By Tamsin Oxford - November 19th, 2014

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For CEOs to succeed across social media and leverage these networks for their benefit of their corporations, a deep understanding of social business is needed

In the first part of this series we examined the value of the social CEO and why this shift had enormous potential for the business.  This week we will consider what level of digital intellect is required by the CEO and whether or not this makes them better leaders and builds better organisations. 
 
The answer is almost simple. A social CEO results in better organisational communication, an improved brand image, more transparency, better company morale and better leadership. It’s a winning formula, but it isn’t necessarily for every CEO or business, and leaping into the social stream without an understanding of its workings and values can potentially leave a negative mark rather than a positive one. However, if done right and with authenticity, social media activity by an engaged CEO can lead the business into the digital economy and give them an edge over their non-social peers. 
 
IBM has been running a series that has taken over ten years, 17 studies and 23,000 face-to-face interviews with high-level executives to complete. In the final part, Exploring the Inner Circle, social media comes under the executive eye. It seems that the C-suite recognises the value of social and CEOs are “gearing up for huge changes in how their enterprises engage with customers over the next few years.” 
 
The report found that there is a need for more transparency across the business for employees, customers and partners. And social has been shown to do exactly that, especially when used by executives within the organisation. CEOs that use social media are more likely to engender an atmosphere of open communication and this has the added advantage of making the business more agile and adaptable, and more trustworthy.  
 
IBM Social CEO
 
It’s quite a learning curve, especially for the time-strapped CEO, so the essence of social needs to be distilled into simple elements that allow for a rich online presence within brand parameters. Looking at the most successful CEOs on social media today, they are also those who are leading some of the most visible and successful organisations. 
 
Richard Branson once said: “Embracing social media isn’t just a bit of fun; it’s a vital way to communicate, keep your ear to the ground and improve your business.” His Klout score is 92, his followers on LinkedIn are well over two million and his Twitter followers need several commas between numbers.
 
Following him in influence, popularity and social nous are Jeff Weiner, Marissa Mayer, Arianna Huffington, Elon Musk and Anand Mahindra. The list of 60 of the most influential can be found on LinkedIn and includes some rather surprising candidates. It also shows that being on social may well be an essential quality for someone to become a leader in the modern, digital economy and a must on any CEOs CV.
 

Leading by example

Social media has become a standard tool used by brands to communicate with customers. When harnessed by the high level executives in the organisation it has the ability to transform the business into a market leader.
 
“So many big corporate brands are perceived as faceless, uncaring behemoths,” says Bertie Stephens, CEO and founder of Flubit.com. “Having C-levels accessible on social media helps break down these barriers and can be just as positive for the brand as spending millions on an advertising campaign. This trend is one that will definitely grow. The transparency and efficiency benefits that come from encouraging an open dialogue outweigh any potential social media disaster.”
 
The IBM study pointed out that most organisations with social CEOs are more likely to engage with stakeholders and enjoy a culture of transparency and openness. It’s a shift from closed doors and dusty boardrooms to open plan communication and personal insights, and for those organisations that are lucky enough to find their CEOs on social, the shift means better business.
 
Why CEOs should go social
 
“Company mentions, news and reviews usually lead the way on Twitter and any CEO not keeping an eye on their brand could potentially miss opportunities to help enhance the positive and ensure the negative is nipped in the bud,” adds Luke Ormerod, Director at Blueclaw, a digital marketing agency. “If the CEO is seen as a thought leader, this will reflect on the reputation of the company.”
 
Stephens adds: “At the end of the day, why should consumers and staff care about your brand if you can’t demonstrate that you do? It all comes back to engagement and participation and by entering into social the CEO is showing that they are part of the brand and have loyalty towards it.”
 
A CEO that can respond on social with genuine, human interest and react to situations openly and honestly will find that engagement follows suit. 
 
“Social is all about engagement, as the Internet has evolved, people have increasingly turned to each other – whether that’s through forum communities or social media,” says Arjun Panesar, Director at Diabetes.co.uk. “The reason is simple – people know that others in a similar situation will understand their concerns, whether that’s to do with health, money, technology or anything else. The key to connection is engagement and that is driven by listening, talking and discussing. Talk to users like friends or family and be real and honest.”
 
So what’s next? Does every CEO need to reach for their keyboard and start tapping missives to the world? Not yet. They must have an understanding of the elements within it – what platforms to use, the solutions to employ and the digital tools best suited to their brands and personalities. 
 
To be the leader, the one in front, the CEO needs to create their own persona that’s true to who they are and create their own pathways through the social strata. And that is exactly what we will be examining in the third and final part of the series when we consider platforms, strategy and solutions that fit. 
 
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