Memo to CEOs: Go Social or Go Home

By Dave Kerpen

Last week, published its 2nd annual Social CEO Report, examining in great detail the social networking presence of each of the Fortune 500 CEOs. Their findings were surprising: Most notably, 68% of CEOs have absolutely no presence on any of the major social networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Plus). Here are a few more highlights from the report (or lowlights, depending upon how you look at it):

1) About one quarter, or 28% (140) of the Fortune 500 CEOs are here on LinkedIn, the leading social network for business professionals. They include fellow LinkedIn Influencers Meg WhitmanJamie DimonJeff Immelt and John Donahoe.

2) Just 7% (35) of the Fortune 500 CEOs are on Facebook, led obviously by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, with 16 million followers.

3) A paltry 5.6% (28) of the Fortune 500 CEOs are on Twitter, and just 3.7% (19) of them have active Twitter accounts.

So why aren’t more Fortune 500 CEOs embracing social media? The four reasons the report cites are:

1) Not enough time

2) Uncomfortable with transparency

3) Greater risk

4) Resistance to change

I don’t know the Fortune 500 CEOs who aren’t using social networks personally, so I can only speculate about why they’re not going social. I’d boil it down to two primary reasons myself: fear and lack of perceived value.

We fear what we don’t yet know and understand, and Fortune 500 CEOs are amongst the last demographic on the planet to know and understand social networks.

We don’t make time for what we don’t see value in – and surely these CEOs don’t see value in spending time on social networks. They think they have better things to do.

I don’t think they do. As I’ve written before, the bigger value to social media for business isn’t in the talking, it’s in the listening. CEOs can use social media to listen to their customers, competitors, competitors’ customers, and employees. They can discover new products, new markets, and new opportunities. Once they start talking, they can tell their story – provide thought leadership, and attract new partners, vendors, talent and customers. They can be the spokesperson for their companies online the same way they are the spokesperson offline.

Said Josh James, CEO of Domo, the company who sponsored the report: “CEOs who use social media are growing their businesses, attracting lifelong customers, generating exposure for their companies and closing new deals. As consumers become more social savvy, so must company leaders.”

I say to CEOs: Your employees are on social networks. Your customers are on social networks. Your shareholders are on social networks. Your nimble, startup competitors are on social networks. If you’re not on on these social networks, you not only risk looking like you’re out of touch, you risk actually becoming out of touch.

Here’s the thing: Fortune 500 CEOs are still afraid of going social – but perhaps they should be more afraid of their nimble competitors going social and quickly catching up, taking their jobs – and their spots on the Fortune 500.

I’m a CEO of one company and a Chairman of another – and I’ve found enormous value in using social media personally and professionally. But I’m running social media companies, so there’s an obvious, unfair bias.

So, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and all companies around the globe, don’t take the advice to “Go social” from me. Take it from Warren BuffetRupert MurdochMarissa MayerRalph Lauren and Meg Whitman, who’d all likely say: Go social or go home.


Now it’s your turn: What do you think about the current CEOs who are on social networks, and not? Which CEOs do you think are doing a great job with social media? Which CEOs doyou think could be doing better job? Is being involved with social media as important for a CEO as I believe it is? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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Dave Kerpen is the founder and CEO of Likeable Local. He is also the cofounder and Chairman of Likeable Media, and the New York Times bestselling author of Likeable Social Media and Likeable Business.To read more from Dave on LinkedIn, please click the FOLLOW button above or below.

