The Social Executive

A study of Fortune 500 CEOs found that only 2.5 percent of them were active on social media. The study was conducted in 2012 so I would expect that a greater number of large company CEOs are active today, however the percentages still appear to be low. Rather than try and understand why most corporate leaders are not using social media, I have spent time learning from those who do. In the process, I have developed some new communication patterns myself.

One of my favorite corporate leaders to follow is Richard Branson. I follow him on Twitter and read his blog. A couple times a week I click the link from his Twitter feed and read his posts. His blog is positive, energetic and encourages me to reach higher and do something big.

Others I follow are Elon Musk (SpaceX and Tesla Motors), Marissa Mayer (Yahoo), Bill Gates and Marc Benioff (Salesforce). The blend of personal and corporate communication they provide is interesting to me. I also follow people from other fields to learn from them. Seth Godin tweets a short note and link to his blog while Dale Earnhardt, Jr. re-tweets fans' posts. When Dale Jr. posted his first tweet he gained over 500,000 followers in just a few days. Joss Stone posts great photos from her tours while the Pittsburgh Steelers keep me updated on their draft picks. I follow people I am a true fan of and people who I may disagree with but can teach me something. Being a student of leadership and communication is a lifelong journey and it takes time.

If communication is the primary job of a leader then learning the communication channels of the day is part of the responsibility. Some leaders I have spoken with have told me that they tried social media but did not see the value in it after a week so they stopped. The value in anything good does not come in a week. It takes time to learn new technologies, media outlets and social patterns. The goal is to communicate. Jack Welch taught that leaders have to communicate until they get physically sick, then start over and do it again.

We are the first generation to learn these new channels and have these new tools. However, our task is timeless. There is incredible opportunity for those who see the new methods as tools rather than distractions. It is easy to watch other "famous" people use social media and not think it applies to you. It does apply to you. As a leader of any size team, your primary job is to communicate. You now have free tools at your disposal that people throughout history could not have even imagined. It just takes more than a week to learn them.

Here are a few of the tools I use:

  • Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn: I do my own posting. It took me a year to get into a groove, but now I have my habits and really enjoy posting and following others. Sometimes when I am traveling I will have Tori, our social media expert, post pictures to Facebook for me. Although I do my own writing and posting, it is great to have a team of people assisting you and helping the company get its message out.
  • Shawn's Blog: I post on Tuesday mornings each week. It is a great opportunity for me to sit down and develop a thought or concept that I think will help others as they advance their careers, develop their teams, become better managers and innovate.
  • Email: When I travel I take photos and email them to everyone in our company with a short note. I get all sorts of fun replies and it ties us together, keeps things fresh and helps me make a quick point about the growth of our company.
  • Benefitfocus Media and HR InTouch Marketplace: I use the Benefitfocus Media Studio to create short videos about our company's benefits, introduce new features coming out in our software releases and many other fun projects.
  • Salesforce Chatter: I post and comment to our sales and service teams.

If you view social media as an opportunity and part of your own personal learning journey, it will help you get into the conversation. Make it fun and keep after it.