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Why don’t senior leaders participate more actively on social channels?

Andy BlacknellAndy Blacknell·

Senior Leaders have given two main reasons for their low participation on social media such as Twitter and LinkedIn – time and benefits

The current CEOs of Shell, BP, GSK, PWC, KPMG, UPS and Coca-Cola have a little over 3,000 followers between them on Twitter. Virgin CEO Richard Branson has six million followers on Twitter, and uses this public-facing social platform to powerfully share his views on leadership and culture, promote his business interests – and recognize colleagues.

My own survey of senior leaders inside large corporations revealed that only one in ten are on social channels like Twitter or even active on LinkedIn. Why don’t partners in law firms, MDs in consultancies and senior executives in large corporations use these extraordinary communication tools?

Broadly, leaders have given two main reasons for their low participation on public facing social platforms – time and benefit. They don’t have  the time and the business benefits aren’t clear. However, I’m not sure that explains why people with considerable power (i.e. influence and knowledge) are not using that power more effectively in the social media sphere.

Why are leaders reluctant to raise their profile on external social media?

Here’s what I think is stopping more participation by senior leaders.

  • They are too internally focused. Large corporations have large, internal networks that leaders have to develop if they want to progress.  Progression and effectiveness, especially into senior executive positions, depends on developing and investing in these internal networks. Short term this is beneficial, but in the longer term it cuts people off from external stimuli and market innovation.  I have seen a pattern among some of my contacts of a sudden burst of activity on LinkedIn preceding a job move or redundancy. In almost every case, they would have been better off starting this activity earlier – regardless of whether they wanted to stay or leave.
  • They are worried about brand implications for the company – as well as their own. Just think back to your worst email (the one you wish you had kept in the draft box) and imagine that going public. An Oxford University survey showed that one in four people have posted something they later regretted on social media.
  • They don’t think they have enough to say.  Few would admit this, but how many of us have truly original thoughts?  If our benchmark is Stephen Fry or John Maxwell, then we will never post anything! Regular thought leadership takes reflective time, experience, wisdom and excellent communication skills. By the way, this provides a great opportunity for communicators to help and coach their leaders. They can provide guidance on appropriate topics, timing, regularity and, perhaps above all, how to stand out from the crowd (top tip – pictures speak louder than words).
  • Perhaps most controversially, executives don’t always want to toe the company line and support their employer publicly because they may not agree with or wholeheartedly support the latest company appointment, pronouncement or product.

The benefits of using internal social enterprise networks for leadership communications

Weber Shandwick’s research found that 75% of employees think social media is a good way for CEOs to communicate with employees – and 73% thought it was good way for employees to communicate with their CEO.

So while most senior leaders are not yet building a presence on Twitter and LinkedIn, they should absolutely be working with their internal communication team to build and implement a strategy for communicating to their workforce using the organization’s social enterprise networks.

Using the internal social network can enhance the understanding of communications when they start – or continue – an informed conversation between leaders and employees. Plus, providing a line of sight within the organization and opening up a two-way communication with employees are two of the most important methods for increasing employee engagement.

Enhance Leadership Communications


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