CEOs are not social, for good reasons. But I believe that some should be -- as a means of talking and listening to customers, attracting new employees, and strengthening their company’s brand. So how should CEOs do it?
Start with the POST methodology:
1) People. Target the CEO's audience.
2) Objectives. Create a clear reason for the CEO to be social.
3) Strategy. Establish how many times the CEO will be social per month; who will support the CEO; who will teach and coach the CEO.
4) Technology. Decide what technology platform is appropriate for the CEO.
Here are my recommendations on POST for the CEO:
For people, have the CEO focus on talking to and listening to customers. He or she is already doing this (if not, you've got bigger problems) -- so no leap is required. Bill Marriott from Marriott International and Tony Hsieh from Zappos lead this charge.
Are CEOs social? No. Are there good reasons they aren't? Yes.
Which brings us to a third question: "Should CEOs be social?"
1) The CEO has something valuable and distinctive to say. Forget the corporate vapidities or pablum — the world can get that from your press releases or company site. But if the CEO has the urge and facility to be helpful, illuminating, interesting, original, and insightful, open the social valves.
But keep it in the distinctive voice of the CEO. Your customers want to know the CEO's approach before buying your products; a prospective employee wants a window into their ultimate boss's brain; and a prospective investor wants to research the CEO's philosophy before buying the company's stock. Let the CEO be the CEO.
2) The CEO is prepared to navigate thorny and unique restrictions. These come from regulators, risk-mitigators, company message concoctors, and lawyers. You can draw inspiration from the outspoken meanderings of Mark Cuban. But remember — he's not running a public company.
3) There is an audience that will, over time, tune in to the CEO's social message.
4) The CEO employs a specialized strategy for social — what I call "social light." This is a limited but powerful social profile — I'll explain in my follow-on post.
3) The present social model is mismatched to CEOs.
The average age of the world's top 100 CEOs is 59. This places them in the "typewriter and whiteout generation" -- many years removed from AOL Instant Messaging, Facebook, text messaging, and other early and late social technologies. Current CEOs lack affinity, knowledge, and comfort with social -- limiting their usage.
CEOs face unique constraints. Their companies possess carefully crafted messages emanating from public relations, advertising campaigns, and investor relations -- a CEO could dilute or scramble these messages in a weak blog or Twitter moment. Regulatory issues surround the CEO -- Sarbanes Oxley, Regulation Full-Disclosure ("Reg FD"), FTC guidelines, European Union regulations -- which limit his ability to speak his mind. CEOs always seek to minimize risks of litigation, loss of intellectual property, offending customers, offending investors, angering employees -- all increased with a social profile. Imagine if Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, was blogging from 2004-2008 about the high quality of his company's investments -- those posts would be Exhibit A in any case against Goldman.
I gave a speech at Forrester's Marketing Forum last week in Los Angeles on "The Social CEO" -- why and how CEOs could use social. My talk answered four questions: 1) How many CEOs are social now? 2) Why are current CEOs not social? 3) Should CEOs be social? and 4) How can the CEO become social? I will answer these questions in four posts, starting with the first:
How many CEOs are social now?
Very few, at least in the pantheon of large companies. Here's the research:
1) None of the CEOs of Fortune Magazine's top 100 global corporations have a social profile. We found six defunct Twitter accounts, and one Japanese-language blog. We could discover no obvious presence for any of the 100 CEOs on Facebook or LinkedIn.
2) The CEOs of the tech companies had negligible social presences. Eric Schmidt of Google is an infrequent Twitterer and is not a blogger; Steve Ballmer at Microsoft has no blog and no Twitter account; Michael Dell is on Twitter but is not an external blogger; Mark Hurd of HP, Sam Palmisano at IBM, Steve Jobs of Apple, and Larry Ellison of Oracle have no Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or blog presences that we could find.
3) How about the CEOs of the social companies? Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook is active on his platform but doesn't blog and infrequently visits Twitter. Evan Williams of Twitter Tweets several times per day and blogs, but hasn't posted in 2010. Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn uses Twitter several times per week and posts to the LinkedIn corporate blog. Mike Jones, co-CEO of MySpace is on Twitter several times per week and has a blog (though no posts this year).
In my many years as an analyst, I've learned to listen to those faint, intuitive thoughts that pop into my head about new technologies. They may not be rational, and they may not be entirely analytical, but they are often right. You might call it "gut" -- and in my dual jobs of CEO and analyst, it's been quite useful...
Yes, the iPad signals the future of software, but one simple question is nagging at me:
It won't go in your media room at home -- you've already got a big screen in that room.
