By Tamsin Oxford - November 12th, 2014

Social intelligence is as much a part of the CEO’s arsenal as the usual skill sets expected of any business leader

Shingy, the new AOL Digital Prophet, recently proclaimed content, done right, will enter into popular culture and brands don’t have to originate the story, they just need to own it. 
Brandfog’s 2014 Global Social CEO Survey adds that social media has changed the business landscape forever and its influence is felt across all silos - conversations don’t stop just because management isn’t looking. “C-suite executives who embrace social media gain a competitive edge. They use social channels to provide context for business decisions, address brand issues, showcase company culture and most importantly, demonstrate thought leadership.”

An impressive 82% of senior leaders believe that executive use of social raises brand awareness and helps to establish industry leadership. If you want to build your business, build your social presence and make it authentic.

The Social CEO

The US company Bendtec has gathered something of a cult following thanks to the efforts of the CEO, Tom Dickson. His hobby of trying to break his blenders by throwing an array of objects into them was picked up by his marketing director who promptly made videos. 
Six years later there are now over 120 videos on Will It Blend and the marketing campaign carries the honour of being one of the most viral of all time. This success was in no small part to Tom’s levels of engagement and communication. It also sits on the shift from brand’s being on social media to becoming a part of the social media landscape.
“CEOs need to understand the opportunity that social media offers them to engage with their customers and staff in an open way,” says Xenios Thrasyvoulou, Founder and CEO of and, “Worries about being accessible to the public are no longer an excuse not to be engaged with social, as these platforms have become so ubiquitous that absence breeds suspicion.”

The economy of relationships

The LinkedIn Executive Playbook released in August 2014 emphasised the value of the social CEO, specifically with regards to Relationship Economics. The latter being the value that engaged people bring to the corporate table, be they employees or customers. The LinkedIn report showed that employees at socially-engaged companies would be 57% more likely to leverage social media to drive sales, that 80% of employees would rather work for a social CEO and two out of three customers are influenced by their perception of the CEO. 
“Social media provides an initial introduction to employees, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders,” says Graham McGregor, CEO of Bold Context. “Social media is a reference point and creates and supports the first impression and can make the CEO more approachable and personable.”
Where a social void can breed suspicion, a rich social dynamic has the potential to engender trust. The Brandfog survey found that social media usage plays a pivotal role in building brand trust as customers use social channels to build personal views on brands based on their levels of leadership, innovation and transparency.
“Social media is personal, real, honest and transparent,” says Arjun Panesar, Director at “Engagement means talking to your community like you would talk to your friends or family and when you engage like that you undoubtedly engender trust, loyalty and a sphere of influence.”
Panesar points out that social media has become so integral to both business and daily life that to ignore it would cut out a huge chunk of potential users, customers or members. Some of the biggest names in business have social accounts and do more than just tweet out the company line – Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, Elon Musk and Mark Cuban are just a few. And many of these CEOs have even bigger Twitter followings than the brands that they represent.
“For large organisations, the importance for senior leaders to utilise social media is ever increasing,” says Bobbie Bhogal, Managing Director of “Using social media as an effective communications strategy is a great way for leaders to share information and news, engage in vital communications with customers and build relationships with ambassadors.”
Social CEO Fortune 500
Domo released a study in 2013 that showed how only 5.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs were on Twitter, 27.9% on LinkedIn, 7.6% on Facebook and 1% on Google+. The 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs without a social presence handed the advantage to those who did, granting them an easy win on the social stage.
“We are living in a time when traditional business models are being disrupted at incredible speed, the rules and expectations of business are changing and much of this is down to social media,” says Jennifer Janson, author of the Reputation Playbook and MD of Six Degrees

Are you online?

In spite of the numerous advantages around the CEO’s social presence, it is not always a good thing. Janson is not convinced that every CEO needs to be on social and sometimes it is best that they avoid it.
“It’s not for everyone and, once started, it requires a certain level of commitment,” she says. “However, activity on social media will only engender trust if it is authentic. Although that word is generally over used, in this context it is critical. The tone and sentiment of whatever is being said by the CEO needs to be real and consistent in good times and bad.”
Thrasyvolou concurs: “CEOs need to be honest, open and engaged otherwise they are seen as disingenuous. They can’t simply have someone do it for them. Take the case of Barack Obama. His Twitter feed is largely curated by his communication team, but those that are direct from him are simply signed ‘-bo’ allowing people to see that he is genuinely engaged on the platform, despite being a very busy man.”
Victoria Tomlinson, Chief Executive of Northern Lights, points to a strong example of how social skills are vital for the CEO beyond just a tweet or a blog post: “If a CEO doesn’t have social media skills, they aren’t spotting or addressing risks. The classic was Kent Police Commissioner, Ann Barnes, who was challenged by the media about the appointment of their first youth commissioner with a seriously unpleasant Twitter account and who famously said, ‘We never thought to look at her on social media.’”
The CEO needs digital skill sets to ensure the enterprise thrives. It’s as simple and as complex as that. To understand the customer, the market, the supplier and the employee, the head of the organisation has to understand the platforms they use and how to engage in these conversations to create brand value. 
In the second part of this series we examine what level of digital intellect the CEO requires in order to be effective leaders in the digital economy. 
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