6 Steps to Becoming the Social CEO

Transparency is king, especially within the financial industry and particularly in a crisis.

In fact, according to a study on business transparency, the majority of Americans (86%) believe it is “more important than ever before.” But in a fast-paced, digital world, being transparent also means embracing social media.

Professor David Dubois perhaps said it best when he argued the need for social media among leaders. “The most influential CEOs today are social leaders, open to listening, engaging in dialogue with stakeholders and responsive to their followers.”

He’s right.

However, in reality, less than half of CEOs in the S&P 500 and FTSE 350 have social media accounts, according to the Connected Leadership Survey. Meanwhile, employees say they would prefer to work for CEOs who have a social media presence, by a ratio of four to one, according to a survey by Brunswick Group, an advisory firm. LinkedIn continues to be the most popular platform for CEOs, but only 44 percent of them have a presence on the site. Brunswick Group also found that 82 percent of employees will research a CEO’s online presence when considering joining the company.

Clearly, CEOs need to get more active. Not only do employees want it, but it builds stronger brands and allows organizations to share important content quickly and through the channels consumers want.

Getting started can be overwhelming, especially for those not already on social media in their personal lives, but it doesn’t have to be.

1. Start with a plan. 

First, a CEO needs a social media plan that determines the goals of actively participating on social media, which sites to participate on, and the brand and image they want to project. For instance, if you are a CEO of a consumer brand that targets a younger audience, consider participating on sites like Twitter and Instagram over LinkedIn, which is more of a business-to-business site. You may also consider a friendlier, energetic and trendier look and feel versus a traditional corporate headshot.

2. Create social media sites. 

Once social media channels have been selected and a tone determined, you must then create the actual accounts. The time needed will vary based on the channels selected. Most are simple and can be done solo, but some organizations may prefer to hire a creative firm. Twitter, for instance, is easy to set up, requiring your name, Twitter handle, background picture, location, website URL and birthday (though optional), as well as a brief overview of yourself.

The design elements should be consistent with the desired brand and may require a photographer or custom work, but CEOs can also opt for royalty-free images.

3. Connect with target audiences. 

Next, you must establish a following – but do not use bots or spammy tactics that typically only yield fake accounts rather than actual people. Instead, focus on growing a following organically, which may take some time. Follow individuals who you want to become your followers. Often, follows are reciprocated. Then post content regularly – and not just any content. It must be valuable, meaningful content.

4. Create and share meaningful content.

This brings us to the next step. To grow and retain a following, you must create and post relevant content that your audience finds helpful. Keep in mind that consumers do not want to be sold to, so posting anything that could be viewed as pure advertising will likely be a turnoff.

The most influential and liked social CEOs do not sell. Instead, they solicit ideas and share educational content that engages. A great example is Walmart CEO Doug McMillon, who earned the top spot from Brunswick Group in a 2019 survey of the top 100 connected CEOs. McMillon shares both his professional and private life across several platforms.

Additionally, share or repost content from others that your audience may find helpful, which will cut down on time spent creating content. Also, leverage relevant hashtags, images and videos.

5. Engage and participate (consistently). 

Social media is not a one-and-done tactic. CEOs must stay active. In fact, I’ve seen estimates that suggest the sweet spot for Twitter is 15 posts per day for greater engagement. But whether it’s three times or 50 times, a frequency must be set and maintained.

You don’t want to run out of the gate, posting several times a day for a few weeks, and then drop off or go dormant. You also don’t want to be extremely active during an industry event, for instance, and then disappear after that.

To avoid this pitfall, establishing a social media calendar can be helpful.

6. Understand Social Media Platforms

So, you’re on LinkedIn and Twitter, and maybe some others, and now you’re posting. That’s great, but make sure you understand the platform and how social media works. This doesn’t mean replacing every other word with an emoji, but you do need to demonstrate an understanding for “social media speak.”

For example, make sure you understand how to link to another person or company page in a post using the At (@) symbol; make sure you’re including relevant hashtags; and make sure the post has meaning. Employees and customers want to see greater social engagement, but they also want their leadership to be up to date and modern.

A poor social media presence can actually be more damaging to a CEO’s brand than beneficial.  Take time to study up on CEOs revered as social media leaders; don’t be afraid to ask for help; or consider working with a social media firm for guidance.


In a world that revolves heavily around social media (even our political system), CEOs can no longer ignore it. Not only is there an expectation to be active participants, but there is value in doing so. Some of the most influential and well-liked executives have become social media gurus, and CEOs across all brands would be wise to follow suit or else risk being left behind in their antiquated ways.