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Does Your CEO Really Need to Be on Facebook?

August 19, 2009
maritasquote.jpgIt’s a huge debate around the Organic circle and it doesn’t appear many CEOs are. Out of the 2009’s Fortune-100, only 19 (gasp) have a personal Facebook page. But don’t go shaking fingers just yet. What I found even more shocking was that only two had Twitter accounts — one of which has ZERO tweets.[1] Wait. I’m not done. None had blogs.

Some of the Organic pool seemed to think that was okay. But the rest of us think they’re missing a huge opportunity. The bigger question is, does your CEO need to be participating in social media? According to Organic’s CFO and COO, Marita Scarfi, the answer is absolutely.

Her reasoning? “Being engaged with your customers allows you to produce better products/services which, in turn, leads to improved customer loyalty. Ultimately this helps increase sales and fosters stronger company financial performance (e.g. increased shareholder value).”

Customers usually know what they want today, yet they don’t always know what they want in the future. This engagement can help companies lead the innovation and development of future products — a critical part of the CEO’s role. It’s really not about the tool. It’s about communication with your customers.

What Does This Have to Do with Facebook?
There’s a rampage in the social media world driving companies to get on the next big social network. First it was MySpace. Then Facebook. Now Twitter. Sure, customers are there. But before you go pushing your unsocial-savy CEO to Tweet, ask him (or her) how he likes to talk to customers.

Part of the company’s social media strategy should take into account the CEO’s personality and what tool is best at helping them feel comfortable in their dialogue. They can start by simply talking to customers face-to-face, unstructured. Then maybe they try posting some short thoughts on Twitter (Marita’s pick). If they like that, it’s a good fit. If 140 characters just isn’t enough to express themselves and they’re finding it tough to inject their personality into anything coherent, they should try another means of conversing with their customer.

This is different than the brand presence. While the brand can sustain a Facebook page, it doesn’t seem plausible that most CEOs can. It takes a lot of work to attract a following and keep them engaged. Work that a CEO just doesn’t have time for.

Yeah, Like I Have Time To Be Updating My Facebook Status
Realistically, you can’t expect a CEO to be logging on to Facebook a few times a day, or even every day, for that matter. They first have to figure out what to focus on. If you’re interested in driving shareholder value, then you do that through knowing what your customers want or trying to predict what your customers want. That insight comes via dialogue.

Isn’t That What I Have a Customer Service Department For?
This is different than traditional reactive customer service. It’s more than answering questions or addressing complaints and feedback. Still your customer service department, or better yet, your social media specialist can help. Enlist them to help you listen. Then get someone to summarize the chatter, pull out the themes and put together a plan of action. That will tell you what your customers need to hear from you.

Only the CEO can communicate that transparency, because their job is to see the company holistically. Other positions are simply too specialized and focused. When it comes from the top dog, it’s much more believable.

Help! I Have Writer’s Block
If a CEO doesn’t feel comfortable posting him- (or her)self, he might consider a ghostwriter (a la community manager) to do it for him. The point is that they should be responding to their community (read: customers and potential customers).

It’s also important that they be authentic. Forget marketing-speak. Customers can get that from your ads. If you were having lunch with me, what would you say? Forget lawyers. Forget PR. I’ll read right through that. Put yourself out there. I want to know what’s really going on. Consumers these days want to be part of the process. Hence why when done correctly, crowd-sourcing projects are so successful (think Dell Idea Storm, My Starbucks Idea, etc.).

Another reason this is important: according to the 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, faith in companies is at a 10-year low. And “The Most Respected Companies” in the Global Pulse 2009 Study from the Reputation Institute all have one thing in common. Brands such as Johnson & Johnson, Costco, Whirlpool, Google and FedEx are open and honest about what they’re doing. That resonates more with customers, who tell their friends — on- and off-line. You can’t do that through advertising alone.

The study further reinforces the benefits of transparency:
“54 percent of consumers would give the most reputable U.S. companies the benefit of the doubt in a time of crisis and that perception of a company’s ethical behavior and transparency in business dealings holds the most weight…”

The Institute goes on to recommend that by communicating to customers, companies “will create a connection with the U.S. consumers that with garner them resiliency and support in any situation.”

A Few Are Doing it Well
• Marita likes how Costco’s CEO Jim Sinegal gets out in the stores and talks to his employees and his customers. She believes you can do the same through social media.
Fred Smith, FedEx Chairman, President and CEO, frequently contributes to the Company’s “Citizenship Blog.”
• Tony Hsieh of Tweets, blogs and interacts with employees face-to-face. His social media astuteness has become the company’s mantra.
• Sun Microsystems’ CEO Jonathan Schwartz writes a well-read blog for industry insiders. His open dialogue philosophy has become core to Dell’s business strategy.
• Most of the CEOs on Twitter are from tech companies and the like. And while that appears a natural fit, I’d like to see more CEOs from the CPG industry — the products I use (or could use) every day.

CEO’s, the worst thing you can do is be silent. Consumers want information. If nobody is giving that to them, people will come to their own conclusions or write you off altogether.

1 Source: CEOs and Social Media from UberCEO

NOTE: This post originally appeared on Threeminds.
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