The CEO’s Role as Chief Influencer

January 5, 2018 Lacey Miller

We’ve written before about the importance of influencers on social media when it comes to earned media. Each media mention you earn or piece of content you develop is only useful if people see it. Influencer outreach and social media engagement not only get your message in front of more folks but because it has been shared by a trusted source, it gains the type of credibility that you can’t buy. So finding key influencers is essential, but you may not have to look as far as you think. Your very own CEO and other executive leaders may be in the position to give your PR efforts a boost and help improve the public perception of your brand.

To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

At first, we were surprised to learn that according to the “Social CEO” Report by CEO.com, of the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, only 31 are active on Twitter. But after giving it a little thought, it makes some sense. CEOs may not be comfortable with the informality of social media and may fear that missteps can damage their reputation and the brand. But the way people think about brands and want to engage with them has changed to the point where this type of access and interaction is expected.

As Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey explained, “When a leader, CEO, or someone in a leadership position takes to the platform, they have the opportunity to humanize their organization, make it feel approachable and relatable to people.” Social media also provides the chance to build relationships with media and analysts, amplify the brand’s news and content, and develop the company’s position as a thought leader.

One example of a CEO who has successfully amplified the brand through social media is Salesforce’s Marc Benioff. With an average of 5.5 tweets per day, Benioff uses his account in ways you would expect like building media relations, promoting Salesforce’s positive earned coverage, sharing company news, and retweeting Salesforce’s owned content. But he also has a knack for showing his personality by discussing issues that matter to him like healthcare, education, and climate change. This type of humanity is what people are looking for from modern leaders.


Top Most Influential CEOs

In an article that outlines the top 20 most influential CEOs, David Dubois, INSEAD Assistant Professor of Marketing, explained, “People increasingly want to see their leaders on social media … CEO ‘sociability’ is critical to building trust and loyalty. Research shows that 82 percent of consumers are more likely to trust a company whose CEO engages on social media. Meanwhile, 78 percent of professionals prefer working for a company whose leadership is active on social channels.”

The top 20 based on engagement data (the quality of their tweets) and volume (the quantity of their tweets) are: 

  1. Tim Cook (Apple)
  2. Bill Gates (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)
  3. Elon Musk (Tesla Motors)
  4. Donald Trump
  5. Richard Branson (Virgin)
  6. Rupert Murdoch (21st Century Fox)
  7. Aaron Levie (Box)
  8. Ash Ashutosh (Actifio)
  9. Satya Nadella (Microsoft)
  10. Brian Chesky (Airbnb)
  11. Eric Hirshberg Activision)
  12. John Legere (T-Mobile)
  13.  Jeff Immelt (GE)
  14. Kaifu Lee (Innovation Works)
  15. Yuanqing Yang (Lenovo)
  16. Tony Fernandes (AirAsia)
  17. Assaad Razzouk (Sindicatum)
  18. Anand Mahindra (Mahindra)
  19. Marissa Mayer (Yahoo)
  20. Kevin Rose (Google Ventures)

Each CEO has their own style and approaches Twitter differently. Unlike Mark Benioff who is a prolific tweeter, Tim Cook tweeted only 50 times during the study period, but he garnered almost 2,000 retweets per tweet. That’s high-quality engagement. His tweets are short, but usually typically personal. He tweets when he wants to thank his staff, highlight customers, or champion causes that he cares about.

Developing an Effective CEO Influencer Strategy

In order to get the many benefits of having a CEO and other leaders who are active social media influencers, PR pros should develop a partnership with the C-suite.  Not all executives are comfortable with social media platforms, so it is important to get them up to speed. Be sure to explain how you will use PR analytics software to measure the impact of their influence. Craft a strategy to align information shared by the CEO with your other campaign and media outreach strategies. The CEO’s personality should shine through, but so should your key messages.

Of course, the CEO and C-suite aren’t the only folks in the building that can become a powerful force on social media. Every employee can help amplify your key themes, share your content, and develop relationships. But the CEO is uniquely well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. Smart PR pros will help them do it.

About the Author

Lacey Miller

Passionate about public relations and empowering practitioners, Lacey Miller found her dream job at TrendKite, where she carries the crown of 'word nerd'. With a background in public relations and technology, she's a great fit with her desire to innovate the industry! You can find her most days writing for PR Forward, PRSA, and other marketing trade publications.

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