Social media is already a platform for breaking news and the place where crises are ignited and extinguished. And firsthand intel is always better than secondhand, that's why C-Suite execs must learn how to deftly wield the two-way authenticity and transparency required of social media.
As a veteran speaker, I am used to speaking on marketing and its various facets, but lately a new topic has been in hot demand…and it’s coming straight from the top: Social Media for the C-Suite, because one thing is becoming very clear, both customers and shareholders are holding executives to a higher standard – a digital one.
In 2015, a Harvard Business Review article reported that 80% of the CEOs of the world’s biggest 50 companies were engaged online and on social media. This is a considerable leap from 2010, when only 36% of CEOs were “social.” In today’s brave new world, however, a strong leader must learn not just how to follow the currents of the social landscape but how to differentiate and thrive. In addition to mastering the basics of management and getting “on board” with social, executives now have to ask themselves if they have the skills required to be social media literate.
But, what exactly is social media literacy, and what are its key components?
Social media literacy is a new breed of literacy altogether. It expands beyond understanding social platforms to make the digital landscape an inherent part of your professional repertoire. As a skill set, social media literacy can be divided into two areas — personal and organizational.
In a personal sense, social media literacy translates to being a content creator, curator, and connector. These three C’s are the pillars of a digital personality.
Content creation is critical because it contributes volume and substance to the many incredible digital platforms we have the privilege of accessing. It stimulates dialogue, debate, and creative exchange. To establish any level of thought leadership, content is crucial. The medium, however, is up to the creator. For example, there may be a CEO who finds blogging tedious and difficult and turns her attention, instead, to fully leveraging Twitter and maintaining a stream of short-form commentary, or creating a visual diary of career milestones via Instagram or using LinkedIn to network with other professionals in her industry.
Regardless of the medium, the content should be an extension of the executive’s brand values. Whether it’s activism or leadership, technology or finance, social media is the perfect place to become known for a particular passion or expertise. An executive can even have an assistant transcribe their recorded thoughts, but the bottom line is: they must produce meaningful intellectual property.
Curation is critical because, without curation, content becomes overwhelming. Today’s leader is by default a curator. Internal teams and the external audience alike are bombarded with information, which means the content that’s delivered needs to be intentionally chosen and properly contextualized. What collection of thoughts, images, and ideas is most relevant for a particular audience and set of goals? How can information be intelligently filtered to maximize interest and impact?
One curation strategy for an executive is bringing together content from its’ brand’s champions and employees. By encouraging a shared brand ethos while showcasing diversity, executives can project a vibrant and attractive image of their brand, one top talent wants to work for and everyone wants to buy from. Hashtags are a simple and ingenious way to coordinate curation, and L’Oréal and its hashtags #LifeAtLoreal and #LorealCommunity are great examples of this. By asking employees to share peaks into company events and socializing, L’Oréal was able to leverage the connections that were already present in its community of employees to share a more personable side of the brand with a wider audience.
This brings us to connection. Connection is critical because what’s being said and how are always secondary to who is speaking and to whom. By definition, an executive who is social media literate is a connector. They connect people to other people and resources. The good news is it is easier than ever before to be a good networker and set the stage for strategic serendipity.
One of the strategies that enables Elon Musk to gain so much traction on Twitter is that he often releases news of major developments through his Twitter feed and responds to fellow Tweeters’ questions, regardless of how many followers they have. This unusually egalitarian approach can ironically be a boon to executives, who can now solidify their expertise in their field by broadcasting exclusive insights to a large number of people.
In addition to mastering the three Cs on a personal level, executives must ensure that their entire organization is social media literate. Although there may be one individual — a CMO or VP — leading these efforts, it’s important to know what capacities an organization, as a dynamic whole, needs to possess to thrive in the digital age. To make it simple, we can break down social media literacy on an organizational level into three traits: agility/adaptability, aggregation, and authenticity. These three A’s set the stage for a company to establish itself as up-to-date and innovative.
Agility/adaptability is essential because the speed of technology is often faster than the speed of convention, the legal system, and our own sense-making combined. Those who can make out the coming wave can be prepared to ride it. In a fast-paced world, you have to move quickly. And, this depends on how quickly you CAN move. Does your organization allow you to be agile in your decisions, or are legal regulations and too much red tape holding you back from pivoting quickly? The deft, skilful way Dippin’ Dots handled Sean Spicer’s Twitter criticisms in the wake of a polarizing election is a great example of agility. If the company had been tangled up in red tape and approvals, the invaluable PR opportunity would have been missed.
Aggregation is essential because for a successful application, it’s important to know how different perspectives intersect. Today’s leaders must realize that their success is intertwined with that of others. They have to be able to aggregate knowledge from multiple sectors (board members, clients, press, internal team) and then analyze that information to make the best decisions possible. Social media literate leaders also realize that from a communications standpoint, there is nothing linear. Marketing, branding, how information flows, are all multi-touch and multi-point, and we have to measure and respond accordingly.
Finally, authenticity is essential because every corporation represents a body of people, and that’s the basis of its other relationships. Transparency isn’t a buzzword on the web. It is the hallmark of an open network as well as a major trust-builder. Besides, nothing stays hidden forever. Smart executives understand this and embrace it.
They are authentic in voice (How do they communicate with people online? What’s the tone), policy (Legal looks it over, but they speak in a way people understand.), culture (Everyone is a champion or a critic — and that begins from the inside.), and actions (Do they walk the talk?).
If the above were to be used as a checklist, how would you, or fellow members of your company’s C-suite score? In the coming years, social media literacy will move from being an added bonus to an absolute necessity for any executive to master in order to climb the corporate ladder.
To begin demystifying the social media conversations around events and brand, Executive Alerts can help.