NEW YORK, Oct. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- In a new study released today, global public relations firm Weber Shandwick found that the majority of CEOs from the world's largest companies—64 percent—are not social, that is, they are not engaging online with external stakeholders. "Socializing Your CEO: From (Un)Social to Social" examines the publicly visible communications activities of CEOs in the world's top 50 companies.
"Strong evidence exists that CEOs are not silent in these turbulent times. They are extensively quoted in the business press, frequently deliver keynote speeches at conferences and participate in business school forums. But when it comes to digital engagement externally, CEOs are not yet fully socialized, often with good reason," said Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick's chief reputation strategist and online reputation expert. "As we continue to track the rise of the Social CEO and chief executives become more comfortable with the new media, we expect that this will change and change fast."
Limited Pool of Social CEOs
Over nine out of 10 CEOs in the world's top 50 companies (93 percent) communicated externally in traditional fashion: 93 percent were quoted in the major global news and business publications and 40 percent participated in speaking engagements to an external, non-investor, audience.
Online communications did not fare as well among this executive set. Most CEO online visibility is limited to what is said about them on Wikipedia, the web-based collaborative encyclopedia which CEOs and their communications teams are not responsible for. Removing Wikipedia leaves the online CEO space rather barren—only 36 percent are engaged through their company websites or in social media channels in any way (e.g., CEO messages on company websites, video/podcasts on company websites or company YouTube channels, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, company-affiliated blogs).
Who Is a Social CEO?
The research identified the following characteristics of Social CEOs:
- Social CEOs lead companies with higher reputational status. Most admired company CEOs in our study had greater online visibility profiles than less admired company CEOs (41 percent vs. 28 percent, respectively).
- Social CEOs are multi-users. When they engage online, social CEOs employ more than one channel, with 72 percent using more than one channel (on average, social CEOs use 1.8 channels).
- Social CEOs are more likely to represent American companies. CEOs of companies with headquarters in the U.S. are more likely to engage online than those in EMEA (60 percent vs. 12 percent, respectively). Although the sample sizes of CEOs in Asia Pacific and Latin America are too small to allow for reliable comparison, indications are that they too are at low levels.
- Social CEOs are more tenured. Newer CEOs (3 years or less) are less likely than those in their middle (3 to 5 years) or later period of their tenures (more than 5 years) to engage online—30 percent vs. 38 percent vs. 43 percent, respectively.
Which Online Channels are Social CEOs Using?
When CEOs go Social, they are most likely to post non-shareholder letters or messages on their company websites (28 percent). This content is primarily focused on corporate and CEO leadership news. Social CEOs are next most likely to be featured in video or podcasts on their corporate websites or company YouTube channels (18 percent). Less than 10 percent of the CEOs analyzed used Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn or participated in external blogs. "It's not surprising that CEOs are less inclined to participate in social media given the perceived risk and time commitment required to engage in two-way conversations," said Chris Perry, president of Weber Shandwick Digital Communications. "What's surprising, however, is how few CEOs are using social technologies as mediums to share information and company perspective. These are potentially powerful tools for real-time communication."
Why are CEOs Not More Social?
According to Gaines-Ross, "There are several reasons why CEOs are not more Social. Time is better spent with customers and employees, their reputations are at an all-time low among the general public, the return on investment has not yet been proven, legal counsel tends to caution against it and anything that smacks of 'celebrity CEO' is a no-win."
Why Socialize Your CEO?
There are also solid reasons why CEOs should engage online. "In this increasingly digital age, CEOs should embrace the value of connectivity with customers, talent and other important stakeholders online. With 1.96 billion Internet users around the world, CEOs should be where people are watching, reading, chatting and listening," said Gaines-Ross.
"Our analysis of leading CEOs around the globe revealed that traditional media still remains the preferred outlet for CEO external communications. What is changing is how CEOs are slowly coupling their traditional media communications with social networks and channels where they can reach more stakeholders and give their companies a much needed human face or connection," says Gaines-Ross. "The nearly four in 10 Social CEOs in Weber Shandwick's comprehensive analysis may be trailblazers now but in short order, will be expected from leaders who want to portray their companies as transparent, accessible and trustworthy. The Social CEO will one day be commonplace."
How to Socialize Your CEO
Weber Shandwick recommends "six rules of the road" for CEOs to enhance their social reputation and interactivity:
- Identify best online practices of your peers and best-in-class social CEO communicators. Then establish and stretch your own comfort zone.
- Start with the fundamentals (e.g., online videos or photos). Inventory and aggregate existing executive communications for repurposing online.
- Simulate or test-drive social media participation. Understand what you're getting into before you go live. Start internally although recognize that internal employee communications spreads externally seamlessly.
- Decide upfront how much time you can commit to being Social. It can range from once a week to once a month to once a quarter or less often. Be your own best judge of what feels right.
- Craft a narrative that captures the attention of audiences that matter and humanizes your company's reputation.
- Accept the fact that Getting Social needs to be part of your corporate reputation management program. Purposefully manage your social reputation as well as your corporate reputation.
Weber Shandwick provides counsel on how CEO and corporate reputations are best built in today's shifting business landscape. Included in that counsel and research-backed advice are recommendations on building Social CEO reputations both internally and externally. For more information on how to communicate in ways that keep customers and other audiences buying your products and hearing your messages, please visit Weber Shandwick at www.webershandwick.com or download the executive summary here.
Weber Shandwick researched the publicly visible activities of CEOs in the world's largest 50 companies. Sixty CEOs from 50 companies were examined: 20 in the U.S., 27 in Europe, 9 in APAC and 4 in Latin America (note: 10 companies had multiple CEOs during 2009). In compiling our research, we accessed, among others, Factiva, search engines, company websites, academic calendars, conference agendas, and social media. When possible, the Weber Shandwick team compared CEO communications in 2009 to 2007 and examined CEO activity by region, tenure and reputational status.
About Weber Shandwick
Weber Shandwick is a leading global public relations agency with offices in 73 countries around the world. The firm's success is built on its deep commitment to client service, our people, creativity, collaboration and harnessing the power of Advocates - engaging stakeholders in new and creative ways to build brands and reputation. Weber Shandwick provides strategy and execution across practices such as consumer marketing, healthcare, technology, public affairs, financial services, corporate and crisis management. Its specialized services include digital/social media, advocacy advertising, market research, and corporate responsibility. In 2010, Weber Shandwick was named Global Agency of the Year by The Holmes Report for the second year in a row; an 'Agency of the Decade' by Advertising Age, Large PR Agency of the Year by Bulldog Reporter, and Top Corporate Responsibility Advisory Firm by CR Magazine. The firm has also won numerous 'best place to work' awards around the world including "Best Multinational Firm to Work For in EMEA" by The Holmes Report and a "Top Place to Work in PR" by PR News. Weber Shandwick is part of the Interpublic Group (NYSE: IPG). For more information, visit http://www.webershandwick.com.
SOURCE Weber Shandwick