How Social or (Un)Social are CEOs?

October 12, 2010

How Social or (Un)Social are CEOs?

  We released a new study today on the social-ability of CEOs (see link below for executive summary).  As the worlds of traditional and social media collide and vast technological change is upon us, we decided to ask whether those at the top are minding their social reputations as well as their corporate reputations.  In a way, they are one and the same since reputation is my middle name and I dutifully follow CEO reputations, we decided to explore more deeply.
How social are those chief executives at the top of the revenue pyramid? We found that the majority of CEOs from the world’s largest companies—64 percent—are not social, that is, they are not publicly, visibly engaging online with external stakeholders.  Now they probably engage internally with employees using social media (their intranet, blogs possibly, web casts) but that is hardly easy to research.  Our research undertaking was daunting enough. 

It took us nearly a year to complete the research when all was said and done. In the process, we learned why there are mostly anecdotes out there about CEOs’ use of social media.  Some CEOs have common names resulting in either extensive digging or there are simply too many matches to determine which is correct (e.g., John Watson of Chevron or Mike Duke of Walmart). CEOs turnover is high which means that tenure dates must be closely regarded for each search.  CEO and company names can vary in spelling, requiring all variations to be checked (e.g., IBM is found as IBM, I.B.M. and International Business Machines). Search engines are inefficient as a research tool as it pulls in too many results to sift through which requires investigating each CEO one by one. Web sites are rarely comprehensive and archives are short-lived. Each web site is unique requiring tailored searches (e.g., one web site may have speeches archived with the press releases in the media section and another may have speeches archived with the CEO’s biography).  Would be wonderful if there was a commonly recognized way to organize corporate web sites.

We audited the online communications (as well as traditional activities and coverage) of 60 CEOs of the top 50 global Fortune 500 companies. Some companies had two CEOs in one year which is why we ended up with 60, not 50. We also looked back as best we could to 2007 for comparisons. You can find the results at Socializing Your CEO: From (Un)Social to Social.

Here are some stats:

  • 97% of CEOs communicated either through traditional or online channels
  • Only 36% of CEO are engaged through their corporate web sites or in social media
  • Most popular CEO online communications activity is posted letters or messages on company web sites – at 28%
  • 18% use video/podcasts on their company website or company YouTube channel (there has been a near doubling of company YouTube channels from 2007 to 2009 (34% to 56%) and yet it is vastly under-utilized for featuring CEOs.
  • Few partake in Twitter (8%), Facebook (4%), MySpace (4%) or LinkedIn (4%)

Tomorrow I will write more about some other interesting findings.  The good news is that CEOs are extensively quoted in the business press and busy on the conference and business school circuit (93%). But CEOs are not yet fully socialized, often with good reason and sometimes not.

[Interestingly, when I went to Google Images and Bing to find a pix for this post, I did not have much to choose from when looking for “CEOs online.”]

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

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