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?

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

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