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The Twitter "fail whale."

Study Says CEOs Are “Social Media Slackers”

June 25, 2009 10:30 AM
by Liz Colville
A study by ÜberCEO suggests that most CEOs of Fortune 100 companies are absent from social media sites like Twitter. Are their companies missing out?

A “Miserable Level of Engagement”

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ÜberCEO, which researches and reports on top CEOs, conducted a month-long study on the social media activities of Fortune 100 CEOs.

Looking at their use of social media sites such as Facebook, Wikipedia, Twitter and LinkedIn, ÜberCEO notably found that none of the Fortune 100 CEOs has a blog and “81% of CEOs don’t have a personal Facebook page.”

Perhaps most shocking of all, in light of Twitter’s popularity, “Only two CEOs have Twitter accounts.”

ÜberCEO also observed that while these CEOs might have a Wikipedia page or a LinkedIn profile, the Wikipedia pages are largely outdated and the CEOs haven’t bothered to make many connections on LinkedIn, a career-centric social network that allows people to give and receive job recommendations and find job opportunities.

The Fortune 100 companies of 2009 include household names like AT&T, Rite Aid, Target, Wal-Mart and Dell. See the full list at the Fortune Web site.

“[T]he top CEOs appear to be disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating,” ÜberCEO concluded. “CEOs have the opportunity to positively effect their company’s perception, visibility and brand experience by taking part in social media activities. Right now, they’re absent from the discussion. With the public already skeptical about large corporations, CEOs can’t afford to pretend that social media is not for them.”

Different Approaches to Social Media

Some businesses are leading by example. Although they may not be part of the Fortune 100, they are plowing ahead of more established names with their online savvy.

The CEO of online shoe store Zappos, Tony Hsieh, is one of the most well-known executive presences on Twitter. Hsieh follows more than 400,000 Twitter users and is followed by more than 800,000. His profile provides contact information for Zappos customers and the press. It is no surprise that on the Zappos Web site, the company writes that Hsieh’s leadership “focus[es] relentlessly on customer service.”

Ford, which is on the Fortune 100 list, may not have a big executive presence in social media, but the company is open-minded about it, and deploys a head of social media, Scott Monty, who helps maintain and enhance the company’s image online. Business-to-business social media strategist Ron Ploof recently conducted a case study of how Monty used social media to save Ford from a difficult PR situation.

As Tom Foremski, a commenter on the ÜberCEO site, suggested, it may be better for companies to follow Ford’s lead than to ask their CEOs to start using Twitter. “If I were a shareholder of an F100 company I wouldn’t want to see the CEO Twitting away all day.”

The other extreme is for companies to create such a mystique around their brand that cyberspace keeps talking without their help. As The New York Times reported following the release of Apple's iPhone 3GS and news of CEO Steve Jobs’ liver transplant, Apple does just that. The Times went so far as to say the company has an “obsession with secrecy.”

“For a technology company that views itself as innovative, it’s a little odd that they are getting a reputation for lack of transparency,” Charles Elson, director of the John L. Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, told The Times.

Why Social Media?

Ryan Healy of the blog Employee Evolution said in a May 2008 post that all businesses must “meet their potential customers on their own turf,” adding that “[e]ven if it takes a while, online credibility will eventually lead to mainstream coolness. … Not only will your company immediately be considered cool in the tech world, but when one of these sites becomes a legitimate hit, like Twitter is about to become, your company will be mainstream-cool as well.” 

As ReadWriteWeb noted soon after Healy’s post, many companies are starting to see the benefits, as more are allowing their employees to use social media during the day, according to data from several 2008 studies. A report from the firm Awareness, Inc. indicated that “75 percent of employees are already using social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn for business purposes, up 15 percent from 2007.”

At a recent Social Media Boot Camp, a series put on by the Social Media Club, one of the event’s founders, Howard Greenstein, told the audience we’re working in a “gift economy,” and that people must share with others what they discover and learn. Another founder, Chris Heuer, urged the audience to “Serve your market.” Many businesses forget to listen to their customers, he said.

“Help people, save time, make money, get more done, be happy, find meaning, connect with others and find greater satisfaction,” Heuer added. Learn more about that event on the findingDulcinea blog.

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Reference: Using Social Media

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