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When I first transitioned to the “dark side”—an ominous phrase my colleagues in journalism use to describe the move into public relations—the media landscape was different.
At the time, the only way to reach a large audience was to get your news by one of the few media outlets that had a monopoly on access to the general public.
As such, CEO communications were delivered as standard through spokespeople – a public relations professional would draft a message on behalf of the CEO, then distribute it to the appropriate editors and producers. Removed from the complex world of optics, the CEO’s reputation has been carefully governed by the process.
Those days are gone. The widespread adoption of social media has given every employee, customer and investor a virtual window into the business operations that matter to them and the lives of the executives who run them.
Recent research shows that 82% of employees expect business leaders to use social media to communicate about the company’s mission, vision, and values — and, four-to-one, they’d rather work for a CEO who uses social media than someone who doesn’t. .
Just as the landscape has changed, so has the CEO’s role. The CEO of a company can no longer be expected to function without actively participating in corporate communications. However, many leaders, particularly those in legacy industries such as finance and law, have not adapted to modern expectations. The recent collapse of a Silicon Valley bank was a shining example of how not investing in an executive communications strategy can literally kill a company.
In the midst of company leaders’ prevalence of harsh and unsympathetic communication, here’s how to ensure your CEO’s reputation helps, not hinders, your company.
Related topics: Building a brand that enhances your CEO’s reputation
Build an online presence
Whether it is private property or not, we have entered the era of building companies in public. Everyone your CEO interacts with has an opinion and a social media channel to share it. As such, building an online presence for your CEO isn’t a trivial project – it’s reputation management.
When leaders don’t deliberately create a thumbprint online, the narrative about who they are and what they stand for is left to Google’s sophisticated algorithm. In the absence of a content executive strategy, a negative tweet, a bad customer review, or an inaccurate press quote might be the first impression your CEO makes online when stakeholders do an online search.
Platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter influence search rankings and, if leveraged properly, can build virtual communities that lead to real job opportunities. But don’t mortgage your CEO’s social media presence to an inexperienced employee. Building a personal brand for your CEO involves leveraging their personality and lived experiences to create content that aligns with the company’s strategic goals and speaks to the needs of your target audience—a complex process that requires the support of an experienced executive communications consultant who can also warn of communications that could lead to trouble or crisis.
Given that four out of five investors use digital media to make an investment decision, having a strong online profile for your CEO can not only improve your visuals, but also help with land financing, sales, and strategic partnerships.
Related: 6 Data-Backed Reasons A CEO Should Take The Time To Build A Strong Personal Brand
Empathy with stakeholder needs
In recent months, we’ve seen many CEOs go viral for the wrong reasons. Andy Owens, CEO of MillerKnoll, an American furniture company, became web-famous when a video of her unsympathetically addressing the concerns of her employees was uploaded to social media.
In the video, Owens, who made $5 million in 2022, lectures the employees — who averaged $44,000 — to focus on sales over personal compensation. Owens committed a sin that many CEOs and corporate leaders commit on a regular basis: She failed to empathize with the needs of her stakeholders.
Before the CEO makes any form of sensitive communication, it is important to anticipate questions the audience might have and gauge sentiments about the topic. Often this can be done by distributing an anonymous survey beforehand to get candid feedback from the target group about the topic and how it affects them. When you are unfamiliar with your stakeholders’ needs, you are less likely to respond with the information that is most important to them – or worse, offend them or raise their concerns. This can cause irreparable harm to your business.
One of the best ways to stay in touch with your stakeholders’ needs on an ongoing basis is to create two-way communication paths. In the digital age, social media can be one of the most effective tools for monitoring public sentiment and staying connected with stakeholders.
Related topics: How to build a reputation that leads to success
Don’t be afraid to build up in public
While working with CEOs for nearly two decades, I’ve noticed one common hesitation when it comes to speaking out on a common topic: “My company hasn’t quite mastered it yet.”
While mastering a solution to a widespread challenge is a good thing, you don’t have to have a point of view on it. Building in public—the idea of publicly sharing challenges, knowledge, and personal reflections as they happen—can be an effective way to humanize a company leader and build a community around their online profile.
Building in public doesn’t mean you have to work with radical transparency, but you do need to be willing to test ideas and publicly solicit stakeholder opinions. Sharing a thoughtful LinkedIn op-ed, newsletter, or update gives the CEO a high level of control over their narrative and, if done strategically and consistently, can be an effective way to define their purpose and intentions.
Building a personal brand isn’t a traditional part of being a CEO, but in the age of algorithms and viral videos, it’s become a prerequisite.
The good news is that company leaders don’t have to be charismatic or even comfortable with public speaking to build a public profile, they just need to be deliberate and strategic about their online reputation. By investing in an executive communications strategy, CEOs are in a better position to protect their reputation, and that of their companies, through the ups and downs of business.