It's not going to go on your desktop at work -- you've got a company computer there.
It's not going to live in your office at home -- that's where your home computer lives.
Will it go in your backpack? I carry my Kindle and my laptop in mine. So will I pull out the Kindle (10 ounces) and replace it with an iPad (24 ounces)? No -- I'm not adding another pound for my aching back to carry around...
Kitchen? Not a place where you'd watch a movie. Bedroom? Yes, you'd read a book there, but you'd rarely check stock quotes or search for coffee shops.
The iPad signals a fundamental change in software -- and you, as CEO, should know about it.
You're going to hear a lot of conflicting babble about what Apple's new device means. Most of the talk will be about iPad's impact on the media world...death of The New York Times, blah, blah, the future of movies and books, blah, blah, will Verizon offer their network, blah, blah. You may be tempted to tune it all out.
Don't. Because the iPad has meaning for you and your business.
Your company runs on software. Whether it's the word processor you use to write memos, or your factory's supply chain software, or your customer Web site, your company wouldn't last for 17 minutes without the stuff.
iPad signals the future of software. There are two old software models. The first is where the software runs on your laptop -- this is the Microsoft model embodied by Office. The second is the software as a service/cloud model with the software running on a server somewhere out on the Internet -- this is the Google and Salesforce.com model. I'm simplifying, but in the former, the software runs on a local device. In the latter, the software sits out on the network.
iPad (and the iPhone before it) elegantly combines the two models. Software on a powerful device seamlessly (that's the key word) cooperates with services available out on the network.
At the Forrester Marketing Forum this year (I hope to see you there), I am giving a talk on "The Social CEO." I'll be analysing the state of the art (what pioneering CEOs are doing), assessing which social technologies should and should not be used by business leaders, and summarizing what CEOs and their companies can expect to gain from social.
But all of this may be getting ahead of a fundamental question: Should CEOs be social? Or should they stay behind the scenes and let their CMO take the lead? If the CEO is not social, will the company suffer?
I'd love to get your thoughts. Even better would be any stories you may have about a CEO that uses social to drive the goals of his or her company. If they're unique, I'll use your quote in my speech at the Forum and give you a well-deserved shout out...
If you're a typical CEO, you're probably wondering what the hell all of these social technologies like Twitter are useful for. A question I get from a lot of leaders is: "How can we use social to make money?" Actually, the more frequent question is: "Why do these social things have such stupid names?"
Many CEOs only encounter the downside of social -- the disparaging YouTube video or the irrational Twitter attack on the company's brand or products. I've got personal experience here -- Forrester was recently the subject of a small Twitter tantrum based on inaccurate information. So it's easy to understand the skepticism and the questioning.
Trust me though -- social networks contain utility that your company will use to get ahead. I'll be posting some examples in the near future.
But for the moment, let's stay focused on one specific way that you will use social to make money -- something I call Social Sigma. While Six Sigma is a discipline for improving products through better process, Social Sigma is about improving products through social feedback. It's about using social networks as a means for customers (and potential customers) to continually critique, analyze, and offer suggestions about your products. It's a powerful tool for continually increasing the value of what you make.
This was my ninth visit to the World Economic Forum – the global cocktail party/speechathon that brings together a unique mix of CEOs, government leaders, artists, scientists, philanthropists, regulators, and non-profits in Davos Switzerland. Or, as one reporter noted, it was a meeting of the people who have screwed up the world in the last two years.
Here are my quick personal observations. Please excuse the length of this post -- the volume of interesting facts overwhelmed my editing sensibilities.
1) Compared with the gloom of last year, members were far more optimistic and positive about the economy. Most executives I spoke with said that their business began to turn in Q3 and Q4 of 2009 and that their prospects for 2010 were brightening. That said, economists continually highlighted the fragility of the recovery. The head of the IMF said that the discontinuation of stimulus packages will cause the recovery to sputter. He also said that it may take between five and seven years for some countries to return to “normalcy,” whatever that is.
Next week I will make my annual trek to Davos for the World Economic Forum. I will be tweeting during the week and I will post my findings from the event on this blog -- most likely the week after.
I always go to Davos with a simple survey question that I ask everyone I meet with. Last year the question was: "When will the recession end?" The answers ranged widely, but averaged to April, 2010 (in retrospect, too gloomy).
For this year I'm considering: "What is your number one priority for the next two years?" But that feels way too vanilla.
So if you could ask a worldwide group of CEOs, political leaders, artists, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, academics, and media leaders one question, what would it be? I'd love to get your ideas.