The majority of global executives (76 percent) believe that it is a good idea for CEOs to actively participate in social media, according to a new Weber Shandwick study.

These executives recognize a multitude of returns when CEOs are social, including improved company reputation, business results and employee engagement. These findings, from global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and research partner KRC Research, demonstrate that social media is quickly becoming a critical leadership tool.

Just a few years ago, we saw regular reports here at the TechJournal that suggested CEOs and other top C-level executives were not much into social media, but evidently that is changing.

“CEOs are now expected to be chief content providers for their companies. Social media is not only an efficient and engaging way to relay information but is also linked in executives’ minds with being a better leader,” said Leslie Gaines-Ross , Weber Shandwick’s chief reputation strategist.

CEO socialability yields multiple dividends

The research was conducted through an online survey of 630 senior professionals from 10 countries around the world, including emerging and developed markets.

The survey defined social media participation as “posting messages, videos, pictures, etc. on a social media site.” Executives in the study are described as having a social CEO — those with CEOs who participate in social media — versus those with an unsocial CEO.

Highlights from the full report follow. Please view our infographic and report for the full results of the study here.

CEO sociability yields multiple dividends – internally and externally
Executives report that they favor CEO sociability for several reasons: employees, themselves, are already social; CEO sociability instills positive feelings among employees; and social CEOs are considered better leaders than unsocial CEOs.

The top-ranked benefit of CEOs’ sociability, according to 80 percent of executives whose CEOs are social, is company news and information-sharing. Other important advantages include improving company reputation (78 percent), demonstrating company innovation (76 percent), “humanizing” the company, improving employee communications and building media relations (75 percent each) and improving business results (70 percent).

Unsocial doesn’t mean anti-social
A personal Facebook profile, Twitter or Weibo handle and YouTube/YouKu channel may not be attractive or feasible for every CEO. Our study finds that many CEOs who don’t participate in social media are actually already communicating with employees through company intranets (50 percent) and making themselves visible to external constituents on their company websites (62 percent).

“CEOs must strategically utilize the right digital platforms that advance their communications — ranging from their own intranet and website to social network pages and feeds to video and image sharing platforms,” commented Chris Perry , global president of Weber Shandwick’s Digital practice.

Resistance to CEO sociability starts with the CEO
Our survey shows that no single reason for CEO non-participation stands out. However, the leading reasons why CEOs are said not to participate in social media are: it is not typical for our region or industry, the CEO sees no return on investment, there is no demand and it is too risky.

Overall, however, executives’ perceptions indicate that resistance to social media participation starts at the top.  Given that executives, on a global basis project a 50 percent growth rate in CEOs’ use of social media over the next five years, these barriers need to be addressed and overcome.

Sector and regional variations

  • Executives in financial services and business services expect the highest rate of CEO sociability growth over the next five years.
  • Executives who say their companies benefit most in terms of reputation when their CEOs are social are from emerging Asia Pacific markets.
  • CEO sociability has the greatest positive business impact on companies in emerging Asia Pacific and Latin America.

The Seven Habits of Highly Social CEOs
Weber Shandwick compared the exceptionally active social CEOs (those whose executives say they participate in social media at least once a week) relative to overall social CEOs to develop a profile of the most highly social CEOs.

  1. Highly social CEOs use a more expansive set of social tools. Hyper-social CEOs realize sociability goes beyond dropping messages into a Twitter or microblog feed. World class sociability requires a strategically-crafted plan for driving the company’s content across several channels.
  2. Highly social CEOs own a blog. These CEOs see the value in long-form, content creation as a way of giving their perspectives context, meaning and depth.
  3. Highly social CEOs leverage the company website. These leaders realize that the website remains “digital ground zero” for company information-seekers and offers a platform for content to be delivered in multiple formats. With services such as Weber Shandwick’s Mediaco, the company website can now be a destination for corporate and leadership content.
  4. Highly social CEOs self-author. These CEOs are DIYers (Do It Yourself). Their frequent posting influences their determination to author everything themselves although they most probably take input from their marketing and communications executives.
  5. Highly social CEOs are forward-looking. These CEOs intuitively understand that technology and social media are the future of content distribution and they want to be part of this communications revolution.
  6. Highly social CEOs are spontaneous yet not too informal. These socially adept CEOs maintain the formality of their office but let stakeholders know that they can react quickly and seize opportunity.
  7. Highly social CEOs engage a wider variety of external stakeholders. These CEOs see the value in sociability and use it to reach out to a wide portfolio of stakeholders.
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