Social media for C-levels: A threat or an opportunity?

Time and tide wait for no man. And, when it comes to social media for C-levels it is now no different. Social media is maturing. Gone are the hype days when it was simply a case of not understanding but having to join in if you happened to be in marketing. Today it’s in a production phase and revolutionizing brands. It’s empowering people, including staff, to have a voice and communicate their message.

And, whether you like it or not, social media is rapidly evolving into an essential leadership tool. With an expectation for company leaders to embrace it, which is being silently communicated, the pressure is now on for C-­levels and ambitious executives to get involved and leverage off it. However, with so much at stake, the question that’s troubling everyone is…

…how to do this the right way!

And, it’s this lack of understanding that’s tending to make C-­levels sceptical and reluctant participants, unrealistically fearful of making mistakes and in an uncomfortable position of learning whilst leading.

This e-­Book (which you can get by sending me an email) has been written to help you, as a C-­level, or aspiring one, understand how you can build a powerful C-­level social media presence.

It covers:

  • Positioning
  • Messaging
  • Exposure

Before you delve into it, I’ll be setting the scene and looking at the challenges and opportunities. For example, how information can be deliberately leaked or unintentionally gleaned, how deals can be done and reputations built or ruined, all through social media portals.

The content contained within this e-­Book will provide you with insight and help you get you started with creating a strong social media for C-levels presence. It’s here to help you get ahead in terms of your career and learn that when an effective social media presence is created, opportunities abound.

Now, before we get started, I just want to stress that this e-Book is meant for those who are fairly new to social media. If you’re an executive, Manager or Director, or a business owner, the content contained here will provide you with insight.

Now, let’s get started!

Setting the scene: social media for C-levels

We live in a digital age. We’re inter-­connected and socially connected. We search online for everything. And, we can find anything. We Google you, mine data on you and profile you. We share, friend, like, connect and link in. We leave digital footprints everywhere. We consume data at the rate of 10 hours per day. And, what’s more, we take all this for granted.

And, this is why the importance of social media on business has never been higher and why it’s dramatically escalated.

The world has moved through the hype phase – when businesses felt compelled to join in because it was the latest trend. Now, as it matures, businesses have entered the productive phase where they’re starting to crack the code and turn it into a genuine business advantage. Social media channels have become an essential platform for brands to communicate their messages.

However, it doesn’t stop there.

Social media has empowered everyone to have a voice and communicate his or her message. And, savvy companies are leveraging off this to dominate their markets and seize share.

Becoming brands in their own right employees have never had as much power as they have today. And, this is why business leaders can no longer afford to remain silent and avoid being active on it. Rapidly evolving into a leadership tool there’s now an expectation for company leaders to join in.

Those who embrace it and get involved will reap the rewards.

Social media penetration

Gone are the days when social media was used purely for marketing. Publicly traded companies are beginning to use it for business development, business communication, business continuity, crisis management, reputation management, customer service, human resources and innovation.

Social has transformed.

It’s morphed from social media to social business and as a consequence the entire way we do business is changing. However, CISOs (Chief Information Security Officers) aren’t especially happy. And, the disruption (or more accurately headache) it’s creating is about to get worse.

Corporate silos are being broken down and new ways of connecting and sharing data are changing the way we work together. Collaborative relationships and innovation are flourishing. Companies are gaining better consumer insights and engaging with customers. Businesses are becoming more agile and transparent as a result. They’re moving away from seeking transactions and moving towards making a difference. In a connected world they’re becoming socially conscious. And, for the first time employees have empowerment and a voice that can be heard.

Social networks are therefore having a broad-­based impact and what’s clear is that the tightly controlled corporate environments are falling apart. A balance of power is therefore shifting between brands and individuals. The explosion in connectivity and availability of information is enabling today’s consumers, employees, citizens and other individuals to take control. Some argue a revolution is occurring.

