February 15, 2010

Should CEOs and executive directors use social media?

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Beth KanterThe NASSCOM India Leadership Forum has multiple tracks based on theme. I was asked to facilitate a session on the question, “Should CEOs and Executive Directors Use Social Media?”

To prepare for this session, I asked colleagues in the US to share their collective wisdom so we could see the US perspective. In addition, during a roundtable on social media at the conference, I was fortunate to meet social media experts in India (@nirav, @amnigos, @pranavbhasin, @paritoshsharma and @avinashraghava), who shared some examples.

For social media to have full impact, it needs to scale within an organization. Your organization’s social media strategy should be not implemented by one lonely intern sitting in the corner of your communications and marketing department.

You may be wondering if that means that your executive director and CEO needs to write a blog or have their own Twitter account to share their wisdom. I think it depends.

There are definitely some benefits to having your executive director or CEO being present on social media channels. They can provide a human face to your organization’s work, a unique viewpoint, and serve as a thought leader in your field. And if your organization finds itself in the middle of groundswell or if there is a major news event or a public relations crisis happens and it is being discussed on Twitter or other social media spaces, your CEO can join it without having to get up to speed.

But it is also important to understand that there are challenges to be overcome as well. These includes investing the time to make it successful because a CEO presence on social media is nothing that should be “ghost” written. It has to be authentic and reflect the CEO’s personality. There is also the issue of comfort – both with the technology and being transparent.

Here are some good examples of CEOs’ and executive directors’ use of social media in the US social sector:

holly-rossHolly Ross is the executive director of NTEN, the nonprofit technology network in the US. She uses Twitter to share what’s going on at NTEN, announce new initiatives, and have conversations with NTEN members. She often uses Twitter to get ideas and feedback on NTEN’s various programs. Checking her Twitter stream and sharing some tweets probably takes her 15 to 20 minutes a day and is part of daily routine.

Holly also shares more of her in-depth thinking about the nonprofit technology field on NTEN’s blog. It is not a “CEO” blog where she writes daily, but a blog that includes the voices of NTEN staff and members. This is a good option for CEO’s who don’t have the time or bandwidth to write a whole blog along, but still want to be present in the blogosphere.

Holly’s Twitter account is her personal but it is clearly branded as NTEN. Even the user name, “ntenhross” incorporates her organization’s brand. This is a good example of a “Blended profile.”

scott-harrisonScott Harrison is the CEO of charity:water. charity:water has a huge Twitter following of over 1 million fans and supporters and has a great deal of expertise using social media to leverage fundraising and raise awareness of their work. The Twestival and Charity Water’s house social network are stellar examples. As CEO of charity:water, Scott is often visiting charity:water projects all over the work. Through his twitter account, he is able to easily first-hand reports and photos of the organization’s work. He is using Twitter for donor accountability. Scott uses his personal account to Tweet which is separate from the charity:water organizational account.

There are a couple of corporate Foundations where we have good examples of CEO’s using social media effectively – in this case Twitter.

steve-caseSteve Case is the co-founder of AOL and now chairman of The Case Foundation and of Revolution (investor in Revolution Money, Exclusive Resorts, Miraval, Zipcar, Waterfront, etc). His Twitter stream is where he shares what he reading about philanthropy and technology but also his travels to different social sector and technology conferences. You can regularly see him discussing issues on Twitter with other thought leaders and journalists. His Twitter account is his personal account, but he identifies himself with his foundation and businesses.

Reeta-RoyReeta Roy, president and CEO of the MasterCard Foundation, is sending tweets from her site visit to Uganda and Kenya. As background, the mandate of the $2 billion foundation is to enable people living in poverty to improve their lives by expanding their access to microfinance and education. Reeta is currently in Uganda, where she’s learning first-hand about the Foundation’s partnerships and programs. While the account is the foundation’s branded Twitter account, she is using it for a project to report on their work in the field.

This is an example of a good idea of how to get your CEO started tweeting. Have them tweet from the organizational branded account for a specific project. This will help learn the work flow, have more comfort, and see first hand if the social media presence provides a benefit for the organization’s work.

At a roundtable, I had to chance to discuss this question with social media experts from India. They pointed out a couple of examples and I hope to learn more later today.

Anand MahindraAnand Mahindra is the vice chairman and managing director of Mahindra Group, a large corporation in India. He tweets about many different things, from his company to his family and travels.

Mahindra interacts with customers addressing their questions and complaints. Take a look at his Twitter stream and you will see personal insights, news about his companies, and insights about social media.

Mahesh MurthyMahesh Murthy is founder and CEO of Pinstorm, a digital marketing firm. He also writes a column for the Wall Street Journal.

Murthy uses Twitter to share information about company, connect with people, and to research for writing his blog posts or encourage conversations in the comments of his blog.

When should your chief exec say no to social media?

Of course, using social media may not be for every CEO or executive director. If they can’t sustain their presence on Twitter or a blog, they should stay away. This isn’t to say that they can’t have an assistant who might do some of the scanning and flag items to respond to, but if a CEO starts engaging with people on social media channels and then there is silence – that is not a good thing.

It is also important that executives don’t just tweet or blog for the sake of doing it. They should must have someting to day that is of value or use it for relationship building. Finally, if the CEO cannot take public criticism or wants to have control over what followers or commenters say, then they shouldn’t use it and delegate the role someone else in the company or organization.

Tips for executives using social media

1. Listen first: Before jumping in, it is useful to do some listening first. Are there other organizations or businesses in your sector where CEOs or executive directors are using social media? Find those and review how they are using it.

2. Safe place to practice: It is a good idea to do a little bit of coaching with your executive to show her how Twitter works and to avoid too much “public learning.” Some organizations use software like Yammer, which is akin to an internal Twitter for companies or organizations, to practice before setting up on Twitter.

3. Get past information overload: It is important to let busy CEOs know that they don’t have to be on Twitter 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This is also a good idea because the thought of opening up another communications channel might be overwhelming for a CEO is already concerned about email and information overload. Help them learn a quick and efficient way to use Twitter.

4. Pick a small project first: Before launching a CEO blog or CEO Twitter account, it might make sense for the CEO to start off using the organization’s branded account or blog, particularly if she is not very comfortable with the tools or plan to devote a small amount of time.

5. Share unique insights from the executive suite: CEOs have perspectives that others in the organization may not. Whether using Twitter or writing blog posts, they should share their thought leadership, know how, and vision with their fans and followers. A good way to do this is share what they are reading and learning.

6. Let them be themselves: CEOs and executive directors who are using social media, above all, just need to be themselves and let their personality shine through.


8 Nonprofit CEOs Who Tweet by Beth Kanter

Foundations That Tweet – Different Patterns by Beth Kanter

CEOs Take To Twitter from Business Week

The CEO’s Secret Handbook from Money Magazine

CEOs Are Social Media Slackers from Wired Magazine

First CEO to Tweet Resignation from New York Times

The CEOs of Social Media from India Leadership Forum

The Many Challenges of a CEO Blog from Jeremiah Owyang

CEOs Must Use Social Media from Community Organizer 2.0

If Chris Brogan was CEO of An Airline and Used Social Media

CEOs Who TweetBeth Kanter is CEO of Zoetica, a consultancy for nonprofits. See her profile, visit her blog, contact Beth or leave a comment.

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