Posted October 14, 2010 10:31 am by with 17 comments

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Weber Shandwick is one of my favorite PR firms because Dr. Leslie Gaines-Ross–its Chief Reputation Strategist–is a kindred spirit, when it comes to reputation management.

In particular, she’s fascinated by the role of the CEO in a company’s reputation management efforts and her latest report, Socializing Your CEO, does a great job of analyzing the social media habits of CEOs of the world’s largest 50 companies.

What did Web Shandwick learn about the top CEOs of the world?

  • 97% communicated either through traditional or online channels
  • 64% are NOT engaged through company websites or in social media
  • 36% engaged through company websites or in social media
  • 28% posted letter or message on company websites
  • 18% incorporated video/podcast on company websites or YouTube channels
  • 16% have a profile on Twitter (8%), Facebook (4%), MySpace (4%) or LinkedIn (4%)

The study also found that the CEOs of the most admired of the 50 were more actively engaged online (41%) those companies that had mediocre reputations (28%). That begs the question: do these companies have better reputations because the CEO is more active on social media, or because these companies have great reputations, the CEO feels safer engaging social media?

So, these “engaged” CEOs, where are they actually engaging?

As you can see, they’re still not the most social people in the world. Just 18% posting videos and podcasts and a measly 8% active on Twitter (that’s 4 CEOs, for those not good at math!)? And, not a single CEO had a company-affiliated blog!!! What up with that?

(Note: I have no idea why a Wikipedia Page is included here. Weber Shandwick’s research is usually spot-on, but considering Wikipedia profiles are static, lifeless, profiles–generally created by Wikipedia editors–it really has no place in the list)

Any surprises for you?

  • I wonder how many CEOs ARE contributing editors to wikipedia? I would definitely count that as online engagement. CEOs love to share their expertise.

    Have you noticed that a keyword search often offers wikipedia as one of the top three options? I think it was a valid entry for this piece.

    It will be interesting to see how these numbers will change over the next 3 months – 6 months.

    • Amy, you are right on. Wikipedia always comes up high in a search for a CEO. In fact, 64% of the CEOs we researched had a profile on Wikipedia. Our point for including it in the analysis was to highlight that if a CEO is not communicating externally, online and offline, the profile will have the last word. Something for CEOs and communications professionals to think about. Best, lgr

      • OK, I agree that a wikipedia article is an important part of a CEOs reputation. But if a CEO of one the largest companies in the world doesn’t have time to blog, I very much doubt he/she has the time to learn the editorial guidelines for Wikipedia. 😉

  • CEO’s in social engagement are a PR person’s worst nightmare. It’s like a politician flying without a teleprompter. The less these folks seriously engage the better since most are very disconnected from the world of how their business actually operates. It’s not that they are wrong or irresponsible but they just don’t play there. As a result, the less said to the general public the better since most have shoes that are fitted perfectly for their mouths.

    Also, if only 16% are using a medium that has the potential for engagement, how are 36% claiming to be engaged through social media or the company website? A letter on the website is not engagement. That’s nothing really in this day and age since most won’t think they wrote it anyway!

    • The less said to the general public does not work as well as it used to. The research did find however that 93% of CEOs are being quoted in the top tier traditional media and out there speaking in public. That is a good thing. The bunker no longer works when companies and their leaders are stumbling right and left today. When we used the word “social,” it is not restricted to the common ones like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn but includes the fundamentals like featuring a CEO on the website or inviting questions on the web site or welcoming candidates on the Careers page. Thanks for your comment. Best, lgr

    • Michael Sands

      I agree that a lot of CEOs probably aren’t very tuned in to the beliefs and feelings of the general public, but I think that the time has passed when any part of a large public company can ignore social media. If these CEOs can’t engage in social media themselves, they should pay someone to do it for them. If they continue to ignore social media they are doing their company a great misdeed and blatantly ignoring the two-way communication model that the general public has come to expect.

  • That’s a good point Amy brought up about Wikipedia. They have a top 3-5 rank for just about everyone you look up online. These are some surprising statistics though. I never would’ve thought. 🙂

  • Mike Murray

    In a way, I can’t blame the CEOs. Who has the time? That’s the first thought. But they should be more involved to support the brand – with support (Frank Reed got it right with the PR nightmare). Writers can help round out what a CEO pursues. In other words, they should be more socially connected online with guidance about what they’re saying – and with help on the research or writing to same their time.

  • I don’t think that today’s CEO’s grasp what benefit social media can do for their companies but as we age we’ll start to see people who grew up with twitter and facebook and will naturally extend that as they come into positions of power

    • When people who have grown up with Twitter etc get to the CEO stage is when CEO social media use will get even scarier. Read @Dan Grenfield’s points in this comment string. it is not a great idea always for the CEO to be shooting from the hip or ‘wide open’. There are regulations and real concerns for major screw ups that need to be considered. People have always misunderstood just how regulations and the like restrict how much a CEO can say more than their unwillingness to say it.

  • I’m sure this number will change. If you think about big corporations CEO are in many cases around 50 years old and they’re getting used to Online.
    Banks are a perfect example for this.
    All the CEOs that are currently engaging with social media belong to the online world or technology vertical.
    However, I truly believe that next CEO generations will be more active in Social Media.

  • Some CEOs have been very successful building a strong social media presence. I think it is helpful that a CEO understand social media, but I definitely want my CMO to be engaged. As a former VP of corporate communications, I know my CEO spent so much time with the financial community and negotiating new business deals. Needless to say, those are arenas where social media becomes problematic. In some cases; its a bandwidth issue; in others, it is not practical and potentially against SEC regulations. Of course the latter applies to public companies. In short given certain restrictions, CEOs need to tread carefully in how they use social media.

  • If 64% CEO’s are not bothering social media engagement so i thing they are lacking something because Social Media Presence really matters in 2010. If they want to be updated so they have to use Social Media.

  • Some businesses required only a basic presence on the Internet.

  • Very sad.
    Most likely the result of generational, cultural differences.

    By chance I was approached to create the first Website in Israel back in 1995.
    I successfully integrated my many years of experience in journalism and PR into Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.

    Today we call this social media.

    A PR professional who is not engaged with the Net should stay in bed ………………

    • I agree wholeheartedly. But I will take it a step further. In a few years, marketers who cannot express an idea in 140 characters – or less – will be toast.

  • Not a surprise. Here is what I would tell a CEO who is skeptical of social media:

    * Time spent on social networking sites increased 277% in 2009.
    * Web users are 51% more likely to buy from your brand if they follow you on Facebook
    * And are 60% more likely to recommend your brand
    * Twitter served 10 billion Tweets
    * Web users spends 6 hours a month with social media
    * 18% of all new content found online, is found through social media
    * 70% of Internet users reported “trusting” consumer opinions posted in social media
    * 86% of companies in the largest 100 of the Fortune 500 use social media
    * Google cares about your social network