Why do CEO’s need their own brand following?

What does being a leader mean?

There has been much discussion on the importance of CEOs having an active online presence. If you Google this question, your results will yield pages of links telling you the exactly this. The story goes that if you don’t care about your own personal brand why should you expect others to trust your sense of leadership?

The business magazine Fortune recently published their findings showing that only 39% of their CEOs were active on social networks and no one is active “on all six networks”—defined by the study as Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube.[1] So why all the fuss? These are after all CEO of top 500 companies!

Well in addition research is also showing that consumers and clients seem to prefer doing business with CEOs who do have an active online presence, stating grounds such as trust and openness as the primary motivators. Whilst it has to be said that much of this research is conducted by the marketing companies themselves, I am not discounting their findings. Creating a following is a critical component of leadership so why does digital and social need to be considered?  Surely getting your “own tribe”, stakeholders, shareholders and investors to follow you in the tried and tested traditional methods is enough or is it?

Social branding and leadership

So where does this fit into the debate on social branding and leadership qualities? A key way in which a leader can influence followers’ positive and negative experiences is to acknowledge their own. In other words a certain amount of introspection should be called for, which links me back to my opening claim that people seem to prefer CEOs who have a strong online presence. This can ‘demystify’ leaders’ professional relationships and show their followers who they really are as long as their messages and actions are consistent.

The CEO of Tangerine, Peter Aceto recently said “I would rather engage in a Twitter conversation with a single customer than see our company try to attract the attention of millions in a coveted Superbowl commercial”[2] Richard Branson holds the same views, stating that the best way to get people to notice your business and product is to establish a social media presence, with 9.6 million twitter followers, he may have a point!

CEOs who use social media can be seen to have a proactive mindset and a bias for action. In short they are their companies No.1 ambassador! Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, uses Twitter to promote social causes such as empowering female leaders and non-profit making organisations such as GirlsWhocode. She has received numerous awards for her work and attracted many followers as a result. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla is adept at creating hype with short bursts of content on his twitter account such as “working on top secret tesla masterplan” in July 2016. This was liked over 14,000 times and retweeted 4,000 times! [3]

In summary we can see these are CEOs who are prepared to put themselves out there and connect in a digital world. Does this mean they are losing focus on what they should really be concentrating on? Or conversely, is it those who don’t engage in an online presence who are losing focus on what it means to be a leader in society today?

Doing business today

We have to face facts; the convergence of the Internet, Web 2.0 and mobile technologies has caused a seismic shift in the way we all do business. Even if your business does not have a digital presence (rare these days) your clients and followers most likely will.

In today’s global environment of a vast network of seamlessly connected devices there are in the region of

  • Four billion people connected to Internet[4]

  • More than half of the world’s population own a smart phone

  • 2.80 billion global social media users in 2017, equaling 37% penetration

  • 4.92 billion global mobile users in 2017, equaling 66% penetration[5]


How social media impacts business decisions reminds us of the environment we all now work in – a place where often the reputation of our brand, products and services is increasingly dictated by the wisdom of crowds. So does this bring us full circle to demonstrate that you are more likely to create an authentic following as a leader, if you engage in an active online presence or does it act as cautionary note that you better be prepared to be authentic and consistent if you embark on this journey? It’s critical that we have trust in our leaders, see who they really are and what their own personal brand stands for, and with a strong online presence they can certainly shine a light to connect on a deeper level with our own beliefs, personal drives and social motivations.

[1] http://fortune.com/2016/01/25/social-media-ceo/

[2] https://hbr.org/2014/12/the-7-attributes-of-ceos-who-get-social-media

[3] http://www.conversocial.com/blog/the-10-most-social-media-minded-ceos

[4] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm

[5] https://wearesocial.com/special-reports/digital-in-2017-global-overview

Image quote source: http://launchyourselfnow.com/

Fiona McKay