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Silence is no longer an option: Why CEOs must enter the social fray

It’s fair to say CEOs and social media are not traditionally the most comfortable of bedfellows. Leaders of Fortune 500 companies participate in social...

It’s fair to say CEOs and social media are not traditionally the most comfortable of bedfellows. Leaders of Fortune 500 companies participate in social networking less than the general public or heads of smaller companies, according to a study by CEO.com.

The figures make startling reading: Only nine Fortune 500 CEOs have active Twitter accounts, and just 38 are on Facebook. LinkedIn has attracted a better showing, with profiles of 129 Fortune 500 CEOs, which equates to just 26 per cent of this high profile group. 

The reasons for this reticence have been widely discussed, from genuine time constraints to fear of saying the wrong thing in a spectacularly public fashion.

The legal tussle between Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) back in 2012 is a prime example of why many business leaders believe social media discretion is the better part of valour. A simple statement on Facebook regarding viewer figures led to a 5 per cent gain in share price, and a battle to prove this was a fair way of sharing information.

While these are understandable concerns, it can be argued that in today’s highly connected world the role of a CEO is as much about being a public figurehead as a strategic force. 

Those CEOs who do raise their head above the parapet have much to gain. A recent BRANDfog study revealed 69 per cent of respondents reported that social media use by executives makes a brand seem more honest and trustworthy. This is a powerful factor in influencing stakeholders, and attracting and retaining customers, employees and investors.

Equally important are the opportunities social media provides for building relationships with peers and other thought leaders. Online networking is a powerful way to extend spheres of influence and tap into valuable insights and resources.

It is no longer acceptable for CEOs within even the most conservative organisations to remain cloistered away in the boardroom. Social influence is power – and the next generation of leaders will find that their online profile will be a critical determinant of success, both professionally and personally.

Social silence is no longer an option.