Yesterday, I tweeted about a Harvard Business Review article published by Bloomberg that asks “Is the typical CIO a ‘Gear Guy?'” and it reminded me to post something about Rob Shimmin‘s talk on “Why CEOs don’t tweet” at last month’s Dell B2B Social Media Huddle (#dellb2b).
It was a fascinating talk and I hope Rob won’t mind me sharing the key points in this post.
Setting the scene
- Very few CEOs blog or tweet (and even fewer in the B2B world).
- All CEOs are good communicators but their skills may vary according to where/how they are communicating (face to face, auditorium, etc.) Your CEO may be nervous in front of some audiences – so look at them and see where they fit.
Should a CEO communicate using social media?
- Maybe not? Some CEOs have unbelievable restrictions on what they can say and their message may be scrubbed clean until the point where the content is not that useful. One example is Jonathan Schwartz (former CEO of Sun Microsystems), whose current blog is titled “What I couldn’t say…”.
- The primary reason that CEOs don’t blog or tweet is time. Use of social media needs to be transparent and, if a blog is ghost written, then it’s important to say so. Rob spoke of how some CEOs sits down with the guys who write their posts at 8am each day and tell them what they are thinking. Others want to write for themselves but it’s difficult to switch someone from “command and control” mode to “talking through a keyboard” (unfiltered).
- Permanence is another consideration (the United States Library of Congress is cataloging all tweets) – think about what happens when two organisations are competing and they later merge – those blog posts and tweets are still there for all to see their previous history of conflict!
- CEOs may also have some restrictions around what can say (for example as a result of regulation, fair disclosure).
- For B2B CEOs, control is a big issue – it’s difficult for them to let people say what they like in social media! Lawyers and HR may also have a view. Then consider that social media reaches a wide audience and impacts buying patterns… whereas B2B CEOs worry about a small number of important contacts.
- All CEOs are interested in recruiting great talent and getting message to staff in event of crisis. Often, organisations are collaborating with other partners on a product or service – they can’t be completely open but there is a need to collaborate externally [and to communicate internally].
- B2B and B2C communications are closer than many might think. Rob’s example was that, if British Airways’ engine supplier is “volcanic ash friendly”, that could impact on a consumer’s airline choice (i.e. B2B becomes B2C when the public are interested). And even if there is no risk (i.e. that all jet engines are equally ash friendly, or not!), there may be a perception of risk by the public – again, B2B organisations need to think about what the public thinks as a B2C organisation would. In essence, it’s important to think “if my customer’s customer is interested in something, what am I doing to address it?”
Triggers for B2B social media communications
- Crisis (fixing negative PR [BP must surely be upset about the @BPGlobalPR Twitter account!]).
- Competition (sounding knowledgeable on a topic that people care about (they have a good approach to xyz… should we have?).
- Cost effectiveness (i.e. – look at the reach of various social networking platforms – although it’s important to consider richness, not just reach).
- Powerful channel (recognising that social media can play in important role in communicating with both customers and employees).
Using social media for B2B crisis management
“Seeing a CEO grapple with social media can be a bit like seeing your Dad dance at your wedding with baseball camp on backwards!”
- A crisis isn’t the time to launch a social media presence – the CEO’s message can be passed out through existing channels and other (often younger) more, technologically-savvy people in the organisation can get the CEO to comment through their blogs.
- In a crisis, suddenly everything is watched and old, previously uninteresting content becomes interesting (so, because of permanence, it’s important to future-proof the message).
- Some CEOs will take well to social media, whilst others are not so comfortable – it’s important to play to your CEO’s strong points.
Social Media is on the B2B RADAR
- Social media can have a negative effect too – in the recent British Airways strike negotiations, a senior Union leader provoked controversy by tweeting from the negotiation table (and then compounded the issue by tweeting as he enjoyed himself at a football match, whilst passengers were grounded by strikes).
- CEOs make mistakes like the rest of us but, if they have a good setup around them, they can survive; however CEOs are less likely to survive contention (particularly if old content is surfaced later) than “Jake from marketing aged 24” is when he tweets about suffering from a hangover.
- CEO use of social media should be about: earning trust; having an industry voice (building communities); monitoring issues (getting ready to react to consumer’s needs and concerns); talking to employees (listening too); driving innovation (encouraging idea sharing); and recruiting talent (leveraging connections).
The top 10 challenges for Heads of Digital Communications (HDCs)
- Lack of understanding
- Loss of control
- Demographic apartheid
- Fragmentation of media
- Speed of change and response
- Rules of engagement
- Privacy and corporate security
- Finding good people
- Lack of effective metrics
- Ownership of digital
(From Watson Helsby Executive Search’s “Digital Communications and Social Media: the challenges facing the PR industry”) – more quotes include:
“Under 30’s are the digital natives – but they lack the all-round communications skills, gravitas and credibility.”
“Digital communications is a destabilising force in a bureaucratic environment.”
“38% of HDCs were in favour of a total ban on social media in the office.”
Cornerstones for CEO communications
- Consider all audiences – you can no longer speak to just one.
- Think before you speak – consider the “New York Times Test” (never write down anything you would be uncomfortable seeing in tomorrow’s New York Times).
- Consider content rather than tone – strip away any negative tones and focus on the issue.
- Scope – decide early what’s in and out.
- Know your influencers – who must be reached in a crisis.
- Be honest, open and transparent.
Incidentally, I notice that, when Rob’s slides were uploaded to Slideshare, the title was changed to “Why CIOs don’t tweet” – that would be an entirely different discussion…