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Hearsay Social Founder: It’s a Huge Mistake for CEOs to Leave Social Media to Millennials

May 16, 2016, 2:32 PM UTC
Key Speakers At 2014 WIRED BizCon
Clara Shih, founder & chief executive officer of Hearsay Social and Board Director of Starbucks, speaks at the 2014 Wired Business Conference in New York, on Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg *** Local Caption ***
Photograph by Peter Foley—Bloomberg via Getty Images

With Facebook’s launch of Oculus VR—which appeared in Best Buy stores earlier this month—it’s clear that “social” now means much more than ‘likes’ and retweets. As Facebook and other social network companies expand into everything from mobile messaging and payments to ‘buy’ buttons, wearables, and even the on-demand economy (think LinkedIn’s ProFinder), every phase of the customer journey—from discovery and research to validation, transacting, customer service, and even product or service consumption—is touched by social media.

Social is driving a seismic change in consumer power, behavior, and expectations­. Yet many businesses still lag far behind and wonder when they’ll see ROI on their social media investment.

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The problem is that most companies are still not thinking strategically about social media. Social efforts are often one-offs, or totally delegated and siloed to a digital marketing team. Unsurprisingly, benefits are limited and incremental. Setting up a Twitter handle is not enough. Companies can’t delegate social media to the new college grad and think they have it covered.

To bring about wholesale business transformation, company leaders must personally own and drive Social Business strategy—including and starting with the CEO. Social media teams can and do launch clever campaigns, but game-changing Social Business initiatives are typically driven by management teams. Decisions to fully digitize not only marketing but also actual products and services, to test new business models, and to drive culture change can only be made by company leadership.

Here are three ways CEOs can personally drive Social Business:

Sign up as a user to experience the world as your customers do—and to hear what they’re really saying

More than 2 billion people today around the world are active on social media— primarily Facebook, but also LinkedIn, Twitter, WeChat, Instagram, Line, Xing, Pinterest, Vine, and a dozen others. Consumers are constantly connected, and social media is where they spend the majority of their connected time. According to GlobalWebIndex, they spend an average 1.7 hours per day on social media, representing 28% of total online activity.

For more about social media, check out this Fortune video:


As a company leader, the only way you will be able to relate to today’s wired customer is to get connected yourself. If you have “social media stage fright” or aren’t ready to create such a public presence, sign up with a pseudonym for starters. CEOs must personally understand and experience for themselves how their customers and prospects interact with their organization.

Listening on social media also allows CEOs to go directly to the source and get an unfiltered pulse on what and how customers are thinking, rather than waiting months for expensive “voice of the customer” focus groups to be massaged and formally presented. Social media provides the modern-day version of mystery shopping and walking the halls.

Connect authentically and transparently with customers and employees

Today’s connected consumer expects business leaders and public figures to be findable, researchable, and accessible on social media. People crave the authenticity of hearing the personal voice of a CEO rather than corporate legalese that appears on many press releases.

And when CEOs engage, such as with a Twitter handle or as a LinkedIn Influencer, it sends the message to employees that social media is important and strategic. Jack Salzwedel (@AmFamJack), chairman, CEO and president of American Family Mutual Insurance Company, and Mike Jackson (@CEOMikeJackson), chairman, CEO and president of AutoNation, both do a good job of this with their active Twitter accounts.

Follow social media best practices

Here are some actionable guidelines for how CEOs and management team members can get started on social:

Listen and explore. Social media isn’t a one-way broadcast; it’s a multiway opportunity for dialogue. Don’t talk at your audience; engage them with questions and new insights.

Write content yourself whenever possible. If you are overwhelmed with people tweeting at you, consider training a few people from your social customer service team to learn your voice and respond on your behalf.

Respond as quickly as possible, or include a disclaimer on your profile indicating your policy on responding.

Give it time. Social proficiency develops over time, so give it a year or two to hit your stride.

Quick check before you post. Ask yourself how your best customer, angriest customer, entry-level employee, and teenage daughter would respond before posting your message.

For all the risks that come with joining social media, perhaps the greatest risk of all is missing out on one of the most important technological changes and consumer behavior changes of our time. Social and digital have become everyone’s job, starting with the company’s leaders. Only with leadership and deep understanding of today’s constantly connected customer can organizations hope to achieve wholesale transformation and operationalize Social Business.

Clara Shih is the CEO and founder of Hearsay Social. Adapted from The Social Business Imperative by Clara Shih. Copyright © 2016 by Pearson Education, Inc. With permission of the publisher, Prentice Hall. All rights reserved.