CEOs and Social Media

Today, Gini Dietrich, CEO at Arment Dietrich PR presented an interesting question on the company blog, F.A.D.S. (the Fight Against Destructive Spin), “Should CEOs Spend Time On Social Networking?” Of course, always having to add my two cents, I responded accordingly.

CEO“I would be surprised if any CEO of a publicly-traded company had a social media presence. The reason I say this is because of the SEC and FTC.

The SEC has certain rules about information being presented and disclosed to the public and the CEO would need to be extremely careful as to what he or she communicates, even through his or her own personal social networking efforts. From a liability standpoint, I’m not sure the benefits outweigh the potential downside.

With respect to the FTC, the issue here is the marketing message and how it can and may be perceived. Currently, the FTC is considering guidelines and rules about marketing messages being conveyed through social media. Again, as the leader of a public company, the CEO must tread carefully and, even in conveying a marketing message, must be very careful not to break any SEC rules. Again, the benefits need to be weighed against potential consequences.

All that being said, I stongly believe public companies should have a major presence in social media, including social networking, letting the marketing experts spearhead the activity and content. While doing so, I do believe the CEO could, and should, participate strategically with key, well-defined content, more to enhance the overall effort as opposed to being front and center.

Now the flipside, private companies. I do believe CEOs of private companies need to be as transparent as possible. They’re usually the vision and drive behind the company. His or her thoughts and statements lend a great deal of credibility to the company, which ultimately may be defining factors in a customer, client, vendor or partner doing business with the company.

Often, the CEO, “is” the company which why we see companies named after the Founder and CEO. Many times, the CEO is actually the “commodity” being sold by the company. This is especially true with professional organizations, consulting companies, etc.

Service and product driven companies are different as there are usually consumers or clients as end-users. As such, they rely on the “personal guarantees” of the CEO and that message usually needs to be promoted to drive business. I’m thinking along the lines of George Zimmer, CEO of Men’s Wearhouse.

When it’s all said and done, there are few, more efficient ways of promoting a business, large or small, than through social media, and social networking. The messages are concise and clear, and often present the human side of the business. And, clients and customers alike, feel more confident “knowing” the CEO and his or her thoughts, feeling more comfortable with their decision to do business with the company or organization.

Here’s a simple, yet totally unscientific rule of thumb: If a business needs to have the CEO’s personal guarantee on loans and lines of credit, then the CEO should be very active in social media and social networking activities. If the company can enter into loan and credit agreements without any personal guarantees, it’s best to leave the social media and social networking efforts to the marketing experts.”

Please note: CEOs of franchise organizations also need to be careful not to present inadvertent earnings claims in any social media activities.

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