Richard Branson is right – CEOs should take part in social media. But how?

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This comes as no surprise – levels of social media adoption inside brands can be much lower than among their consumers, or indeed among their newer employees. But when you do engage a senior team with the opportunities that can come from social you tend to find that they become some of the most vociferous enthusiasts.A recent study by IBM found that only 16% of global CEOs are taking part in social media, and only 1 of the more than 1,700 CEOs interviewed had their own blog. They recognise the potential power of engaging in social (with 57% expecting to be engaging within 3-5 years); but the levels of participation are currently low.

Richard Branson wrote about this survey to say he was surprised by the low levels of social media use and to encourage other CEOs to take part:

…like all other areas of business, CEOs have the opportunity to set the bar. By ignoring social networks, they are potentially missing a trick.

There are many reasons why CEOs and the senior team should be engaging with social media and not just because it sets the bar for how the rest of the organisation behaves. The people buying your products and the newer recruits into the organisation are all using social media, and its importance will continue to increase. To make sensible business decisions in this climate CEOs really need to understand what social media is, and what it isn’t.

This does not mean that all CEOs should be actively using Twitter to engage with customers – we’ve written before about the confusing way the @StarbucksUKMD account has been used. But it does mean experimenting and trying things out – maybe joining a running forum to discuss their training with other athletes, or setting up a Pinterest account to bring together items they are considering for their new home.

It is the act of experimenting with and learning from social that is important for C-level; understanding the tools their consumers and employees have and the different ways they are engaging with others. Only by experimenting and using the tools themselves will they be able to really understand how their business could benefit from social. And by encouraging a process of experimenting with new tools and services from the most senior levels, a culture of innovation can grow more successfully through an organisation.

For any brand exploring the transformative impact of social, C-level buy-in is critical. And to get this you need a clear process of education as well as to encourage these executives to experiment with social in their personal and professional lives.

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