C-Suite Social Media Guidelines

Risk aversion, time constraints, fear of negative feedback and a lack of a social media strategy are the primary barriers to C-Suite social media engagement, according to the respondents of BRANDfog's 2013 CEO, Social Media Leadership Survey.

The group of 800 U.S. and U.K. employees also overwhelmingly believes that CEOs active on social media can raise the profile of the corporate brand, effectively communicate the company mission and values to employees and partners, attract new talent, and increase brand loyalty and purchase intent.

Unsurprisingly, the roles of the CEO and enterprise stakeholders are changing. Those ready to evolve can benefit from the shift, but to ensure executives aren't unproductive, uninspiring, damaging to their personal or brand's reputation or worse, finding themselves jobless, the C-Suite should adhere to certain guidelines.


Don't Be Stupid

Anyone paying attention knows there are an increasing number of platforms that marketing, PR and legal teams must monitor and regulate. Regardless of the various virtual podiums, one rule has stood the test of time.

"The best policy is don't be stupid," said Bunchball Founder and Chief Product Officer Rajat Paharia. "The best social media policy is to think about what you are posting, and if you think it would have a negative effect, ask someone. [On the other hand, if you set a stringent social media policy] the lack of clarity or new set of rules can also lead to people not even bothering. They'll say, 'Then maybe I just won't do it.'"

Marketing, sales and customer service pros typically get their social media guidelines in black and white. The C-Suite should review and comply with the same standards. For example, Intel's next CEO (not yet named at time of print) should follow Intel's three rules of engagement: disclose, protect and use common sense.

Intel even includes this under the Use Common Sense rule, "Did you screw up? If you make a mistake, admit it. Be upfront and be quick with your correction. If you're posting to a blog, you may choose to modify an earlier post - just make it clear that you have done so."

Mistakes, however, can be costly. In 2012, a CFO from a Houston-based retailer was fired after he "improperly communicated company information through social media." His tweets - albeit knowingly or not - influenced stock prices. Comments on earnings, closeddoor meetings and other not yet publicized information can fall under selective disclosure, which violates insidertrading laws. As with all things social, real-world rules apply. Staying informed, compliant and cautious are three ways for the C-Suite to stay off the SEC's radar and in good graces with its company and followers.


Find Your Balance

Clearly, the C-Suite must navigate rough waters when using social media. C-Suite members must make a decision about whether to include non-business-related material on personal pages. There are two schools of thought. The first is that the C-Suite is made up of people who have lives that include families, vacations, opinions and experiences (both good and bad), so to be authentic, they should share their off-the-clock happenings. The second is to keep it all business all the time.

"I watch some other people's accounts, and you'll see things about the industry and then there are tweets complaining about bad service," said Paharia. "I am following them for a reason, not because I care about their opinions about customer service, but for more of what their opinions are about industry things.

"If you look at my tweets, you'll see very rarely there is something personal - almost never. People follow me for a reason, because over time they know what to expect."

This balance may also depend on the network. Twitter, Google+ and, especially, LinkedIn are examples of where occupational content is expected. For many, Facebook has different expectations. For instance, when Paharia posts something work related on Facebook, he feels as if he is spamming his friends. He's not alone. Many professionals have both personal and professional profiles to overcome this. Having both could be counterproductive though. Instead, the better option may be filtering what others see from them and what they see from others.


Filter, Filter, Filter

In the matter of interest and productivity, executives should filter who they follow (Twitter), who they should allow to show up in their news feeds (Facebook) and what individuals they connect and interact with (LinkedIn/Google+).

"It's kind of the double-edged sword of social media," said Paharia. "On one hand it gives you a giant CB radio; on the other hand, it can be a giant time suck. You can get engaged with unproductive interactions and conversations. It's about finding your own personal balance. When there are interesting, high-fidelity conversations happening, I love to give input. When there isn't, I don't."