Add to this the fact that in the next 6 years Millenials will account for 50% of the workforce, and this will rise to 75% in the next 11 years. For brands to maintain their market share, let alone get more, they have to move fast. They have to seize the day, otherwise they’ll get left behind.

As Jack Welch said, “The rate of internal change must be greater than the rate of external change or the company will fall behind.”

Social media C-level knowledge gap

While many C-­levels understand the importance social media plays in business, most have not yet seen the need for their personal involvement let alone realized the changes it’s about to make to their role.

But this is short-­sighted.

As social changes the way businesses work, it impacts the talents and skill sets needed for the next generation of business leaders. Successful C-­levels have to be equipped to be more social.

In 2013, Forbes ran a social media for C-levels story entitled ‘68% of CEOs have no social media presence whatsoever.’ They quoted a report from, which stated that:

  • 68% of CEOs have no social presence whatsoever and that a mere 32% have only one social network.
  • 28% of the Fortune 500s are on Twitter; 38% are on Facebook, and 5% are on Google+.
  • 140 of the Fortune 500s are on LinkedIn.

Looking at some of those who are active, it’s clear that they’re winning in the game. Richard Branson (@RichardBranson) has nearly 4 million Twitter followers, which is more than most media brands. Donald Trump (@realDonaldTrump) has more than 2.5 million, Marc Cuban (@mcuban) has just over 2 million and Tony Hsieh (@Zappos_Hsieh) has 2.8 million. But, it’s Bill Gates (@BillGates) who controls the leader board at just over 15.2 million.

Without a doubt, when C-­levels and aspiring C-­levels have the opportunity to use social media platforms to amplify their company message and take responsibility for their own brand, they can achieve more influence than most media outlets.

However, the C-­levels in today’s digital world have not grown up in a world like this. They’re not the Gen Y’s and have a very different set of skills, let alone corporate values. Most are still living in their comfort zones -­ being transactional, fearful of sharing information and shying away from transparent collaboration. And, even if they know they need to change they don’t really understand how to do this.

Social media blunders by C-­level participants that have tried haven’t helped either and nor have the media headlines about the security issues resulting from hackers.

As with anything risk related though it’s vital to know your threats, vulnerabilities and impacts so you can make an informed decision.

Social media risks: Blunders, hackers and litigation

Rather than avoid the elephant in the room it’s always best to consider the risks involved. Looking at the blunders first, it’s inevitable that there have been a few. This is a new skill that’s being applied after all.

In March, the UK Prime Minister, David Cameron slipped up. With “selfies” trending, he took one whilst on the phone to US President Barak Obama. You can see it here.

Social media for c-levels david cameron social media embarrassment

It was supposed to portray him as a high-­powered statesman trying to manage an emerging global crisis. But, instead it only resulted in mockery rather than admiration as seen in the photo montage here.

Social media blunder David Cameron

The PM again failed on social media when it was revealed that his account followed a high-­class escort agency on Twitter.

In November 2013, JPMorgan suffered a severe public spanking after trying to host a town hall Q&A on Twitter. The bank announced a live Twitter Q&A about leadership and career advice hosted by one of its executives. Participants were encouraged to submit questions using the hashtag #AskJPM. One week later, JPMorgan sent out a reminder tweet: “JPMorgan VC Jimmy Lee is taking over @JPMorgan on 11/14. Tweet Qs using #AskJPM.”

Social media blunder JP Morgan

While hardly anyone noticed the original tweet, the second one spread like wildfire. Within 24 hours, there were 18,669 tweets using the #AskJPM hashtag, and none of them were what JPMorgan had hoped for. Twitter users around the world hijacked the hashtag, using the opportunity to blast the bank’s ethics (or lack thereof).

The Q&A was pulled within a few hours and JP Morgan watched as journalists and financial industry pundits snickered right along with the sophomoric gaggle on Twitter. Thousands of articles and blog posts took delight in rehashing (literally) the insults hurled at JPMorgan.

