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How CEOs are embracing social media

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By BRIGITTE YUILLE
For The State Journal

CEOs at startups and the world's largest companies are becoming more aware of the business opportunities that exist on social media platforms.

Social media influences business strategies. It offers businesses the opportunity to develop relationships and gain valuable insights. It provides real-time data from customers, competitors and industries.

Many businesses realize involving the CEO in their social media activities raises a company's thought leadership and credibility. CEOs reap these benefits including a raised profile.

CEOs' interest in social media over the past couple of years has grown. They are curious about what customers have to say, and they are listening to the conversations that are occurring online. The CEOs who participate in online activities understand the need to relate with the company's customers and its prospects.

Slowly, they have increased their visibility on company websites and videos.

CEOs Social Media Resistance

The process of CEOs joining online conversations has been slow because some CEOs haven't felt the need to communicate on social media. They've reasoned if business is good then what's the point. Others have questioned the return on the investment. However, this way of thinking doesn't work anymore. Customers are asking questions and they are looking for companies that are more socially responsible.

Customers are drawn to companies that are more socially conscious, such as those brands that have incorporated social and environmental causes into their mission. They're looking for brands to demonstrate their passion for causes on social media, and this is encouraging companies to communicate.

In addition, concerned CEOs also feared risks, such as security breaches and data privacy, and they worried about negative feedback; however, if CEOs and businesses arm themselves with a solid social media strategy and social media policy, these situations are often avoided.

Benefits of Social Media Presence

As a leader of an organization CEOs have a pulpit where they can share their voice. They can use it as an opportunity to empower a community, nurture the culture of the workplace, set the tone of the work environment, inspire and encourage people to reach their goals.

A CEO's participation is critical because it fosters a dialogue and relationships. If offers transparency, especially when success and mistakes are acknowledged because it creates authenticity which can build trust.

The engagement of C-suite executives on social media makes them better equipped to lead a company, communicate values and shape a company's reputation, according to Brandfog's 2012 first annual CEO Social Media Leadership survey.

In addition, respondents of the social media leadership branding firm's most recent survey viewed CEOs social engagement as a gateway to create deeper connections with customers, employees and shareholders. The 2013 survey questioned 800 U.S. and U.K. employees at startups and Fortune 1000 companies.

The analysis revealed 80.6 percent of survey respondents believe social media is an important communication channel. It offers CEOs a chance to engage with customers and investors. In addition, 83.9 percent thought CEO social media engagement is an effective tool to increase brand loyalty.

"The role of the CEO has been transformed by social media and CEOs have no choice but to become more visible, social and accessible than ever before," says Brandfog's CEO Ann Charles in a company statement.

Social Media Strategies and Tips

CEOs can incorporate several strategies into their social media plan to help nurture customers and prospects online and build brand advocates.

First, CEOs need to get familiar with the types of social media platforms that are out there and find a platform that supports his or her strengths.

For instance, YouTube is an effective tool for strong communicators who tell compelling stories and are comfortable in front of the camera. CEOs at event-driven businesses with several photo opportunities can use Facebook, Tumblr or Pinterest. A blog is good for CEOs with solid writing skills.

Gary Drake, president of Stewart's Shops in Ballston Spa, N.Y., shared in The Business Review that he stays away from controversial topics on social media and is cognizant of the topics he chooses to discuss.

On the other hand, Southern Saratoga County Chamber CEO Pete Bardunias decided to share his political opinion on his personal Facebook page, he told The Business Review. His statements addressed a speech President Obama made. Bardunias received responses that disagreed with his comments from as far as the West Coast that led him to apologize for the post. He realized as a CEO he was a public figure, and he advised other business leaders to act like they are always at a podium when responding or commenting on social media.

CEOs are embracing social media and more are learning of its benefits each day. Many of them no longer see it only as a tool that promotes brand or product awareness; instead, they are thinking of it as another resource to help improve products and services, and the way the business functions.