Strong Winds of Social Change

Nearly every day I read an article about how CEOs need to be more social (meaning using social media) or what the obstacles are that prevent them from using this new medium. A fairly recent one had some good quotes from the chairman of Mahindra group, Anand Mahindra. He is very social and I have written about him before. Just wanted to share them:

"A good business leader reflects the values of his company. A great business leader embodies and amplifies them. I’ve always believed that a strong CEO brand can certainly help a company. But then the CEO should be ready to align most aspects of his or her life with the company’s required brand persona.” 

“However, strong winds of change are finally here and the tides are turning. The digital winter is lending way to an explosive and productive spring as more and more Asian companies embrace social media.” 

I agree that strong winds of change are blowing through executive suites today. The first quote makes the distinction between a good business leader and a great one. CEOs have to overcommunicate to be seen. Oftentimes they think that all their employees are getting the message. They are not. They need to be over-active in demonstrating what is important to the company. One of the mandates for CEOs today is greater engagement, internally and externally, offline and online. Building a strong CEO brand or persona or whatever it is called (possibly reputation) is an imperative. 

Interesting Reputation Sidebars

Just a few bullets that caught my eye over the past few weeks on the topic of reputation.

  • In a wickedly well-written and snarky article in The Economist on CEOs living in glass houses (no kidding), especially in this new social world, a few things stood out. First, a mention about research among Wharton researchers that found that the most emailed articles among 7,000 articles from The New York Times over a three month period had to do with topics that evoked fear, anger and anxiety. As the author said, perfect click bait for “evil CEOs.”
  • From that same article mentioned above, a fascinating stat which I am saving for my folder on Why Crises Are Bad News? is this one: “The stock market is more sensitive to reputational disasters than ever before. In the two weeks after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, in Alaska, Exxon’s shares dropped 3.9% but quickly rebounded. In the two months after the Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010 BP’s shares fell by half (and have still to recover fully).”
  • The Hay Group, who conducts the World’s Most Admired Companies (WMAC) Survey for Fortune every year, reports that internal and external reputation management is the most significant factor in consistently enabling the WMACs to outperform their peers. And to add in another good proof point, 75% of these most admired companies worldwide regularly communicate the importance of their company’s reputation to their workforce.  
  • Also from the Hay Group article, a statement which surprised me. They say that the world’s most admired companies now have “much greater control over their reputations” compared to five years ago. I think that this is a perception that could be easily debated and I’ve be in several of them lately.  On one hand, companies might feel that they have less reputation-control due to the rise of the Internet, NGOs and the never ending media-frenzy but you could also say that with disintermediation, companies now have more tools in their arsenal to bypass the media to get their messages out and to listen early on to stakeholders before the conversation turns viral and damaging. A great topic for a debate. I might save it for a panel discussion.

Hope to add more to my collection of interesting reputation nuggets in due time.


Social Blogging for Fortune 500 Companies

There has been a lot lately about social CEOs and I have recently posted about the topic. Last night, I just had a chance to review the annual University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research study about how the Fortune 500 is using this not so new but ubiquitous medium and blogging, in particular. As the authors say, and I agree, "studying their adoption and use of social media blogs offers important insights into the future of commerce." The key findings are that Fortune 500 blogs are alive and well and serving as a means to promote thought leadership:

  • In 2014, 31% of the studied companies had corporate blogs, showing a slight decrease of 3% in use of this tool in the past year
  • In the 2011 Fortune 500 study, it called attention to the decline of blogging with only 23% hosting a public-facing corporate blog.  In 2012, there was a sizable increase to 28%. That surge surfaced again in 2013 showing 34% of these corporate behemoths creating and sharing content through blogs
  • The top 200 of the Fortune 500 are out-blogging the bottom 200  
  • These Fortune 500 blogs are for the most part (78%) are interactive, up-to-date, taking comments, offering RSS feeds and subscriptions. 

What is particularly interesting here is that corporate blogging is here to stay and has become a relevant means of content-sharing and thought leadership. It provides a smart delivery vehicle to talk about what a company stands for, what's on the minds of its customers, what its products and services can do and what's new and innovative in the field. And the authors agree that we might view this steadiness of corporate blogging as a signal to the marketplace that the time is ripe for thought leadership and in-depth content instead of short missives and pure promotional content that is less memorable. At Weber Shandwick, we see this in the high demand for Mediaco, a platform that helps companies publish and be their own media companies.

