CEOs Gone Wild (On Social Media)



“We do things because they are right and just and that is who we are. That’s who we are as a company. When I think about human rights, I don’t think about an ROI. When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view… If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

Such were the words of Apple’s CEO, Tim Cook, in response to climate change skeptic investors displeased with Cook’s plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions earlier this year. While Cook’s comments were generally portrayed as courageous by the media, they are a significant departure from the marketing plan for execs of most companies–to stay out of the limelight.

In a recent Ad Age article, the ad publication discussed the idea of “CEOs gone wild”; that is, CEOs breaking the mold and baring their opinions for the world to see. Cook’s comments were the best received of any of the comments cited in the article–the other two were gay marriage-related comments from Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy and comments about certain women who “just don’t actually work” for Lululemon clothes by former CEO Chip Wilson.

Citing Cook’s comments as an example to follow and the other two as examples to learn from, Ad Age notes that “every executive… is becoming a brand ambassador.” So, rather than end up with a culture of CEOs gone wild, marketers should “figure out what their best customers believe and shape the values of their brand accordingly,” coaching executives on how to deal with publicity and ultimately, use it to their advantage. Courageousness is good, and going wild is–unsurprisingly–not.

Today, there are many ways for CEOs and other executives to communicate with their customers. One that requires relatively little effort (at least when compared with other forms of press) is social media, which can be a great outlet for executives to bare their opinions and make their presences known. For better or worse, transparency is expected today, and social media can provide your customers the window they’re looking for.

Here are three things to consider as an executive using social media:

  1. What are your brand’s values, and how do you personally convey them? What are the foundational values of your company? If your company values innovation, corporate responsibility, and business growth, can you tell stories that–directly or indirectly–reflect those values? Being innately aware of these values and knowing how to communicate them is essential. This should be a forgone conclusion, but is worth checking up on.
  1. Does your company culture allow (legally or otherwise) this kind of personal expression? Let’s face it: the world we live in is a litigious one. For that reason, some companies have disallowed employees (even executives) from using social media to talk about the brand, even indirectly. Do you work at one of those companies? (If so, it may be time to revisit your social media policy.) If not, remember that being on social media is a large responsibility. It’s not something to avoid, but it is something to tread carefully on, especially as an executive.
  1. How will you handle negative comments, should they arise? Here’s the real quagmire: dealing with negative comments. These aren’t something to be feared. Have a plan in place and diligently monitor your social media accounts. If you have an administrative assistant, consider giving him or her access to your accounts to have an extra set of eyes. And always remember–negative comments can seem intimidating, but when handled correctly give you the tremendous opportunity to create a positive interaction and build your brand.

As an executive, your personal brand doesn’t have to be the same as your company’s brand. In fact, we’d encourage it to be different. But so long as you’re telling similar stories and not publishing anything too controversial, you should be on the right track. (If you’re the president of PETA, don’t fill your feed with images of all your successful hunts.) When executed correctly, an executive’s Twitter feed can supplement the brand at large and strengthen customers’ feelings about that brand. The brand is a sponge, and anything you can do as a part of the company to populate that sponge with good data points is a win in our book.

We absolutely don’t encourage being a CEO or executive gone wild. We’ve seen before how that turns out. But we do encourage courage, honesty, and transparency in an era where it’s easier than ever to lose brand loyalty. And for that, it’s hard to imagine a better publication medium than our dear friend social media.

Reprinted by permission.

Image credit: CC by Roger Braunstein

About the author: John Darwin

John is a recent college graduate from Creighton University. He earned his B.A. in English, specializing in British Literature, and is currently working as an editor at Social Media Contractors.

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