question; all the time a CEO, or another C-level exec, is faced with a decision about how to proceed. They weigh out the costs and benefits. I'm sure the CEOs realize that to be effective on social media, they must spend a few weeks getting working with it before they can realize how to even begin to use it for their business. For example, Twitter has its own mores, terms, and expectations that take time to learn. A CEO may realize that it's not cost-effective to use it personally and may have others do it. It doesn't mean they shun social media; they simply realize the value of their time.

 

As long as the CEO espouses and promotes the values in which social media thrives - transparency, openness, responsiveness, listening - then their inactivity with social media is by no means a terrible disadvantage. 

AllenDavidov
AllenDavidov

@hessiejones talked about the social media knowledge gap and value behind our @stjohnsrehab #foundation ceo getting more involved.

hessiej
hessiej

While CEOs should, at the the very least, have a presence on social media, there is no real urgency for them to do so. I am going to be a devil's advocate. If I have a 10 year old car that runs almost as well as the day I bought it; if the same maintenance plan were applied from day one then why should I change it? The truth is CEOs are not necessarily in tune with the new media. It has not proven that it will trump today's methods to make money or save money-- which are the goals of most organizations. There is also a knowledge gap that needs to be satisfied. I have a friend who counsels C-suite on new media and why they should care. He does this as a private practice for the purpose of informing and training. I think many C-level execs are aware of social but they don't know what to expect from it, how to implement it or how to measure it. Bottom up approaches take a long time to permeate through the organization and are less likely to get to the top of the chain unless significant results are delivered. Should CEOs be more active? Absolutely. But like everything else, they have to buy into the medium and do it because they see value in it. Social media means a shift in mindset. Once that happens, not only will the CEO grow and change, do will the organization .

samfiorella
samfiorella

We can't expect traditional CEOs to tweet/share/blog for fun or business. We do expect them to drive bottom line returns.

 

The question is when does social engagement equate to increasing bottom line profits?

 

- When the CEO uses it to better understand the customer experience?

- When he becomes more trustworthy to staff and customers (as illustrated in eMarketer research)? - When he increases feedback and brainstorming among employees through internal social networks like Yammer?

- When increases the reputation and brand awareness of the business thus acquiring new customers or reducing churn?

 

The "Big Guys" among the Fortune 500 simply have enough momentum and existing market-share (and enough mid-level managers doing this for them) that their absence is not noted nor does it drastically impact their bottom line. For now. This is a short–lived reprise.  Competition is on their heels. Customers are speaking.

 

The impact when those select few truly engage is noticeable. In profit.

ASI_Blog
ASI_Blog

Even if they are not actively tweeting, blogging, or posting on Facebook, Google+, etc., I think all CEOs should get the gist of it all, at the very least. As for them actually using social media, I guess it really depends on how knowledgeable they are, in general, on how each site works and how to not directly or indirectly embarrass themselves (and the company) - i.e. bad grammar.

 

Anyway, great article!  I also posted it on our blog here:

 

http://www.amirashiraz.com/blog/2012/07/18/fortune-500-ex…a-and-thats-ok/

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

@1SamJones My pleasure! Glad you liked it.

annedreshfield
annedreshfield

I'm absolutely not surprised. I think it definitely depends on the industry, too -- my dad works in the paperboard industry, and it's very "old school" sales, leadership, and business tactics. But I work at a startup, and for certain roles, if you're not on social media then you may not even be considered for the job. It's all a matter of perspective. Also, there's the flip side -- you might give a CEO a Twitter account and tell him to tweet, but what if he says something that reflects poorly on the company? 

Adam | Customer Experience
Adam | Customer Experience

Agree with the "they've got others things to do with their time" response. Unless the CEO is a celebrity like Mark Cuban, do consumers really care what the CEO thinks? Do they even know who the CEO is? 

