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CEOs failing to use social media as a leadership platform

Leadership is in crisis. That’s the headline from the 2013 Ketchum Leadership Communication Monitor (KLCM).

Less than a quarter of people around the world believe that business leaders are providing effective leadership. It’s shameful and my view is that it could be so different if leaders embraced new forms of media.

KLCM is an annual analysis of the impact of leadership communication on the reputation of organisations. We seek out the viewpoint of 6,000 people in 12 countries.

In 2013 the study found that effective communication is the top attribute of great leadership for the second year in a row. 75 percent of respondents viewed effective communication as very important to leadership. The link is irrefutable.

Leadership communication: it’s personal

Social forms of communication such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, have the potential to enable leaders to communicate directly and transparently with their audiences.

Personal presence and engagement are a premium for leadership credibility, yet these new social channels lag traditional channels.

The result is that televised speeches, broadcast and print media are all ahead of social forms of media as channels that respondents scored highly as a source of credibility.

More evidence of the need for strong leadership communication comes in the form of its impact on the bottom line. Last year 44 percent of people stopped buying from a company due to poor leadership whereas 42 percent started buying from a company as a result of good leadership behavior.

Credibility and trust in networks

The CEO and C-suite lag employees and third-parties as credible sources of information on an organisation.

The CEO comes in at six, with other senior management at seven. First is an employee in your network, industry analysts are second, financial analysts and customer service staff joint third and sales staff fifth.

The media rank joint alongside other senior management in seventh, again showing the potential of social forms of media for direct engagement.

The benefit of social forms of media isn’t solely limited to external audiences.

Social media is underestimated as a means of communication among the informal networks that exist internally and externally within an organisation. It has no respect for hierarchy and democratises communication.

A recent McKinsey Quarterly (February 2013) reported that leaders needed to develop social media and content creation skills in order to promote collaboration, knowledge sharing and tap employee capabilities to deliver competitive advantage.

Social media skills critical for business leaders

The message from KLCM could not be clearer. Effective open communication is a proven commercial imperative and the primary requirement of effective leaders.

But communication via social forms of media is not without its challenges. My view is that leaders are failing to embrace new channels as a means of engagement because they are simply uncomfortable or don’t recognise the benefit of ceding control of corporate communication.

There is a conflict between the modern participatory forms of media and organisational communication and the industrial 20th century model.

The reputational risk of allowing employees unbridled access to social media often manifests itself as anxiety in leaders and leads to a lock down or draconian social media policies. At least that’s my personal view.

Digital dinosaurs versus digital modernisers

Yet those leaders who are empowered to tell the story of their organisation and engage via social forms of media exert a high degree of influence over their narrative. This direct engagement with employees, customers and prospects leads to greater organisational credibility, and ultimately trust.

In the next 12-months, I predict that we’ll see a chasm in influence and trust emerge between the leaders that communicate via social media and those who don’t. Are you a digital dinosaur or a digital moderniser?

This blog post was originally published on the Ketchum blog.

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Stephen Waddington

Partner and Chief Engagement Officer, Ketchum and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University.

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