Business development · 28 July 2015

Should all CEOs and business owners be using social?

A business owner who's a savvy user of social media can be a great asset
A business owner who’s a savvy user of social media can be a great asset

Social media can still be uncertain territory for many businesses – both big and small, though it’s repeatedly pointed to as crucial for getting your brand out there and establishing a direct line of contact between business and customer.

According to a recent survey by marketing consultancy Weber Shandwick, ten per cent of the chief executives running the world’s largest 50 companies regularly tweet, suggesting that many may feel the risk of making a faux pas outweighs the pros of being an active user. The majority of those within the study fall within the 50 to 60 age group, which may indicate that there’s a generational difference in fully appreciating the benefits of social media.

At the same time, this isn’t all-encompassing – Jacqueline Gold, the CEO of Ann Summers, has regularly espoused the virtues of using social to reach both customers and colleagues alike. She believes we now live in a digital age and the new consumer will be shopping “through the digital space”.

Gold told Business Advice, “it amazes me that more people aren’t using Twitter”, calling it the “new school gate or garden fence”, where people establish relationships and share ideas. Gold pointed out that if you had told people years ago that there would be an opportunity to “engage with customers 24/7”, most businesses would have been all over the chance.

“I don’t mean bombarding people with promotions, but using it as an informal researcher, and of course customer service. You ignore that at your peril,” she warned.

Jacqueline Gold engages with customers and runs a weekly competition celebrating women in business
Jacqueline Gold engages with customers and runs a weekly competition celebrating women in business

This tends to be a bigger – and more detrimental – issue for bigger companies, whose mistakes get picked up all too quickly, gaining traction virally and then often seized upon by media outlets too.

Having a CEO or person in a customer-facing position who is witty and engaging online is though, a valuable asset to have – for small businesses too. There just needs to be heightened awareness so that they don’t make the missteps that can come from being unaware of what else is going on with the rest of the company or elsewhere online.

You don’t have to be a whizz with social to think through how your activity fits in with the rest of your firm’s ongoing actions. Take the person responsible for manning the British Gas twitter in October 2013 for example. They presumably weren’t tuned into the rest of the company’s goings on when they decided to hold a Twitter Q&A on the same day it announced price rises of over nine per cent. To nobody’s surprise, except the Q&A holder, the response was predictably unimpressed and acerbic.

As an upcoming business, you may feel it’s best to err on the side of caution, but at the same time, trying to distinguish yourself from numerous other small firms can be difficult. If you have an active, appealing social account, this could set you apart and develop a solid reputation for customer service and as a forward-thinking business.

Training can ease initial worries you may have about tackling the great expanse of Twitter and triple checking a message before you post it is a sensible move, to make sure no clangers have been dropped and you’ve not made an awkward spelling mistake. As your business grows, making sure employees are also trained should be a sound investment.

Incessant tweets, as Gold mentioned, will effectively be viewed much in the same way as junk mail – spam clogging up a person’s timeline. The handy thing for Twitter users though, is that they can simply unfollow you, which they will do if you’re spouting a constant stream of self-congratulatory or promotional babble.

Equally, sticking to what you’re comfortable with in terms of content and not trying to branch out too much into the unknown will stand you in better stead for the long run – you’ll be establishing a following organically that you’ll have a better chance of maintaining, and your own posts won’t feel so forced. You want to be a fairly regular poster, but not one on social media constantly.

The same principle applies to dealing with any customers you may have online. Many businesses do an admirable job at fairly consistent customer service via Twitter – Tesco for example provides regular helpful feedback as well as witty retorts. It’s worth bearing in mind that the bigger companies will have numerous employees fielding this area – a luxury you’re unlikely to have.

Responding to some concerns or enquiries will help set you up as both in tune with customer wants and needs, and flexible in making changes. Don’t feel the need to clog up your entire feed with empty platitudes though – not only is it time you could probably spend better in the other areas of your business that will need attending to, but if a new person clicks on your profile and sees endless customer responses, they may be less likely to check you – or your business – out much further.

Ryan Holmes, CEO of Hootsuite, said CEOs can access “unfiltered” feedback from customers, which can be incredibly insightful if used correctly.

“Twitter, Facebook and other networks now amount to a huge – and largely free – focus group, at least for CEOs and managers savvy enough to use them,” he wrote in a recent blog on LinkedIn.

From the original research, it does seem that CEOs across the board are becoming more willing to engage with social media. Some 28 per cent were members of a social network, which was an increase on 16 per cent in 2010, while 38 per cent used popular platforms like YouTube and 68 per cent regularly used their own company sites. LinkedIn proved to be the most popular platform among CEOs.

Over three-quarters of the 630 executives surveyed by Weber Shandwick feel CEO participation on social media has a positive effect on a company’s reputation. A majority of 75 per cent believe that having their CEO on social media is beneficial for media and employee relations, as well as giving the business a more human side.

So, it’s undoubtedly worth considering – the sooner you start establishing your business name on social, the better. Just make sure you triple check any posts first.

Image: Shutterstock

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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