 

Hard to imagine the ROI is there in most cases. To wit, I would be very curious to know the traffic on Mackey's blog and if that had anything to do with his posts falling off. All CEOs should understand social, of course, as it is the most transformative business trend of the past few years. Past that, most probably don't need it.

OnPath
OnPath

@ginidietrich CEOs need to be face and voice of their brand. Richard Branson (Virgin) rec this to Sara Blakely (Spanx). Look at her now.

Justjeffpls
Justjeffpls

@ginidietrich We had a similar go when I suggested a separate channel 4 business n u pooh-poohed that. I guess idea's from laymen r a no go?

jeffespo
jeffespo

You are right, this should not shock anyone my dear @ginidietrich ... often all of us get stuck in the whole I am more important than I think I am and social media is the best hype-bubble. At the end of the day it is their job to make money. I would argue though that senior folks in marketing including CMOs should  have an understanding of social and how their business is using it. I have talked to folks, whose coworkers in marketing and executives who still think social is a fad. And these are MARKETERS. 

Latest blog post: Does your memory suck?

FaraiToday
FaraiToday

Great article Sir Trev! Thanks for sharing this...RT @TrevorMadondo: Fortune 500 Executives Aren’t Using Social Media http://t.co/iUyPNsPj

rdopping
rdopping

It has probably been said but anybody in a C-suite leadership position is thinking strategy and they certainly have a hierarchy that does the ground work to support the strategic direction.

 

In my view, the CEO needs to drive the strategic direction of a companies media presence and can only support an arm like social after understanding the benefits. Expecting the C-suite to participate seems like it would be counter-productive.

 

The stats are not surprising. Where it might get interesting is the small to mid-size companies innovating on social strategy to nip at the heels of the big boys. No CEO can ignore the impact of social media and it doesn't seem like they need to participate in the same way they don't sit with their CFO and count beans.

 

It is evident in my wife's firm where she has dragged the President of her organization kicking and screaming into social. Guess who writes his blog posts?

TheJackB
TheJackB

Shout out for Generation X- Woohoo. Used to hate being called that, but we'll set that aside.

 

Lack of visibility doesn't mean they aren't using social media or spending any time influencing how it is used or what is said.

 

 

Latest blog post: If You Write It They Will Come

bdorman264
bdorman264

Hey, I don't want to be 'that guy.' Yes, I'm a baby boomer and most of my friends, CEO's included don't want to 'fool' with social because they are 'too old' or too something. Obviously it will only become bigger instead of going away and therefore, I was ready to jump in and learn as much as I could. Obviously, I don't 'learn' too well at times, but I'm glad I have made the commitment.

 

If nothing else, it helps keep me young in spirit and I feel somewhat relevant in 'my' realm of social. 

Justicewordlaw
Justicewordlaw

This doesn't really surprise me or bother me whatsoever that these executives don't use social media. It gets to a point in your business where you have a team of people focusing on those areas of your business for you so your main focus should be on pleasing your stockholders and trying to stay comfortable within your position at the same time.

billquiseng
billquiseng

I agree with @John_Murphy and @Marcus_Sheridan . The CEO just needs to be aware of how social media can enhance the business. For example, while J.W. Marriott, Jr. does not have a profile on Facebook or Twitter, the Marriott brands (Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Renaissance, etc)  do seem to have a strategic social media plan in interacting with guests and reaching out to potential customers via YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. And that is good enough for customers to stay loyal to the brand. As long as someone is listening; it doesn't have to be the CEO. JW Marriott, Jr. does have a blog (since he is Chairman, I guess he did not get counted as the other sole CEO blogger) and while it may be written by members of Marriott public relations, the voice is personal and goes a long way at reinforcing the brand that carries his name. 

 

Ultimately as Jim Rohn said, "You don't get paid for the hour. You get paid for the value you bring that hour." There are a lot more ways a CEO can bring value to his company than personally using social media channels. And in light of @HowieSPM 's figures, all the more not to have a CEO spend time on it.

Hajra
Hajra

Basically what works for them. If you can run a Fortune 500 without blogging and tweeting about it, its really okay. People and customers would know you just as well. But if you want to go ahead and have a direct reach and it works for you, then it might be just as well. 

 

But it needs to be seen whether an active social media presence might be beneficial for the sale considerably. For example, say maybe for crisis management; a tweet from the boss might make a difference to the customers, maybe to the media also, before the media goes ahead and forms hypothesis and bend the stories for the public..

TonyBennett
TonyBennett

Well, when the new CEO's escort the old CEO's to their lonely seat on the shareholders board, we can point to this post as the reason why. I mean if L. Boone Pickens can roast Drake on Twitter about being a small-timer, what the hell are these other fat cats waiting for?

Marcus_Sheridan
Marcus_Sheridan

I don't think execs should be required to use all this "stuff" we talk about day in and day out, but I do think they have a responsibility to their organization to be aware of marketing tools and trends, and then respond accordingly.

 

So that's where I have my beef--choosing ignorance over awareness, all because "it ain't their shtick."

 

To me, that's like being a business owner and never looking at the books because you have an accountant doing it all for you. WTH??

 

Good stuff G'

 

Marcus

lauraclick
lauraclick

As I said over on @mitchjoel 's post, I've been chewing on this for awhile. A few months back, a study came out that said customers had a higher level of trust for companies where the CEO was engaged on social media. While I get that might be true, it's not necessarily practical. After all, do we want the CEO to be tweeting or being captain of the ship? There are definitely some CEOs who are skilled at doing both, but don't force it on CEOs without the time, communication skills or desire to engage in social social media. Smart CEOs will recognize the importance of social media, but hire the right people to handle it for their company. That's a far better use of time and money in my opinion. 

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

This is simple stuff. You know I have crunched the numbers. You can not reach 8 in 9 consumers in the US today via Facebook. You can't reach 24 in 25 consumers via Twitter. Many more have accounts but will not be active today. With only 13 minutes spent using social per person in the US per day then why should it be a big focus for a big company CEO. Time is money for them. If you make $1000 an hour will you spend time facebooking? Especially when Social is less powerful for major B2B companies than B2C because they use direct sales people vs marketing/advertising. Crunching the numbers we spend less than 1% of our day on Social Media. And the big bang is in that 99% (minus sleep time) and CEO's will reflect this reality.

 

Now while the non- use of social media tool for personal communication with friends/family is a surprise. Though maybe they all do facetime and skype instead and SMS text? I would of been very surprised if the study showed the opposite.

jelenawoehr
jelenawoehr

The cost of a social media screwup by the CEO is infinitely greater than the benefits of having a CEO who doesn't really fully "get" social media or have a gift for connecting with customers in short snippets of text, using social media anyway. A CEO who truly is GOOD at social media should use social media, but I'm not surprised that current Fortune 500 CEOs aren't on that list. Social media won't have much measurable benefit for a CEO unless they're a Jobs-like figure who can use their own connection with customers and star power to drive sales. But if they use social, they can count on reporters following them and publicizing any mistakes made. It just doesn't sound like a great idea for most.

 

 I think we'll see CEOs elevated in the next few years who already used social media before taking the reins at big companies. It will be interesting to see if they stop using social media, close their accounts, or just keep at it.

3HatsComm
3HatsComm

Like you I don't think it's an either/or proposition. At that level, I've always argued that I wanted those leaders to freaking LEAD be they CEOs or politicians or whatever. I don't need TPTB writing their own blogs, speeches, posting their tweets, taking calls in the service center. It's a waste of their time and talents, not to mention those of the people hired to do that - who frankly, can do it better. 

 

Being 'connected' to what it is, having an understanding of the way it works, when, where, how - that's what they need - and proper respect for those on the front lines doing the tough jobs.  @jasonkonopinski mentioned regulated industries which brings up a point I've made before as various celebs and brands get in trouble with tweets; it's different. A bad tweet may temporarily hurt a celeb's following but a bad tweet hurts not only the CEO but could tip news that'll hurt stock prices, even violate the law. 

 

Then there's image. There's always an issue or crisis somewhere; always someone being fired. Mitch's post referenced the 'celebrity' of some CEOs but as they (and we) become more social, they become targets. Not sure how 'blog from the executive lounge' - which 99% of us will never see - will help them grow or connect. Tweeting and Facebooking pictures of their vacay in some outrageously expensive resort - as their stocks fall and employees' unemployment runs out - not only wouldn't help, in all likelihood it would hurt. The brand and their image as leaders. FWIW.

@LumenStrategies
@LumenStrategies

Thanks for the post, Gini, and as you state, no surprise on these stats.  The return on investment for any element of a business plan and strategy for a Fortune 500 is not dependent upon the personal execution by the CEO.  But what is critical is that the CEO's appreciate and understand the emergence of social media as a platform that is relevant for both B2B and B2C businesses in support of both listening and reaching out and engaging their potential and current client base.

 

Depending upon the business and industry, the statistics measured that may be of more interest are difficult to monitor, but include an assessment of whether social media plans and execution across the company are aligned and in support of the business objectives of the company and the brand.  For example,  if a company's brand is founded on extraordinary customer service, then measuring to what extent they are leveraging the powerful listening and engaging opportunities social media affords is more important question than whether the CEO is tweeting, personally.

 

So, to your point, the corner office (as is the case for things not social media) should be on top of his/her game assuring there is a clear strategy in place and that the teams efforts/investments are in support of that strategy!

annelizhannan
annelizhannan

Each of the comments by @KenMueller @jasonkonopinski and @John_Murphy raise solid points. We all may agree that the management of social media is not a fundamental responsibility of the CEO role but the simple presence instills a level of confidence that the corner office is acknowledging the value of social media at the top level.

 

I have noticed a slow but increasing number of Twitter accounts under the personal name of the CEO. Initially, I rejected to 'follow' as there were no tweets coming from the account yet thousands of followers. I thought it was a waste of time, as a hollow shell account, but have since rethought and now follow. I now view it as a baby step that at least the company is actively listening and aware of the social impact.  Time will tell if they demonstratively interact with the conversation of their community rather than simply curate.

 

Thanks

KenMueller
KenMueller

With the bigger companies, while the CEO doesn't need to be managing the company's presence, and while they don't have to be on social media, I think there are some definite pluses to having some sort of active presence. 

 

I'm writing a post about trust and confidence right now, and what we are seeing is a very low level of trust in a lot of major institutions, including big business and wall street. In fact, in the Harris poll, of all the institutions they asked about, we have the highest level of trust in small business, with wall street at the bottom. There is a rather strong sentiment against corporations, big banks, and even big box stores on the local level. This is why we had/have the occupy movement. The pendulum has swung, and social media in the hands of the people is a big part of that.

 

So, no, they don't need to be there. But I think if some of these folks were active on SM, it might help to make them more human. On the other hand, Ithink fear is also a big factor. If the CEO of Bank of America were active on Twitter, it probably wouldn't be pretty. Vulnerability is not a strong suit of the C-Suite.

 

I'd love to see a study done of those large corporations where the higher ups are active on social media, and how it relates to our impressions of those specific companies. 

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John_Murphy
John_Murphy

Gini, I think there is a difference between being active on social media and being aware of what is happening in that space. I do not think that it is necessary for CEOs to be active, but I do think it would be a blind spot for a CEO not to be aware of what is happening on social media either in regard to their own business or their industry.

I believe that it is the responsibility of every CEO to familiarize themselves with various elements of social media because failure to do so is leaving them very out of touch with what is happening, and that is dangerous.

In the offline world, the CEO needs to be in touch with the conversation that is happening within their own organization, and I think the same applies offline too.

Will be interested to hear others views!

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