2014 The Year of the Social CEO

2014 Year of the Social CEO Michael Gass

Social media is a primary force that is redefining the role of the men and women who oversee the world’s largest companies.

Brands no longer ignore social media.

The importance of social media on business has dramatically escalated. We have moved through the “hype phase of social media when businesses felt compelled to participate because it was such a fad. We have entered a productive phase where companies are starting to crack social’s code to turn it into a genuine marketing advantage.

“Just as having a company website has become standard operating procedure over the past two decades, utilizing social media channels has now become an increasingly essential platform for companies to communicate their messages to the general public and other audiences.” Andy Polansky, CEO of global public relations firm Weber Shandwick.

Social has grown beyond marketing into other areas of business.

Publically traded companies are beginning to adopt social media for business communication and crisis management. Social is breaking down corporate silos creating new ways of connecting and changing the way the company works together. It enables more collaborative relationships and enhances creative ideas and innovation. It is helping companies to gain better consumer insights and engage with their customers.

Social networks are having a broad-based impact, changing everything about the way we do business. The tightly controlled corporate environments are falling apart. Control of brands are shifting into the hands of customers and employees.

While many companies now understand the important role that social media plays in business, most have not realized the changes it is about to make to the role of CEOs. As Communicator and Chief, CEOs will need to have a more prominent role in social media. And as social changes the way companies work, it impacts the talents and skill sets needed for the current generation of business leaders to equip them to be a more social CEO.

CEOs have lacked a firsthand knowledge

Many CEOs have grown to see the value of social media for their company’s participation, but haven’t seen the need for their personal involvement.

The vast majority of Chief Executives have no presence on any of the major social media networks (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Google Plus).

According to the 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index report from CEO.com, only 19 CEOs from the world’s top 500 companies use Twitter (or have someone use it on their behalf) – and only 9 of these are active.[ii]

CEOs haven’t been baptized by participating in social media and don’t really understand how it works. The lack of understanding tends to make them skeptical and reluctant participants, unrealistically fearful of making mistakes and in an uncomfortable position of learning while leading.

As consumers have become more social savvy, social media is quickly evolving into an essential leadership tool.

The time has arrived for social media to become an expectation for company leaders.

As social business changes the way companies work, it impacts the talents and skill sets needed for the current generation of CEOs.

Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada and Toronto’s Communicator of the Year, was quoted as saying,

“Successful leaders will no longer be measured just by stock price. Managing and communicating with shareholders, employees, government, community, customers, will be table stakes in the future.”

A new IBM study of more than 1,700 Chief Executive Officers from 64 countries and 18 industries worldwide reveals that 70% of the responding CEOs will shift their focus from using e-mail and the phone as primary communication vehicles to using social networks as a new path for direct engagement.

Within just the next three to five years, social media is anticipated to rise from the least likely method for CEOs to connect with their audiences to the second highest method, just behind face-to-face interactions.

Traditional corporate communication is beginning to give way to social communication. CEOs communicating through social media help their company appear more human and accessible. 

“Companies that are truly social and engage their employees and customers in genuine conversation will be recognized as the new corporate leaders. CEOs who are social will be the next new thing.” Leslie Gaines-Ross, Chief Reputation Strategist, Weber Shandwick

This is a major change from the traditional, controlled, protective corporate environments of the past to a more open and transparent leadership structure. As social media continues to evolve towards direct engagement, as spokesperson-in-chief, the CEOs skills and experience in social media becomes even more important. 

Customers expect to have direct connections to brands and brand leaders. The time has arrived for social media to become an expectation for company leaders. According to recent reports, 82% of buyers say they trust a company more when its CEO and leadership team are active in social media.

CEOs that are social are perceived as better leaders and better communicators by their employees. The more socially tenured, the more people-focused and spontaneous he or she is considered by executives. Executives with social CEOs say their CEO’s social media presence makes them inspired (52%), and technologically advanced and proud (41%).

CEO sociability provides a multiplicity of benefits, such as:

  • Share company news and information
  • Improve company reputation
  • Demonstrate company innovation, “humanize” the company, improve employee communications and build media relations
  • Improve business results
  • Help resolve a crisis
  • Help CEOs to build relationships with the news media
  • Show innovation
  • Enhance credibility
  • Help CEOs to know the company
  • More effective crisis management
  • Help find and attract new customers
  • Unfiltered direct communication with consumers
  • Attracting and retaining top talent
  • Valuable asset for sharing corporate social responsibilities and causes

To have success with social media, CEOs need to understand that it is not just another marketing tool. It provides a two-way channel of communication, allowing them to connect and engage with large numbers of people quickly. It also maintains the characteristics of one-to-one conversations.

Sir Richard Branson, world renowned entrepreneur and businessman, has been called the consummate social CEO. Through his participation in social media he has developed an emotional connection and appeal with customers, employees, stakeholders and the general public.

Branson was named as the world’s top social media CEO for 2013, by the World of CEOs. The chief executive candidates were appraised by their number of Twitter followers, number of tweets, LinkedIn Influencer followers and their Klout score.

Branson has amassed over 3.5 million Twitter followers, 2.1 million connections on LinkedIn and 2.9 million Google+.  His blog is averaging over 500,000 visitors per month. Sir Richard shares inspiring leadership stories and quotations, thereby creating online conversations about fresh business ventures. He also raises awareness for charitable initiatives or other things he finds of interest or fun.

“Above all, remember to be authentic and organic, answering questions in a straightforward manner — there’s no need to check with your PR team first. You know your products and services, and people will see through any effort to parrot slogans or broadcast a marketing message.” Richard Branson

Because Richard tweets and blogs daily, almost all Virgin employees engage directly with their customers through social media. They use it to find out what customers want and need. 

How Will CEOs Respond Organizationally and Personally?

This article was featured in the December issue of Dialogue, a global magazine for business leaders. It is a publication of Duke Corporate Education and LID Publishing, London and has a distribution of 500,000 readers.

You can download a complimentary copy of the December issue.

Go to PocketMags

Enter the username: lid@dialoguereview.com and the password: dialogue

It is also available in iTunes

This is my brief video for the Dialogue article.

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.


  1. Thank you for a great article Michael. Quick question. As a team we often debate the power of social media vs content marketing such as blogs etc. Do you think content marketing does more for your or a social campaign?

  2. Forrest Breyfogle says:

    I’ve decided to jump head first into social networking. It can be a black hole for time, but knowing how to manage the engagement is key for me and the company. It is now a part of our business strategy, and we appreciate the interaction. When you teach other businesses how to be effective and reduce wasted time, it’s important for us to practice this first hand! We are on board for 2014 being the year of the social CEO!
    @forrestBreyfogl, CEO, Smarter Solutions

  3. Excellent. I wish you much success in 2014!

  4. Forrest Breyfogle says:

    You as well Mr. Gass.

  5. It is an integrated approach. Content fuels social media. It has a long shelf life. Post articles that I’ve written 7 years ago continue to provide a great return on my time investment.

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