Kitchen Aid fell foul of not keeping their opinions personal when their community manager inadvertently tweeted from the wrong account via his smartphone. During a presidential debate, this confused employee thought that their personal offensive tweet about Obama’s deceased grandmother just went out to his small following. Instead, it was blasted out to over 24,000 of KitchenAid’s followers. Whoops!

social media blunder

Chrysler too made a similar mistake when their Social Media Manager dropped this f-­bomb!

social media blunder

Moving on to hackers there’s rarely a day that goes by without a news story breaking about a compromise or breach. As if that’s not shocking enough, the activity has become so prolific and advanced that hacking (or more accurately cyber security) has now been elevated to a higher priority for governments than terrorism.

Most statistics online say that 3 in every 4 people already have, or will have their data compromised at some point in their lives. And if you speak to anyone in cyber security, they’ll tell you that it’s not a case of if (now) but when. With 90% of all businesses having already had their data breached during the year, we’re at a point where any major brand is vulnerable to a hack on a daily basis.

Now when it comes to social media, these networking sites have created a revolution in social connectivity. However, risks proliferate. Con artists, criminals, hactivists, industrial spies, state sponsored terrorists and other dishonest predators are exploiting this capability.

What’s more many are operating like professional corporate businesses. Cyber criminals today have crime packs with business intelligence reporting dashboards to manage the distribution of the malicious code they release, video installation guides and even tech support 24×7! Alarmingly some will even trick you into paying for the “privilege” of being hacked!

How do they do it?

Well they’re using two primary tactics to exploit online social media networks. In practice, however, they’re often combined.

  • Hackers who specialize in writing and manipulating computer code to gain access or install unwanted software on your computer or phone.
  • Hackers who specialize in exploiting personal connections through social networks (social engineering).

As most hackers know only too well, people are the weakest link in the chain. As a result they’ll focus their efforts on them with the intention of getting past security defences. They’ll design their actions to appear harmless and legitimate.

Falling for an online scam or computer hack is therefore a genuine risk and obviously would be damaging for any C-­level let alone the company they work for.

So, detailed below is an overview of the main risks. Note, they should not be considered exhaustive.

Sharing: Social networking sites are Internet-­based services that allow users to communicate and share information with a group. However, once information is posted to a social networking site, it’s no longer private. The more information you post, the more vulnerable you potentially are. And, even when using high security settings, friends or websites may inadvertently leak your information.

And that’s why the personal information you share could be used to conduct attacks against you or those you associate with. The more information shared, the more likely someone could impersonate you and trick one of your friends into sharing personal information, downloading malware, or providing access to restricted sites. Remember, predators, hackers, business competitors, and foreign state terrorists trawl social networking sites looking for information or people to target for exploitation.

Scams: These are fake deals that trick people into providing money, information, or services in exchange for the deal. Cyber criminals typically use popular events and news stories as bait for people to open infected email, visit infected websites, or donate money to bogus charities.

For example, before the 2010 World Cup, cyber criminals offered tickets for sale or sent phishing emails claiming that you had won tickets to see the event.

After the death of Osama Bin Laden, a video claiming to show Bin Laden’s capture was posted on Facebook. The video was a fake. When users clicked on the link to the video, they were told to copy a JavaScript code into their browser bar, which automatically sent the hoax to their friends, and gave the hackers full access to their account and the private information they stored on it.

Then there are the more obvious emails that say something like, “Hi I’m a Nigerian banker and I’d like to give you $53 billion because I like your face…” or an amusing exe file. Rumour has it the funny cats .exe proved extremely successful for a certain state sponsored attack.

False Information: There have been several incidents where false information transmitted on social networking sites has had serious consequences. For example, a fake tweet by a someone impersonating the Russian interior minister, claiming that the Syrian president had been killed or injured, caused crude prices to rise by over $1 before traders realised the news was false.

On another occasion a hacktivist group hijacked the Associated Press’s Twitter account, sending out fake tweets about an explosion in the White House and President Obama’s safety. This caused the S&P 500 to drop almost a full percent and cost investors $136.5 billion before recovering three minutes later. Whilst The Associated Press sent out a tweet following the incident affirming that the first tweet was untrue, the damage was done.

