CEOs and the Social Media Monster

When I think about the different companies I worked for in the past there is a strong correlation between the quality of the CEO and the level of engagement and excitement I felt being part of it at that time. I am talking about the ability of a CEO to convey in simple terms what an organization is all about, stands for and is trying to achieve.

Most CEOs are very good in communicating the company’s  goals, strategy and direction to external audiences because this is what they always did, what the market and analysts expect and what influences the share price and market cap. But surprisingly some CEOs are not quite as clear with their most important audience, their own employees.

In my experience the clearer I was about the purpose and direction of the company the more I felt being an important part of it focused on what I needed to do to achieve the company goals.  And most importantly the clearer I could communicate with my team members, customers, partners or other external audiences that I worked with, and so all my other colleagues.

This principle still holds true today. Clarity and understanding of a company’s purpose, goals and strategy is required to make everyone pull into the same direction. But in the age of social media employees who are not clear about this can have devastating effects that spread inconsistent, incomplete, wrong or conflicting content across their social networks, with unprecedented reach and impact. Today every employee is in media, through their social media interactions.

Enablement and clear direction to employees as brand ambassadors is key.  I have seen a unique and empowered  culture of employees develop at SAP .  Our leaders encourage employees  to openly ask questions and collaborate.  As leaders, we can now also gauge if we are reaching our employees by their social media activities.  We can adapt to ensure we are being clear.

Forrester Research has a great perspective on why it is critical for a CEO or key leaders to be active with social media and surprise; employee engagement is a pivotal factor.  In the age of social media, employees either become powerful multipliers of the company’s key messages or they potentially dilute, confuse or misrepresent the corporate messages. There is the fear that this activity can become the monster waiting to pounce on the corporate reputation. Today every employee is a representative of the company, a spokesperson, a media person. This is why the employees are the most powerful audience of the CEO, either way. And this is why social media matters for every CEO.

CEOs still are not very active in social media themselvesbut they have to make sure all their employees fully understand the company’s purpose, vision, values and value proposition.  Now the question is not should a CEO use social media, but how?


  • Rob Santoliquito says:

    Good point Marcus. Just today there was news of a former Google employee who challenged the relevancy of Google’s infrastructure. The comment was posted on the employee’s personal blog, but it was instantly global in reach. As an aside, look into Walt Disney’s comprehensive approach to managing social media.

  • Charlie Maliska says:

    Marcus, I totally agree with the use of social meadia to increase employee engagement through out the company and communication, however I would say this is true for all levels of leadership. Great organizations and leaders communicate with their employees through the channels most relevant to them. Not only should CEOs be engaging in this, but all levels of leadership within the organization.

  • Marcus says:

    I agree with your perspective Charles. Using the channels and media your audiences uses is essential to be able to engage and have a conversation. All leaders have to engage their employees but I think it really starts with the CEO to establish a sense of direction and purpose and make sure this cascades via other leaders into the entire organization. Social media just adds that unprecedented possibility for the CEO to reach out directly and to get the message through unfiltered.

  • Good article and discussion. Building on the value of leadership being engaged in social media, social channels place leaders on a level playing field with employees. Where employees may not be comfortable communicating with leaders in organization-sponsored forums, they may be more likely to engage in conversation in Twitter or similar social outlets. Although I haven’t looked into existing research to support this hypothesis, I would guess that social media engagement with leaders is especially impactful among younger employees, in large firms (like SAP) with high geographic and scope dispersion, and in IT firms where employees are more technically-savvy and potentially more likely to leverage social media channels for information consumption.

  • Ginger Shimp says:

    Hi Marcus, this is an excellent topic and one that probably will continue to concern both CEOs and employees as long as there are companies.

    In marketing we know that a dissatisfied “customer” (or in this case a dissatisfied employee) is 11x more likely to express displeasure than a satisfied one is to express glee. How sad. Yet it’s our reality. And so CEOs must work all that much harder to ensure their employees experience job satisfaction.

    I learned very early in my career that giving an unhappy employee a raise would perhaps make that person happy for the short term. Ultimately, however, what we all crave is a modicum of control over our lives. Social media affords many at least the illusion of control.

    In the absence of clearly articulated goals, values and direction, employees can feel adrift in an abyss, disgruntled by seemingly random “direction”. The antithesis of control.

    Understanding — and the ability to contribute ideas as well as the satisfaction of having those contributions considered — create an atmosphere conducive to the One Team effect at SAP.

    Either way, these experiences whip through social media networks which are separated from a company’s customers by no more than the proverbial six degrees.

    And as you so adroitly noted, this is the reality for today’s CEOs. Thank you for shining a light on what may seem to some as an obvious situation.

  • tom king says:

    I have had the privilege of being an agency vendor of SAP over the last 13 years, and over this time, I have witnessed many regimes of executives and from the outside, I can tell you that each leader affects its employees and the company itself in dramatically different ways. I have seen everything from stoic and conservative, to young and outgoing. But during most of these years, the public only saw glimpses of a company’s persona. But with social media, a company can expose its true personality and that charge can and should be led by its CEO. Marcus floats a very good and often forgotten point about an invaluable facet of every company’s outward appearance and perception. Thank you!

  • David Azulay says:

    Marcus, thanks for the great article and perspective. Sounds like SAP is finding success in employee empowerment through social media and idea exchange and I have seen similar results at our firm. In the past year or so, our agency leaders have really stepped up social media engagement and it has undoubtedly resulted in employees gaining perspective and understanding into the agency’s mission, goals and objectives. I have seen many companies try to use social media as a tool for employee outreach and I believe the ones who have had the most impact are open to sharing the successes as well as the challenges…and, they are open to constant feedback. It will be interesting to see how this phenomenon continues to grow and social media gets more and more robust. Thanks again for sharing.

  • Ray Baron says:

    Marcus, you made many great points, but the one point you left us that I think earmarks this blog as a classic is, “Today every employee is in media, through their social media interactions.” That just sort of reverberated through my brain when I read it. I mean, the truth of that statement didn’t dawn on me until I read what you wrote, but it’s dawned now, so thank you! And please keep writing to us.

  • article says:

    I never thought of it that way, well put!

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