sherrygarrett September 15, 2013
Just to add one major fact most are deathly afraid of saying something that will land them in court. Our government closely watches and if they say or imply anything that could be seen to manipulate a stock price they are TRULY in HOT water. So it has nothing to do with the fact they do not understand the importance of SM but the fact they are very smart and want to save millions in legal fees!
ama September 2, 2013
I totally agree with you. The CEOs should "go social or go home" Also, I do not agree that they should delegate going social . It is good to experience it, make an impact , have followers, read what others have experienced, share your own experiences etc.
Edwin Dearborn August 31, 2013
This will change over time. In the meanwhile, blog posts like yours will start to wake up the CEOs of the world that you will need to be online and going social to be relative.
Joan Stewart August 28, 2013
If the Chief Executive Officer can't find time for social media, assign one or more management-level executives to have a presence and participate. An important reason is building a social media platform and being comfortable using it, BEFORE a crisis occurs. Too many companies that suddenly find themselves in a bad news situation are virtually helpless to tell their story ****in their own words**** if they don't have a blog, a Twitter account, or a presence within LinkedIn groups.
Lise Winther-Rauman August 25, 2013
Thanks for an interesting read. I guess there are many reasons why so many CEO’s decides not to go social. In my opinion the low number could, besides your 4 mentioned points, also be related to the blurriness of direct added value to the companies. Even though the McKinsey group has proven the many benefits (also on a financial level) of going social in their “2012, Social economy report” I think that some companies still find it hard to apply these studies to their own company. As a company might have great success within the B2B area in delivering subcomponents, I can understand why some CEO’s cannot see the point in engaging in social media directed at the consumer market. Perhaps if the process of going social could be seen in the bigger picture (besides a means to add instant value on the bottom line) i.e. as employer branding or in green profiling, more CEO’s might consider going social again.
CharlieProfit August 24, 2013
I disagree. I am not a CEO, but I'm not sure there really is any value for a CEO of a Fortune 500 to add social to his/her daily tasks unless it is something they are truly interested in (or unless they are CEO of a social media, or any media, company). How much time would you recommend a CEO spend tweeting and posting on Facebook or G+? They have meetings, conference calls, conventions, summits, seminars to attend already. There is a reason why CEO's do not take calls or even emails from consumers. It takes too much time. Why Tweet with them? I also imagine many CEO's that have not embraced social do not want to post something the Twittersphere would deem inappropriate. We've seen what kind of backlash can happen, even when an innocent mistake is made. There is an etiquette that needs to be learned in order to be accepted, and it can be confusing (and time consuming). For example: IS THIS IS YELLING, or just adding EMPHASIS. The CEO's that have embraced social, enjoy the platform. So it is easier for them to include it in their routine. For new companies, younger CEO's (< 40) and for future CEO's it is more "important" because the new generation of leaders have already embraced social as a means of communication. It is their telephone. They are making social THE standard for communication. It is already a part of their routine. The "old guard" can hire people to keep them informed of social trends, customer attitudes, etc. Why fix what isn't broken? Personally, I am not more apt to like a company more because their CEO Tweets about the products his/her company makes, or posts pix of the supper he is having with his/her family at some fancy restaurant. However, I would be impressed if a CEO responded to me, but it would not necessarily make me more loyal to the brand. Thanks for allowing me to respond!
Brian August 28, 2013
I'm a Chief Marketing Officer at a medium-sized non-profit. I still think social media is highly overrated as a business investment that and a lot of people are plunging in and confusing tactics with strategy. There may be some value in crowdsourcing and there's certainly much value in listening in on customers and potential customers. I just don't see a lot of productive dialogue between businesses and their audiences. I know that a lot of this depends on the type of business. But I still hold to the opinion that a wholesale investment in social media is not many cases. Most of what I see in business postings falls toward two extremes: using social media simply as another marketing platform (using the same language and tone as advertising) OR trying too hard to be human (e.g. "Hey, did you know that it's International Grilled Cheese Sandwich day? 50% of our staff here at XYZ company has eaten a grilled cheese sandwich in the past year. What's your favorite cheese on a sandwich?" Honest, I saw a number of similar postings on a day where some brilliant influencer noticed the day's designation and began the social media tidal wave. We need to use social media critically and recognize that there are only so many hours in a day and so many resources to dedicate to communication. We also need to realize that our audiences have finite attention spans. Unless we can be supremely engaging and tap into deep emotions, most of our postings just add to marketplace clutter and defeats our purpose. As far as I can see, most people use social media to stay in touch with friends and family, and shore up their identity (i.e. manufacture a persona for peer approval). I'm not a total social media curmudgeon. I just think that a lot of businesses embrace the medium wholeheartedly when they need to critically assess how much time and effort to dedicate to this space. My philosophy: maintain a minimum / manageable level of social media activity to accommodate the two tails of the bell curve that ranks your customers on a scale of (A) new-to-minimally engaged to (B) highly-engaged, passionate advocates. Most folks in the middle of bell curve won't care about your social media presence. But it's the new public square and it conveys a threshold of competence. So you need to be there for new customers and for the minimally interested. You also need to be there for the super-engaged customers who will read, and share, every tweet and every post in their news feed. If they're active in promoting your work, then it's important that they understand the brand. Another reason for maintaining a minimum threshold of social media activity is so that you are prepared for the big news...either a major product launch or crisis that needs managing through messaging. You don't want to suddenly be faced with learning a new medium in the heat of a crisis. I'm sure there are examples that contradict my opinion and mindset. But on the whole, I'm not particularly excited by social media when there's other work to be done and other ways to engage customers with a greater potential for measurable returns.
[...] By Dave Kerpen Last week, published its 2nd annual Social CEO Report, examining in great detail the social networking presence of each of the Fortune 500 CEOs. Their findings were surprising: Most notably, 68% of CEOs have absolutely no...  [...]

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