The Virus:And then there’s the Twitter virus that you regularly see. It usually looks like this: “Did you see this crazy pic of you?” or “I lost 30 lbs in a week. You can too!” or “Someone’s saying horrible things about you.”

Sadly the more people you follow on Twitter, the more of these messages you’ll see. Whether you’re the perpetrator or not don’t click the link. Instead work on fixing the Twitter DM (direct message) virus someone sends you to avoid getting your Twitter account infected. Although it isn’t possible for you to clean the virus from the account that sent you a DM, it’s possible for you to protect yourself from getting it if you don’t already have it. Here’s a link for more information on how -­­‐twitter-­‐dm-­‐ virus-­‐26739.html

Looking at social media from a legal stance is essential. Even if you’ve set you’re privacy and secured your social media account so that only a select few can view it, there’s always a risk that something you share could be reposted elsewhere. When it comes to social media, nothing is truly private. What you post can be used against you, either now or in the future by snooping government agencies, political operatives, potential employers or online marketers that want to serve up interest-­based advertising.

If you think you can delete a post and all will be ok, think again. You see, even when you delete a post its footprint is likely to remain. Your “friends” can copy/paste anything visible to them into other sites or email messages. Twitter’s posts are part of the public data feed that’s routinely captured by data brokers and others interested in analyzing that

The act of deleting just means removing the visibility on Twitter. However, every data broker or other organization that has consumed your Twitter feed between the time you posted and the time you deleted the message still has the data. And, if what you share on social media sites is ‘defamatory’ (meaning that it could be damaging to someone’s reputation), then you could face legal repercussions.

Think before you post anything on social media. Ask yourself is this information I want to share and would someone be able to use it to gain an advantage?

Treat everything as brand adversarial and then you don’t have to worry about it.

Social media C-level advantages

As you can see the risks outlined here are viable concerns for C-­levels. That said it’s a lack of understanding of the risks involved that tends to induce scepticism and harbour reluctant participants, unrealistically fearful of making mistakes and in an uncomfortable position of learning whilst leading.

So putting the risks aside, in favour of making informed decisions against measurable risks, C-­levels have to consider being actively involved in social media.

If Peter Aceto, CEO of ING Direct Canada and Toronto’s Communicator of the Year 2010, has got it right, “Successful leaders will no longer be measured just by stock price. Managing and communicating with shareholders, employees, government, community and customers will be table stakes in the future.”

Social media will become a KPI.

Ever the innovator and early adopter, IBM seems to agree. In 2013 they surveyed 4,000 C-­suite executives, and found:

  • 64% of CMOs want to approach customers as individuals
  • 71% of CIOs see communication moving towards more social/digital collaboration
  • 55% of CHROs foresee increasing organisational openness

This infographic provides more detail.

Social media IBM

Interestingly, in a slightly earlier 2012 study of more than 1,700 CEOs from 64 countries IBM also discovered that 70% of the responding CEOs plan to shift their focus from using e-­mail and the phone as primary communication vehicles to using social networks as a new path for direct engagement.

According to the study, as soon as the next 3 to 5 years, social media is anticipated to rise from the least likely method for C-­levels to connect with their audiences to the second highest method, just behind face-­to-­face interactions.

Traditional corporate communication is therefore potentially at threat from a social communication takeover. As C-­levels transition through, unfortunately, however, they’re going to have to cope with both, which is costly as it’s time intensive. But, those who do put in the effort and truly socially engage with their employees and customers in genuine conversations can find some solace in the fact that they’ll be recognized as the new corporate leaders and profits will follow.

After all, all brands (including personal brands, which is what the C-­level is building) are assets, and profits follow assets.

This thinking is radical. There’s a major change from traditional, controlled, protective corporate environments, towards a more open and transparent leadership structure. As socially savvy C-­levels evolve and harness the power of direct engagement their proficiency in social media will become even more relevant.

