Earlier in 2012, IBM released its 2012 Global CEO Study, a work born from interviews with over 1700 CEOs worldwide. One of the study’s findings revealed that only 16% of CEOs currently participate in social media. That’s not all. For many CEOs, social media is also one of the least-utilized methods of customer engagement. CEOs listed face-to-face interactions as number one, followed by websites, channel partners, call centers, traditional media, advisory groups, and finally, social media.

Even those CEOs who are using social aren’t in any danger of redefining consumer engagement as we know it. As one CEO interviewee put it, “We use social media less as a marketing or distribution channel and more as a knowledge platform to obtain information about customers.”


On the bright side, the Study found that social media will slog ahead to become the number two way to engage customers (57%) “within the next five years.”

No need to rush into anything, after all…


Given this data, it should come as no shocker that CEOs are not exactly moving the needle on individual participation on social platforms. Check out the usage numbers of Fortune 500 CEOS with active accounts on some of the top social platforms, taken from the 2012 Fortune 500 CEO Index:

  • LinkedIn- 25.9%
  • Facebook- 7.6%
  • Twitter-3.8%
  • Google+ -.08%
  • Corporate Blog Contributor-1.2%
  • Personal Blog-0.2% (one person)
  • Pinterest- 0% (come on, no pinning? I find that hard to believe. They must be using pseudonyms)

I won’t even bore you with actual CEO social engagement numbers- suffice it to say, they’re abysmal. Amazingly, this data spits in the face of other data showing that 94% of employees believe a social CEO will enhance their brand.

It’s a crazy world.


Into the social breach steps Sir Richard Branson, the clear exception to the CEO social despondency narrative. Branson embraces social. He loves social. In fact, he owns social, using it as a platform to expand his personal and corporate brand influence and reach, honestly engage with his audience, and shape events within and without his industry space.

When it comes to social media, Branson figured out one important thing very early on: social is power.

Here’s a brief rundown of Sir Richard’s social following:

  • 2.4 million followers on Twitter,
  • 250,000 on Facebook,
  • 2.9 million on G+
  • Each month, 500,000 people check out his blog

Any way you spell it, that’s some real online clout.

So why does Branson bother to maintain such a robust social profile? Here’s an exerpt from the man himself, taken from a blog he published for Entrepreneur:

“Many of our businesses have their own blogs and Twitter feeds as well, multiplying the number of people we can reach directly. If we need to talk to our customers, we no longer need to limit ourselves to placing ads with established media companies — we can just tell them directly.”

I can only imagine the response from one of the CEOs in the IBM Study, “wait a minute-use social to engage directly with your customers? Hmm, yes, we’ve thought of doing that, but not now. Perhaps sometime over the next 5 years…”

In fact, much of Sir Richard’s advice to CEOs regarding how to use social would make any Legal or PR team blanch:

“Above all, remember to be authentic and organic, answering questions in a straightforward manner — there’s no need to check with your PR team first. You know your products and services, and people will see through any effort to parrot slogans or broadcast a marketing message.”

Sir Richard understands the power of social media for customer relations and brand management:

“…social media accounts gave us a real-time view of how we could improve. Through customers’ comments, we started learning about issues with our products and services more quickly than ever before. In response, we set up systems so that a customer who has a question or a problem can get a quick answer from our team.”

Branson also implores CEOs to show their company’s human side:

“We’ve been using our social media channels to spread the message that we are just as interested in making a difference as making a profit…like everything, if you’re having fun rather than just doing a job, you’re more likely to find success”

Interestingly, Sir Richard’s insights run pretty much straight parallel to the latest thinking in inbound marketing in general and social media marketing in particular:

  • Establish closer, more direct engagement with prospects and consumers- check
  • Provide simple ways to facilitate real-time interactions with customers- check
  • Be authentic; use transparent messaging and fresh and original content- check
  • Show your company’s human side to foster deeper connections with your audience- check

It all sounds good to me. Alternatively, you could wait five years to do all of this, but…

So what’s the bottom line? According to Branson, “Whether you are launching a start-up or leading an established company, you should start establishing your social media presence if you haven’t already.”

Thank you, Sir Richard; you took the words right out of my mouth.