Idea in brief
A solid social media presence can reap great rewards for executives, but it takes a little careful crafting: understand your audience, tell a great story, and don’t shy away from a strong opinion.
Sharing content online gives business leaders a chance to make an impact on people’s consciousness in new and exciting ways, and there are concrete benefits for those who make use of enhanced connections facilitated by sites such as career-oriented social networking service LinkedIn.
By using social media to share content and provide commentary, senior executives can effectively capture the interest of employees, partners and suppliers. Entrepreneurs and business leaders such as RedBalloon founder Naomi Simson and Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie have built a strong presence online by regularly posting and sharing content relevant to current and potential business contacts.
This kind of regular activity pays dividends: people who share content on LinkedIn at least once a week are nearly 10 times more likely to be contacted for new business opportunities than people who don’t share.
Yet for many senior business leaders in Australia, developing a strong social media presence is yet to become a priority.
Notable exceptions are the ANZ Bank’s Mike Smith who has a comprehensive LinkedIn profile and a strong social media presence, and Telstra CEO David Thodey who sees social media as an effective tool mechanism for engaging with customers. Both executives post their own content to tens of thousands of followers throughout the week.
If an executive or industry leader posts content and has a point of view, their employees are 70 percent more likely to share and engage with that content – it not only creates a connection with the community and that person, it creates a connection between them and their employees.
Thodey holds a similar enthusiasm for Twitter, where he actively engages three or four times a week with 3,500 followers. In fact he even posts ‘selfies’ when travelling to different locations, using the immediacy of social media as a dynamic new tool to connect with customers and the wider community. David is also one of the most active users of Yammer, Telstra’s internal social community of more than 43,000 people, in which he holds regular Ask Me Anything sessions for all staff to engage with him directly.
This level of enthusiasm is unusual, however, among the senior management of large corporations, Mike Smith is the only other chief executive from Australia’s top 10 ASX-listed companies who enjoys a social media presence.
Sharing to create internal connections
A strong social media presence is also a powerful tool for strengthening internal connections. Large global technology companies such as Accenture and Cisco have integrated a strong social media presence into their communications strategy, using both publicly available internet and intranet tools to share stories and insights.
According to LinkedIn’s global marketing lead for technology, Kelly Kyer, senior executives should not shy away from using an online presence to share ideas and insight, as employees are more likely to engage with their content if it offers a strong viewpoint.
“If an executive or industry leader posts content and has a point of view, their employees are 70 per cent more likely to share and engage with that content,” Kyer says. “It not only creates a connection with the community and that person, it creates a connection between them and their employees.”
However, working out what to share through corporate and social networks, and how to craft an online presence that is both professional and authentic, can be a substantial challenge.
Globally renowned storytelling and business communication expert Yamini Naidu says it’s important think about who we are speaking to before thinking about what to say.
“In a practical sense I think you always start off with the question: ‘What would be of the most value to my audience?’” Naidu says.
By beginning with an understanding of the target audience, Naidu says senior executives will be better able to create messages that resonate and create trust.
“We are moving from a connection economy, to a trust economy, to a sharing economy,” she says. “Trust should always be your driver.”
Once the audience is identified, Naidu suggests senior executives need a clear understanding of how they want to be seen within their target community, then build their content around those ideas.
“Ask yourself what you want to be known for,” she says.
Storytelling as a powerful tool
In creating an online presence the importance of storytelling should never be underestimated, says Naidu, who suggests that all industries are capable of producing engaging material that’s both relevant to their stakeholders and worth sharing online.
“The minute we stop thinking in terms of content and start thinking in terms of stories, [we realise] every industry is rich in stories,” Naidu says. “Stories about customers, stories about products, stories about values.”
This emphasis on the storytelling process rather than the specific content leads to another question many have about posting content: Where to share it? Again, the danger is in thinking too rigidly about what “ought” to be.
“We all have to be very platform agnostic – it’s more about authenticity,” Naidu says. “It’s about: Who are you? What is your message?”
- Identify your audience and tailor your online presence accordingly
- Regularly post content to develop a solid, stable presence
- Strive to develop a tone that is both professional and authentic
- Don’t be afraid to present a strong point of view
- Understand your audience and tell a story, and only share content relevant to that story