Consumers today expect businesses and executives to take a stand. It has never been more important for the C-suite to have a voice and a platform on which to share it.
Many companies dedicate time and energy to their brand’s social media presence but don’t feel that it’s the right channel for executive communications, or that it’s already too late in the game to get started from scratch. In this podcast, we’ll talk about the shifting expectations for CEOs, how social media can help with positioning, and ways for organizations to build or enhance a successful digital executive communications program.
Lindsey Neary brings over a decade of client and project management experience to her work as a Vice President on Edelman’s corporate team.
Nathan Pieratt: What does it mean that consumers expect businesses and executives to take a stand and how has that changed over the years?
Lindsey Neary: There's been a lot of research lately about customers voting with their wallets or having a preference for purpose-driven brands. The idea of corporate social responsibility has really been around for decades- it's nothing new, but it's moving into the forefront. It's not just a program anymore; it's a way of doing business. Embedding this into every part of a company's business is becoming more and more important. I can speak to some of the research that my company has done. Edelman's earned brand study a couple of years ago showed that belief-driven buyers are actually in the majority for the first time in every global market surveyed, and that's across age group and income level. This year's Edelman trust barometer is looking specifically at how different factors affect corporate trust, and I think trust is important because it really gives the business the license to operate. In 2020, 73% of the general population surveyed believes that a company can take actions to both increase their profits and improve conditions in the communities where they operate. And, a huge majority say they want the CEO to be speaking up about specific issues, whether that's climate change, automation or income inequality. More than half want their CEO to be outspoken on controversial issues.
NP: What does social media add to the mix?
LN: Media is important. I'm never going to say stop doing media, to stop doing speaking engagements. People still really, really like to see their name and their company name out there, and I think that's so important, but I guess a couple of different things that social media adds to the mix. One is there's really a level of directness and authenticity that you get through social media and you just don't get that same level of communication when someone's making a speech or giving answers in a panel. Social media kind of fills that gap. The other piece of it I'd say is really being able to own the conversation. I'm a big believer in owned content. Of course, in this case, I'm considering social media a form of owned content in the sense that you're the one creating it. I think a great way to get your message out there and capitalize on all the work that's gone into that comprehensive plan for an executive is to make sure you're also sharing it through owned channels and owned social channels.
NP: How would you counsel an organization that's worried about an executive getting caught up in potential backlash or dialogue?
LN: The simple answer in that these things are going to happen regardless of whether the CEO or the organization is visible on social media or not. I think it's always better as an organization to have more visibility into the conversation and what it's about, even when that's negative. The key is good planning. If your executives are active on social and that's not a part of your crisis communications plan, then that needs to change. If you don't have a crisis communications plan, that really needs to change. I think in today's world, not being on social, it doesn't make you somehow immune from a potential backlash. You just have to be prepared for it as a possibility and know how to respond or maybe how not to respond. I think that's another conversation to have with the executives, especially if they're more hands on or if they do tend to be more reactionary. It's important to have a plan and stick to the plan. You're not going to avoid that backlash by not being present for the conversation.
NP: Does social require a specific crisis plan or is it just in your experience a more general overview for that?
LN: I would recommend that social have more specific crisis plan. I think different channels can be treated differently. But, a general plan is never going to be as actionable as a plan with more specifics.
NP: Could it be seen as inauthentic to encourage the executives to participate on social media?
LN: Authenticity is really important to our communications goals. So if social media is a sticking point, but you and your team think it would really help advance things, I think it's worth doing some convincing. People really expect executives to be speaking out. They find direct, unrehearsed communication more believable. And important, stakeholders, like investors and journalists, are turning to social media to do their research. Another thing I think is sometimes people have the wrong idea of social. It's not all sharing where you're traveling or connecting with your colleagues. There's a strong thought leadership component too, especially on LinkedIn and especially for B2B organizations. So good thought leadership when it's done well, it can increase trust, purchase consideration, even perceived value. I think there's a lot of room for growth in how do you define social media.
NP: How do you measure the success of a social program?
LN: It really goes back to the importance of that upfront planning that we talked about earlier. If your program as a whole is aligned to broader goals, you can do a better job of setting up those measurements. In general, you can think of social media metrics in terms of awareness, which would be how many people are viewing your posts for engagement. Or even something more subjective, setting a target number of interactions that someone completes each week if you're trying to get them more engaged on a platform. But really I think you're right, most C-suite programs are looking for is that next level of how does it apply to the business? If you're driving people to the website, you might be able to track further than, well, this person initiated in social media, now they're applying for a job or they're visiting a sales page or they're downloading a white paper, signing up for a webinar. I do think no matter what the business goal is and how much you might try to encourage someone to stay focused on business outcomes, people really do like to see their follower count grow. I always like to develop just a nice line graph that shows growth over time because it is really rewarding for everyone to see that number spike, especially if you're starting from scratch.
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