When we think about leaders, their behavior and how that behavior influences the world around them is oftentimes on the forefront. And it is for this reason that, when it comes to business, executive presence in both the internal and external social realm is increasingly critical to socially-enabled enterprise success.

If your organization’s governing body isn’t hip to such multi-platform participation, you’re in a lot of company. In 2010, Weber Shandwick released a study on the state of leadership reputation (Socializing Your CEO: from (Un) Social to Social), stating that 64% of the surveyed CEOs did not engage through company websites or social media outlets.

“There are several reasons why CEOs are not more Social,” wrote Leslie Gaines-Ross, Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist. ”Time is better spent with customers and employees…the return on investment has not yet been proven, legal counsel tends to caution against it and anything that smacks of ‘celebrity CEO’ is a no-win.”

Change is Happening With or Without You

While this rationale is certainly understandable, it’s also progressively insupportable. “Stakeholders want to hear from business leaders — in particular CEOs — on a regular basis. They want to know what we’re thinking, and not just about our company, but about the larger industry we represent, the communities we serve, and the world we live in. We have a unique vantage point in that we represent the broadest set of constituencies,” explained Alan Miller, chairman and CEO of Universal Health Services.

As for ROI, the evidence is growing. Earlier this year, the Chief Strategy Officer of Dachis Group, Peter Kim, published 101 Examples of Social Business ROI. Among them:

  • AT&T. Community: 21,000 customer issues resolved, driving 16% improvement in call deflections year/year. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)
  • Burberry. Social microsites secured 1,000,000 fans and a 10% increase in same-store sales. (Barnraisers, 2010)
  • Dell. @DellOutlet on Twitter generated $2 million direct sales, influenced $1 million addt’l (2007 – 2009). (Direct2Dell Blog, 2009)
  • NetApp. The NetApp community has impacted $500 million in sales and drives 28% of all NetApp web traffic. (Jive Software, 2011)
  • Sephora. Community users spend 2.5x more than average customers, superfans spend 10x more. (Lithium Technologies, 2011)
  • Yum Brands. Community helped new product launch internationally in 4 months instead of 18. (Jive Software, 2011)

Doin’ it For the Team

People follow leaders — plain and simple. Externally, no other type of employee can so reliably provide data in a way that will be listened to and acted upon by investors, employees, customers, regulators, media, etc. Internally, no other type of employee can so effectively influence the rest of the team. In other words, a social leader is very key ingredient in a social culture.

If you need more convincing, Jeff Esposito, Vistaprint’s Social Media Manager, published 30 really great stats that might help (Social Media Stats for the C-Suite). And, if you’re just looking for a way to get started, Weber Shandwick offers a handful of quick and dirty tips:

  • Identify best online practices of your peers and best-in-class social CEO communicators. Then establish and stretch your own comfort zone.
  • Start with the fundamentals (e.g., online videos or photos). Inventory and aggregate existing executive communications for repurposing online.
  • Simulate or test-drive social media participation. Understand what you’re getting into before you go live. Start internally although recognize that internal employee communications spreads externally seamlessly.
  • Decide upfront how much time you can commit to being Social. It can range from once a week to once a month to once a quarter or less often. Be your own best judge of what feels right.
  • Craft a narrative that captures the attention of audiences that matter and humanizes your company’s reputation.
  • Accept the fact that Getting Social needs to be part of your corporate reputation management program. Purposefully manage your social reputation as well as your corporate reputation.

Your turn: got any to add? Drop them in the comments below.

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