A businessman in a suit is touching a social media icon.

5 Ways Executives Can Participate in Social Business

Executive Support in Social Business

I recently wrote a blog post about the 5 characteristics of a social business, and I’ve previously provided my slide deck on the topic from speaking gigs on the topic. One of the most important criteria of a social business is executive level participation. Simply stated when the C suite gets it, the organization is well positioned to become a social business.

Definition of C Suite

The “C suite” is typically the phrase that represents the highest ranking executives starting with the Chief Executive Officer or CEO. Executive titles vary from business to business. So, if “C” titles don’t apply in your organization, don’t sweat it. Just apply these ideas to the top managers running your company.

Blogger CEO

It doesn’t matter if your business is a B2B or B2C, when the CEO blogs he or she contributes thought leadership  in your industry. Perhaps the bigger impact is the “leading by example” affect on employees. Imagine a conversation among two employees going like this: “Wow, if our CEO can find the time to blog given the heavy demands on his or her schedule, I suppose I can too…”

Other C Suite Bloggers

It’s a big help when the CEO contributes blog content, but it’s even better if the entire C suite participates. Stop and think about the expertise among the management team spanning business functions like finance, human resources, production, engineering, customer service, sales, marketing and other specialty functions inside your organization. They don’t have to give away any trade secrets. All they need to do to contribute valuable content is discuss common questions and generally how they get addressed in your business, or discuss trends that relate to their business function. Often, these C suite execs don’t realize that what they know is not common knowledge to the rest of the organization and the industry. The content they produce can be extremely insightful and inspiring to employees in your business.

Executives on Twitter

 2012 Fortune 500 Social CEO Index report from CEO.comNow I’ll get out of the comfort zone for some. A report earlier this year revealed that 70% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence and less than 5% of them use Twitter. Usually the reason C suite execs are not on Twitter is because they misunderstand it. Since 2007 I’ve heard executives scoff at Twitter suggesting it was a waste of time. Comments such as “I don’t get it,” or “I don’t care to know what someone is having for lunch” were common. Today, those CEOs who recognize Twitter as a “communication channel” use it to share thoughts on industry trends, share links to relevant articles and even offer rebuttals to claims they feel are not true. Twitter has emerged as a legitimate social media channel used across all industries where the playing field is level. On Twitter anyone can follow anyone. I can follow Bill Gates or Bill Jones (the latter being an ordinary guy and the former being..well, you know who that is)…Executives who attract a following on Twitter can set the tone for the rest of their company and often become a standout in their industry.

Up-to-Date LinkedIn Profile

Another social media channel which has emerged as a serious player in the social business landscape is LinkedIn. There are more than 150 million active users (at the time of this writing) who use LinkedIn for professional networking. LinkedIn is a triple crown social media channel. At one level LinkedIn is where each of us stores our work history in a digital profile which is often scrutinized by customers before choosing to to business with your company. At another level, LinkedIn allows us to create and join professional groups with like minded professionals to carry on digital dialogues on relevant topics. Executives can do some efficient listening and engaging in LinkedIn groups. And, LinkedIn is also where any business can create a company page. A LinkedIn company page is like a website. LinkedIn provides it free with options to upload graphics that represent your company’s products and promotional messaging. You can also upload a video promotion to support your product messaging. And, it offers a place to post job openings as well as deliver insights into the people who follow your company page. The C suite should embrace LinkedIn for what it is – a digital channel where its customers, current and prospective employees, suppliers and investors engage with people and brands who choose to engage them. A social business embraces LinkedIn starting in the C suite. Ignore LinkedIn at your own risk.

Recognize Employees for Social Business Contribution

Perhaps the most impactful way executives can support their journey to being a social business is to recognize and encourage employees to participate. Here are three scenarios to illustrate the point.

1. An executive can simply retweet or share on LinkedIn an article that was written by an employee. The premise for this scenario is an employee who wrote an excellent blog post and published it to their social channels (LinkedIn or Twitter, etc.) and an executive “likes” or “shares” or “retweets” the article. Such a “shoutout” is the digital equivalent of a pat on the back which works well in a geo distributed business environment. The positive impact on the employee’s morale can be huge.

2. Let’s face it not all employees like to write or write well. Therefore, no one expects all employees to write blog posts or articles. An executive who is visiting with employees at a plant, or a field office or at a conference can simply have a picture taken with those employees in a casual setting. When that executive shares the picture through a social media channel like Twitter or Instagram, the morale boost to those employees is more than one might imagine.

3. Another way an executive might engage with employees is through spontaneous video. Imagine the scenario in #2 above and instead of taking a picture (or in addition to) the executive pulls out his or her smart phone and asks the employee to shoot a 30 or 60 second video to allow the employee to explain some great example of customer service or whatever has made an impression on that executive in the moment. This demonstrates a human side to the executive that creates a sense of connectedness between the employee and the executive.

Social Business Common Thread Elements

In each of these five examples the social business common thread includes two key points. 1) Content: When executives actively participate in the content strategy, they set the tone for the rest of the organization. They send the message that quality content is an important element to the company’s overall value equation to customers, employees and actually to all its stakeholders.  2) When executives overcome whatever reluctance they may have about the use of social technologies they become more relevant to employees. Executives who make comments such as “I have no problem with social media, I just don’t want to use it,” demonstrate a mindset anchored in 2005 when social media was new and used mostly for entertainment. Social media has proved to be a digital engagement channel that enables businesses to reach people externally and internally for measurable business value. That’s why this movement is known as social business.

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