Why every B2B CEO should be on social media

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“Some CEOs say they’re too busy for social media. I say, it’s part of the job.”

This statement is from American Family Insurance CEO Jack Salzwedel, one of the many Fortune 500 CEOs using social media today — prolifically using, to be specific.

Recently, CEO.com, together with Domo, released its 2015 Social CEO Report, which looks at the social media trends (including engagement, activities and top social leaders) amongst F500 CEOs across major social media networks.

The findings show that social media is being adopted with greater frequency amongst CEOs. But interestingly, it found that greater frequency does not translate to widespread acceptance.

Sixty-one percent of those F500 CEOs reviewed had no social media presence at all, and not one CEO was active on all six major platforms considered (which were Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and YouTube). Further, 70 percent of CEOs who are active on social media joined LinkedIn first.

“We’ve seen significant growth in the past year,” the report states, “as 32% of CEOs have active LinkedIn accounts, up almost 7% from last year’s 25.4%. Of the CEOs on LinkedIn, 33 are “Influencers” (LinkedIn’s official list of 500). 14 of those Influencers joined the network in the past year.”

The report, however, does not differentiate between B2B and B2C CEOs. While high-profile B2C executives like Richard Noll of HanesBrands, Dara Khosrowshahi of Expedia Inc., and Reed Hastings of Netflix are considered 2015’s social media “movers and shakers,” for B2B CEOs and C-Suites, being active on social is going to look different, since they have different audiences and objectives.

And in this business-centred arena, being platform-diverse is not as important as being engaged with the one or two platforms that hold the greatest influence.

B2B execs, get on Twitter and LinkedIn!

Dennis McGuire is VP of inside sales at The Savo Group, a sales software and consulting firm. He is also an active social media user. He explains how “being active” is different for B2B executives than it is for their B2C counterparts. “I am on Facebook,” he says, “But for me, I keep Facebook to more of a friends and family thing, whereas if you’re in B2C, Facebook is perfectly appropriate to be on. For me on B2B, I find the best platforms are between Twitter and LinkedIn. I will always try everything, of course, but I won’t spend a lot of my time on things that are unproven in the business world.”

McGuire notes that he’s also personally on Instagram and Snapchat, but these, too, are something he does not carry over into his B2B social activity. “I think there are possibilities for driving B2B through these channels,” he says. “But currently people are using it for personal or consumer, so the B2B will struggle there.”

Not surprisingly, LinkedIn is the most utilized social media site for B2B professionals. KissMetrics, reporting on LinkedIn’s own B2B analytics, states, “LinkedIn is responsible for more than 80% of a business’s social media leads! All the other social media platforms put together only amount to 19.67% of leads!”

Our own B2B News Network contributor Cendrine Marrouat, in a post called 10 LinkedIn stats every B2B executive needs to know, touches on why LinkedIn is so effective. She writes, “Of all the major social platforms currently vying for the top spots, LinkedIn is the most B2B-centric. It is also considered the most effective in the sales cycle. According to Content Marketing Institute’s “2015 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends for North America,” 63 percent of marketers report positive results in that area.”

Being a company ambassador on social

Lead generation and increased revenue is not the only reasons C-Suites should want to be on social. Dennis McGuire of The Savo Group points out that there are hidden benefits which many CEOs don’t even consider, including cost reduction.

Dennis McGuire
Dennis McGuire

“How great would it be if your CEO is advertising that you’re hiring?” he states as an example. “If he or she puts it out there on social, ‘Here are the jobs we’ve got; here’s what I’m looking for,’ how great would that be—a personal request from the CEO on LinkedIn? When one of our C-Suites is posting job listings on LinkedIn, we get a lot more applicants than when it’s just posted on our website. These people aren’t coming in through a recruiter, so what does that do for cost-per-hire?”

