Question: How should business executives engage with social media as representatives of their company?

I find it fascinating to see Chief Executives like Richard Branson leading the "social media charge" for their companies. While a majority of my peers (executives in global firms) shun it as wasteful.

How much time per day should business leaders spend personally on social media promoting their companies? What is a good place to start, and what do we do with our existing personal profiles?


5 Expert Insights

A tricky question.  A good "professorial" answer would be "it depends."

It depends on...

1. If you are a publically traded company.  If so, you don't have much flexibility here.  You will likely need to have legal / PR / Communications teams proof anything you post.  Thus, it loses its authenticity.  It can still be done, but you'll likely then be down to a handful of posts a week.

2. If you are a privately held company.  If so, you can do much more... and probably should do much more assuming your customers value that interaction.  If you are in a business where long-term customer relationships matter (any kind of service organization for example), you should take advantage of social media as a way to build deeper relationships with your customers.  It won't be easy, but share with your customers what you are up to every day and your genuine passion for what you are doing.  (Ex: "Meeting with our new branch today.  Can't wait to meet some of our amazing new associates.").  In this case, you should post at least daily under your "professional" handle on Twitter, LinkedIn and company Facebook Fanpage.  Don't use your personal Facebook page for anything other than personal.  Also consider social media "aggregator" platforms like Hootsuite that allow you to schedule posts to multiple social media platforms simultaneously to save time.

From a company awareness perspective, social media is important. Unless the chief executive can provide content of value to their followers, it can be detrimental to their credibility as well as poorly reflect on the overall leadership of the company. The biggest danger is having a ghost writer representing the chief executive so I'd avoid that at all costs.

Social media is a good way to interact with customers and colleagues so I do recommend using your personal profile in a professional way. Share your knowledge, provide links to other content your followers might find useful, and respond to questions/comments/complaints from customers immediately.

A former client of mine was asked to prepare a 10-minute PowerPoint presentation to secure $100 million in new funding. "I could talk for HOURS on this -- how in the world do I do it in just 10 minutes?!" she asked me. "Well," I said, "every 60 seconds, just make $10,000,000 point...or a close approximation thereof."

So rather than ask how much you SHOULD personally spend on social media each day, ask, how much time per day CAN you ACTUALLY ALLOT to spending on social media -- especially in light of your current responsibilities, priorities and time commitments.

Then, gather a few employees (that are likely less than half your age!!) and, together, craft a strategy that will maximize your impact within the time allotted.

Think about it in terms of a corollary to Parkinson's Law, which states: Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion – in your case, you want to insure that the work does NOT expand beyond the time available for its completion.

Without this front-end discipline...or a close approximation thereof, you'll likely spend far too much time for far too little return -- and who knows what else will fall through the cracks while you're busy tweeting away!

I think many business owners (large and small) are inundated with information telling them to be everywhere at all times online.  When in fact the real answer where your prospects, clients and target audience are.  Identifying which social media channels are effective begins with understanding who your target audience is.

For example, many B2B companies are on Linkedin connecting, sharing and engaging with other professionals- why? Because that is where their end user is.  However for a B2C company, Linkedin may not prove as effective as Facebook or Pinterest which are more conversational and used by many consumers- their end user.

That being said, utilizing social media is a powerful and effective way to connect with your prospects and establish credibility as a professional in your field.  There is no magic number of posts or hours you must spend on social media.  The real secret is Consistency- which is important for any marketing.  How often can you consistently send out content and engage with fans on social media?

Utilize social media tools such as Sproutsocial, nutshell mail or hootsuite to pre schedule content on your social media pages to cut down on time and maximize effectiveness.  Being consistent will help prospects to seek you out on social media and engage in a meaningful conversation.

Social media is not rocket science.  Social infrastructure platforms are just that.  They are additional channels of communication to reach the constiituencies of an enterprise.  There should be no confusion about their use.  Frankly, newer platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Quora and Pinterest are just additional tools available to companies to communicate their messages.  Recent evidence can be found in the fact that the SEC just deemed that these platforms are now legitimate vehicles through which to communicate with the investing public.  

Many if not most communications and PR professionals know how to use and deploy theseplatforms for the enterprise.  Rather than looking athen with fear, CEO's ought to be embracing them as cost efficient means for communicating quickly with stakeholders.