I see a surge in thought leadership being tied to the ongoing effectiveness of corporate blogging where ideas and insights can now be more easily shared with the general populace. And I believe that when companies blog on their websites or elsewhere, it leads to greater control over communications and their reputation. Companies can now join the conversation instead of just reacting to the conversation. Reputations have a better chance of stabilizing themselves when they have a hand in the dialogue. A good thing. 

CEO selfies....really!

I was reading a post this morning about social CEOs, a favorite topic of mine and came across this one on AllFacebook by Mary Long. It is about the five things that CEOs should not do. This one stands out because I can hardly imagine a CEO considering this seriously but then again, we've seen the unimaginable happen time and time again. And when I googled CEO and selfies, just now, there seems to be long line of tech company executive selfies making history. Long recommends that CEOs refrain from taking selfies. Here is her advice and I quote:

"2) Daily selfies

If you take daily selfies and you are a CEO, you might as well write your resignation letter and post that along with your selfie. As a CEO you have a professional image to maintain, and those selfies taken on your iPhone camera are far from professional, at worst – and show an unseemly narcissistic streak, at best. Invest in a professional photographer to help you capture the perfect head shot, if the former – and a professional therapist, if the latter!"

Sane advice for the Fortune 500 CEO set for sure. Sometimes it is best to be boring and less about me me me. I can see it making sense with some of the tech CEOs but beyond that, not so sure. Maybe with employees in the background it can work but a CEO selfie for selfie's sake, got to proceed with caution. 

Saying goodbye to Twitter

"I will be closing down my Twitter account today. As I said, wait till QPR gets promoted and I reach 50. I may restart dedicated accounts. Goodbye all. Maybe I return. Been fun. And damn useful. Speak the truth be brave," said the Malaysian CEO of AirAsia (@tonyfernandes) in his last tweet. “Stand up for what you believe, fight oppression and most importantly, enjoy life. Bye bye all!” [QPR is the Queens Park Rangers, the English Premier League Team, that he owns].

Tony Fernandes was well known for his very active Twitter account. He started in December 2008 and had nearly 900,000 people following him. In his 11,900 Tweets, he made major announcements about the airline, offers, discussion on the industry, sports activities, industry news, birthday wishes, work out in gyms, investor road shows and everything else. He always came up in lists on top 50 socially engaged CEOs and his disappearance from Twitter shocked his fans as this Tweet attests to: “So @tonyfernandes is leaving twitter! It’s been good to have an open engaging chairman with fans. Maybe see you back here someday!!!”

I always loved this story I read about him. When he was 6 years old, he told his dad that he would start an airline on day and his physician father replied: 'if you make past the doorman of Hilton Hotel, I will be happy." And boy did he make it to the top.

It is hard to figure out why he deactivated his account and I am not sure why turning 50 makes a difference except that this entrepreneur must be incredibly busy and decided to use his time more efficiently. This departure made me wonder why he did not just say he was limiting himself to fewer tweets so expect less in the future. But it sounds like he made up his mind and Twitter helped get his airline off the ground (so to speak). I am sure his reputation for being a trailblazing social media CEO will continue as he turns to other outlets. Word is that he is using Instagram. Always hate to see a Social CEO bite the dust. 

The pricey costs to social media reputation repair

The third annual study called the Computing Safety Index was just released by Microsoft and it has some real gems in it on the costs associated with online reputational risk. Repairing the damage from social media cannot be ignored because it comes with a big price tag. The facts below came from the blog of Jacqueline Beauchere, the chief online safety officer at Microsoft (cool title). 

  1. Nearly $6 billion was spent in 2013 "to mitigate risks associated with financial and time loss due to personal or professional damage."
  2. On average, the cost to users who experience online reputational damage and have to restore their reputation averages $632 per episode. When you look at this by country, the numbers are incredible. In Canada, the average U.S. dollar equivalent costs to repair one’s professional reputation totaled $484 per incident; in Japan, $500 per instance. In Belgium, that total balloons nearly four-fold to $1,979 per issue and, in the U.S., the average total was a whopping $2,600 per professional-reputation incident. Whopping is an understatement.

There are plenty of risks today but social mistakes are getting costlier and the clean-up sounds like it can wipe an individual out. It is wise to remember that social media can do wonders when it comes to helping you build reputation but it can also do horrors to wrecking what you've built. 

Thanks to Microsoft for collecting this data from 10,000 respondents in 20 countries.