What do Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Martha Stewart, and Arianna Huffington all have in common? Yes, they are all well-known entrepreneurial CEOs. But there’s more — these CEOs are among the most active and popular businesspeople on Twitter. They engage directly with their marketplace in real time. They don’t make excuses about why they can’t be active on social networks; instead they embrace the idea of a direct connection to their customers and the market as a whole. By doing so, their example encourages others in their companies to also be active in real-time media.
Martha Stewart has 3 million Twitter followers; Arianna Huffington, 1.8 million; Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin, 5.5 million; and Elon Musk, CEO of both Tesla and SpaceX, has 2 million followers on Twitter. While these are all famous CEOs who have become well-known personalities, leading by being active on social media has clear and measurable benefits for the head of any organization. I have had the social CEO discussion with leaders of hundreds of smaller organizations. The best ones do it right, establishing a personal connection directly with customers, partners, and the media.
The social connection helps these CEOs show the entire organization that real-time engagement is an important driver of business. “If the CEO can do it, so can you” is the unwritten message to employees. But when a CEO is not engaged at all (which describes the vast majority of company leaders, I’m afraid) the opposite is true. Employees are reluctant to use social tools to connect with customers.
Your Company’s Salesperson-in-Chief
When people consider doing business with a company, especially in a significant transaction, they frequently research the management team and the head of that organization — and there’s no question that the best way to showcase leadership is to be active on all kinds of real-time media, not just Twitter. Have an active LinkedIn presence, write blog posts, or create images for Instagram or videos for YouTube. Nobody has to do all of these things, of course, but being active in some way gets you in front of your marketplace.
As people look at doing business with your company, they’re also evaluating your executive team, especially the CEO. By showing that they are engaged, you help push people along the buying process. Often the first place people go to learn about a CEO is that person’s bio page on their company website. That’s the place to showcase the content the CEO generates. You can post things like a YouTube video of a recent speech, links to their social feeds, and important posts from the CEO blog. Don’t let them be reduced to a boring resume of the dusty old degrees they earned decades ago.
For example, when people go to the bio page of HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan, they find valuable information about him. You can link to his Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn to learn much more about him.
And HubSpot measures the value of Brian’s engagement. HubSpot marketers learned that 20% of new HubSpot customers in the past three years viewed Brian’s bio page on the company website. This is clear evidence that Brian’s bio page is an important aspect in many buyers’ journeys as they evaluate the company and its management. Because HubSpot measures for this phenomenon, they understand Brian’s bio page (and the links to his social engagement) is important content to help to drive HubSpot’s growth. It works. Under Brian’s leadership, HubSpot grew from a 200 brand-new startup to a successful IPO on the New York Stock Exchange in 2014. Now HubSpot is one of the fastest-growing software companies in the world.
Your CEO is an important part of your content effort and helps drive sales — just by being visible and active online!
Manage Your Fear of Real-Time Engagement
When I speak with CEOs about the success of people like Brian Halligan (as well as those celebrity CEOs like Musk and Branson) they frequently push back on the benefits of social connection even when shown clear evidence that it helps. They claim they are “too busy” to be active on social networks.
I think the real reason they don’t engage in real time with their marketplace is fear.
We all face fear in our professional and personal lives: fear of the strange, of the new, of the untested. We fear bucking the trend and going against the accepted. It's a natural human response.
To truly achieve great leadership qualities, you must act. You need to be active on social networks and communicate directly with your customers. How can you afford not to? That might mean you are a pioneer, a rebel, an instigator. You may need to challenge the status quo in your industry. If you do, you lead your employees by showing them the way to success.