Customers are increasingly going to expect to have direct access to brands and their leaders, which is why the time has arrived for social media to become a necessity for C-­levels.

According to the 2012 CEO, Social Media Survey & Leadership Survey by consultancy BRANDfog, 82% of consumers say they trust a company more when its CEO and leadership team are active on social media.

What’s more, employees perceive CEOs who are “social” as being better leaders and better communicators -­ 52% felt more inspired, and 41% more technologically advanced and proud.

How C-­levels get it right

Sir Richard Branson, world-­renowned entrepreneur and businessman, provides a perfect example. He’s regularly referred to as being the consummate social CEO and has amassed more than 4 million Twitter followers, 2.6 million connections on LinkedIn and 6 million Google+ circles. His blog is also averaging 500,000 visitors per month.

Branson attributes his social media success to sharing inspiring leadership stories and quotations, which create online conversations about fresh business ventures. He also mixes things up so it’s not all corporate and raises awareness for charitable initiatives or other things he simply finds of interest or fun.

His advice:

“Above all, remember to be authentic and organic, answering questions in a straightforward manner – there’s no need to check with your PR team first. You know your products and services, and people will see through any effort to parrot slogans or broadcast a marketing message.”

Because Branson tweets and blogs daily, almost all Virgin employees follow suit and engage directly with their customers through social media. They use it to find out what their customers want and need. And, as a result they remain ahead of their competition.

A summary of the benefits

The tangible benefits for C-­levels who responsibly participate in social media are numerous. For example, sociability enables C-­levels to:

  • Help find and attract new customers, business partners and employees
  • Help retain customers by offering more service value
  • Be more responsive to customer queries or complaints
  • Be more effective in crisis management and business continuity
  • Improve your brand’s reputation
  • Show a human side to your business by having unfiltered direct communication
  • Share news and information
  • Demonstrate and encourage brand innovation
  • Keep on top of your competitors movements
  • Improve employee communications
  • Get to know your company better
  • Position yourself as an indispensable resource
  • Enhance credibility and help attract the best opportunities
  • Become a valuable asset for sharing corporate social responsibilities and causes.


Social media is an established fact of modern life, in the corporate and the private sphere and if you’re going to have success with it as a C-­level you need to understand that it’s not just another marketing tool. It provides a two-­way channel of communication, allowing you to connect and engage with large numbers of people quickly. It also maintains the characteristics of one-­to-­one conversations because your market (audience) can use social media to respond quickly and directly.

Finally, whilst there are challenges for you to overcome, as a C-­level when creating your social media presence, make no mistake in the next few years there are going to be more advantages available in doing so. Whether you chose to play full out and embrace it now or not, one thing is certain – it’s not going to disappear.

Neither is the fact that social media at the C-­level can be outsourced. It takes personal involvement. And whilst there are risks involved, not participating now appears to be the greater risk.

So I encourage you, as always to embrace the change and to seek out better ways to build your business and personal brand. If you need help with this, then please get in contact.

Thank you, as always for reading. If you found this useful, tell your “friends” and get them to sign up to receive my information.

Wishing you much success!

Now I want to hear from you…

Tell me in the comments below or in a private email:

  • How are you dealing with social media as a C-level?
  • What aspect of social media do you find the most challenging?

Please share your stories and experience here, and if you’ve got a question, just pop it down here.

Thanks for being a sport and participating!



Finally, if you know someone who’d LOVE the insight from this social media for C-levels post, please send them a link. You’ll find solo entrepreneurs, consultants and yes, even sales and marketing managers who manage people who’ll be interested to hear about this.

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Jane Frankland is a successful cyber security entrepreneur, consultant and speaker who has had a diverse career encompassing art and design; business development; and operations. Having held directorships and senior executive positions within her own companies and at several large PLCs, she now provides agile, forward thinking organisations with strategic business development solutions. Right now she is writing a book on gender diversity in cyber security and is focused on increasing the numbers of women in the profession.

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