McGuire also points to the quality of individual that applies for jobs shared through LinkedIn, and how social users can leverage business relationships. “I went to Elon College,” he says, “so I will try to help young people who have just graduated connect with the right audience. LinkedIn is the right platform to connect people with my business connections. These things are hidden on LinkedIn, but it gives you a better brand if you’re leveraging how you connect.”

‘Social media has become a vital tool for CEOs’

Whether they’re B2B or B2C, pundits agree that CEOs and tier one executives need to be regularly active on whatever social media channels they’ve joined. The CEO.com report says, “Simply put, social media has become a vital tool for CEOs to better communicate and connect with their key stakeholders and enhance the reputations of their companies. Increased awareness of that reputation comes with certain rewards: Highly regarded companies are more than three times as likely as those with weak reputations to have a CEO who participates in social media.

Online magazine Chief Executive points to Tom Sanderson, CEO of freight transportation services provider Transplace, as an example of how CEOs marry personal and professional social media activity, and the mutually beneficial relationship that results. Sanderson himself writes a blog which focuses on issues that impact the logistics industry.

The company also uses this blog to lend out graphics to clients about many of these topics. Sanderson tells Chief Executive, “Our customers are free to take any chart we have online and use it in one of their own internal presentations. If the vice president of logistics is meeting with his CFO, he can take one of our graphs and tell an accurate and informed story inside his own organization. And when I speak at industry conferences, people come up to me [every time] and say how much they love the blog and graphs.”

Don’t play it safe any longer

Sanderson is not a unique case. Rob Hyams, president of creative B2B agency McMillan, notes that there seems to be a changing trend in C-suites using social media. “You see it on the branding side more,” he says, “where businesses are more willing to have a more expressive brand with more personality. Ten years ago, it was all about playing it safe. B2Bs tended to invest heavily in sales. There was not much marketing, so sales tended to be the face of the organization. Now individuals are realizing they can represent the face more personally.”

As an added incentive for B2B execs to consider joining social media, Hyams also points out, “It’s good for their careers, too. CEOs move around. When companies are looking to hire, they look at social and personal social channels to see what a candidate is doing and saying.”

Despite this, many CEOs resist social media, as evidenced by the CEO.com report. Jennifer Reid, Director at CommsCo, explains where this resistance has come from. She tells B2B Marketing, “[In the past,] established B2B CEOs, for the most part, were not concerned with social media simply because the demographic trend seemed to be for younger, more B2C focused people … Facebook seemed entirely rooted in socialising, and Twitter a seemingly random exercise of broadcasting minute bits of information to complete strangers. Blogging, without its guarantee of readership, was highly regarded by many CEOs as a waste of time.”

We are no longer in the early days of social media. Yet still, CEOs are reticent to join the social revolution. From his own experience with client executives, Rob Hyams knows why this is so. “There are challenges they have to overcome,” he explains. “For example, when you start posting you have to keep it up. What do you post? What do you share? You can repost corporate information, but that’s not showing any personality. People want to see you and your perspective. I think that C-suites are nervous about that. It’s exposing oneself.”

Decent exposure

But for CEOs, exposing their personal side is fast becoming part of the job. Jennifer Reid explains, “Employees of B2B brands and the companies that are consuming their products want to see the CEO on social media.

Not only does an active presence on social media build credibility, but also there is a heightened expectation that the B2B CEO will be the face of their brand … As B2B companies, our consumers expect active, frequently updated websites, evidence of participation in third party events, and further evidence of the c-suite’s own personalities as representation of the brand.”

The age of the distant, unapproachable, faceless CEO is coming to an end, thanks to how firmly ensconced social media has become in today’s society. B2B firms can no longer afford to justify the fact that their C-suites are not on social by claiming that it only targets a consumer market.

Rob Hyams of McMillan recommends that B2B c-suites begin with a combination of LinkedIn and Twitter. He says, “You can leverage Twitter to promote your articles published on LinkedIn. Most c-suites already have strong LinkedIn profiles, so it’s not a big stretch to start posting there.”

Flickr photo via Creative Commons license

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