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HMC NEWS: Leaders: is zero social profile a high-risk strategy?

According to the “iSentia Leadership Index,” released on 20 November, 44% of CEOs from New Zealand’s top companies have no public social presence.

This doesn’t match the general population.  According to, as at January 2018 74% of New Zealanders were active social media users.

That’s not just a wide gap – that’s a communications chasm. 

I recently led a discussion around this topic with some Hamilton CEOs and GMs and asked them why leaders are largely invisible online.

Their answers boiled down to two reasons: 1) a purposeful strategy of minimising reputational risk, and 2) social feels like an ‘unnatural space,’ so they avoid it.

The question that I think is worth discussing is: for leaders, do the risks of social inactivity exceed the risks of being socially engaged? For most, I would say the answer is yes – whether they realise it or not.

iSentia commented on their findings, saying, “The fact that our most high-profile CEOs are not active on social media adds to the image of this group being notoriously ‘hard to get to,’ elite and untouchable, and has the capacity to portray leaders as ‘out of touch.’ The substantial proportion of our top CEOs not actively engaging in social media are missing a huge opportunity to contribute to the communications strategy of their organisation, as well as the national dialogue about leadership.”

Ten years ago, social media was emerging as a communications channel. Back then, social was largely seen as a fun time-waster that business professionals only dabbled in during personal time.  

Today, social media is integrated into everything we do in modern communication.  It is one of many different ways companies reach their target audience. And savvy leaders see the value of layering their personal social media strategy on top of their organisations’ for maximum impact and audience connectivity.

Think about how silly it is not to meet your audiences where they hang out (even if it’s virtually).  If research showed 74% of your target audience watched TV1 news, wouldn’t you also tune in to see what they were viewing? If 74% of your customers attended a networking function during the year, wouldn’t you try to get out to a function or two to meet them? Of course you would. That’s because meeting your audience where they are helps a leader become more relatable and helps you communicate in other forums with even greater relevance.

In Patrick Durkin’s 5 March 2018 article ‘How CEOs are using social media to win back customers, employees and trust’ from AFR Boss Magazine, he quoted ANZ CEO, Shayne Elliot saying: “I am shocked that more executives don’t have a social presence. How can you not? It is the way that people live today, it would be equally ludicrous to say, ‘I don’t have a mobile phone.’ I just see it as a tool of life and if you are not participating in that, how can you possibly understand your customer base and the community.”

Now that’s food for thought.

If you’re a socially inactive leader, perhaps 2019 is the year to get online? I would encourage you to at least take the time to carefully consider doing so before you simply dismiss the idea for another year.

Ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Are your customers and stakeholders using social media?
  2. Is it important to you personally to understand the views, language and needs of your audiences? 
  3. When a crisis unfolds online, do you understand social channels well enough to understand why your team is prioritising the company’s social response?
  4. You are your company’s #1 brand ambassador. Can social channel engagement help you be better in this vital role?
  5. Can authentic social media engagement help you earn greater trust and win more customers?

If you aren’t sure of the answers, get an independent audit to gain some outside advice. And if you feel you want to make a change, get your communications and social media experts around you to help formulate a low-risk, high-reward plan. 

Download iSentia’s Leadership Index here: