14 Jan The Challenges of Launching an Executive Social Media Program (And How to Overcome Them)
There has been a lot of recent buzz around the opportunity to leverage influential executives and leaders on social media as a complementary voice to the brand. The data makes it clear that people would rather interact and engage with other people than with brands, and company leaders present a great way to take advantage of this fact by means of an executive social media program.
Here at Influential Executive, we see 2019 as the year where a leaders’ social media and digital presence will be further emphasized. Marketing teams will realize that they can get greater reach, faster and less expensive follower growth, and much higher engagement rates through executive social media profiles.
This leaves marketing teams with some key questions: Where do we begin? How do we get our leaders online in a strategic way that benefits the brand? How do we do so authentically?
The reality is, it’s not an easy venture. Establishing a strategic, authentic social media presence for one or more executives can be challenging for a variety of reasons. Having seen them all through working with a range of executive personalities and situations, let’s take a look at these reasons together.
Before diving into the challenges, we need to acknowledge that there are, broadly speaking, two ends of the executive social media profile spectrum, each of which has a different set of challenges. The first profile is an executive who is already on social media and wants to manage it themselves. We’ll refer to this as the “DIY Executive.” The second profile is an executive who is not or is barely on social media and wants nothing to do with it. We’ll call this the “Avoidant Executive.” Your team of executives may be mixed, with each of them falling somewhere across this spectrum, so be aware of how each challenge relates to these two types of executives to understand where you’re going to need to anticipate issues.
Challenge #1 – The executive has no time
The primary reason most executives aren’t already online in a meaningful way is a lack of time. In fact, 61% of CEOs were found to have zero social media presence. Yes, zero.
Part of the reason behind this is that these are very busy executives with packed schedules and many priorities that come before establishing a consistent social presence. In addition to not having time, executives generally don’t have the expertise to develop an optimized social media program given their objectives and audience.
As we think back to the two profiles of executive, the issues to anticipate are as follows:
- The DIY Executive will tend to think they will be able to dedicate the time needed to manage their own program, but it will end up becoming sporadic and inconsistent in both quantity and quality. As they run low on time, they will tend to become less strategic and more tactical in their approach, creating more “random” posts and missing the opportunity to drive to the full set of objectives laid out for the program.
- The Avoidant Executive will want to play as limited a role as possible, so his or her marketing team will need to determine how to efficiently get them to sign off on items and build their trust to launch and manage their social presence on their behalf. We’ve found that implementing a biweekly or monthly content calendar, with only 1-2 reviews per month, helps to streamline this review and keep the effort needed by the executive to a minimum.
Challenge #2 – Authentically capturing the executive’s objectives, interests and voice
When you tell an executive that you are going to manage their social media presence for them, most are immediately relieved, particularly those on the Avoidant end of the spectrum, which is the majority of executives. However, they will almost always follow up with asking how this will take place. The first question that tends to come up is, “How are you going to represent me authentically?” They may be concerned that content they disagree with will go out from their profile or that the tone and voice will not be appropriate.
The challenge to overcome here is mainly one of perception. A strong, experienced team will have an efficient process and methodology for effectively understanding and capturing everything from tone of voice (recognizing that there can be a variety of appropriate tones, depending on the content and channel), to perspectives on key topics of interest, to values, to personal interests, to content mix (the mix of types of posts related to different topics). The process itself gives most executives strong confidence that they will be well-represented, so communicating this early and ensuring that they understand this will not only be reasonably easy and painless, will go a long way to overcoming this challenge.
A DIY-skewing influential executive who has been convinced to let a team manage their social presence for them (recognizing that they will need the support to develop a strategic, best practice program that can consistently be executed) will usually be most concerned that their social presence will be used as a mouthpiece for the brand. While this is partly true, it is important for the marketing team to emphasize that they understand the brand will actually be best served by an authentic leader’s social presence, because this is what will drive higher engagement rates and all of the other benefits of an executive social presence. This means that the executive program should specifically avoid simply mirroring the brand social and content strategy, which will come off as distinctly inauthentic. Instead, injecting brand messages and driving to brand objectives in a way that fits with each individual executive’s role, expertise and personality, will create the strongest complementary program. For example, the CTO will actually be able to speak more in-depth on technical topics than the brand itself, which will appeal to top tech talent and CTOs at client and partner organizations.
Challenge #3 – Overcoming the perception that ‘there’s no one that could understand our space well enough to write thought leadership content’
This is a classic challenge. Executives and leaders, particular those with technical backgrounds themselves (and particularly those that skew towards the DIY Executive persona), assume that no one external could properly support a social media and content marketing program because they simply won’t have the technical background.
The reality is that a combination of deep research, prior category experience, a capable writer, and insights provided by the executives and their teams can be a recipe for very strong social media content and longer form content marketing pieces. In fact, pieces written internally by the technical team often lack a compelling style or succinct, clear takeaways that a professional writer can bring to the table. Social media copy, in particular, must also follow platform best practices and appeal to your audience on the channels they are on. They can certainly include statistics and insightful technical takeaways, but should be written to encourage engagement or a click to the longer form content piece, which may be highly technical or on a complex subject matter.
The best way we’ve found to overcome this challenge is to have your proposed marketing and writing team share case studies and example pieces. Technical pieces in the same or adjacent categories can help to give a sense of the quality and type of content that can be produced and should give the influential executive the confidence to move forward.
Challenge #4 – Determining how and where to focus (and getting the program off the ground!)
Once you’ve gotten your executives bought into the value, as well as understanding the need to have ongoing content support, what the review process will look like, and how each executive’s authentic voice and presence will be captured, you then need to start getting practical and specific about what needs to happen.
Some teams make the mistake of just jumping right into things, starting to get content up on whatever channels the executive already has established or on whichever channel seems to be the most important in their industry. The risk here is that the program may not be strategic or optimized, and therefore ultimately won’t drive the results you’re looking for. We strongly recommend starting with a full social media strategy, including a platform strategy, content strategy, paid media strategy, influencer strategy, and engagement strategy. This would be complemented by in-depth findings from the executive interviews to determine the nuances of the tone and voice, and specific topics to be written about and focused on. Of course, pairing the strategy with best practices for your channel, effective targeting, and engagement strategies for your company’s audience groups will ensure the program’s success.
Other teams get roadblocked and don’t know where to start. Launching an executive social media program may seem completely overwhelming, with strategy, research and analysis to be done, in addition to defining realistic processes and managing strong executive personalities. Our recommendation here is to take it one step at a time. You don’t need to stress out about getting your program launched today, but create a plan to complete all the setup and pre-launch steps in the next 3 months or so. Many marketing teams recognize that executive social programs aren’t their area of expertise, so they look to an external firm to guide them through the process and manage the day to day. And related to the challenge of lacking enough time, it is often not just the executive themselves that doesn’t have the time to manage such a program, but the marketing team that has many other priorities and is already overseeing all of the brand’s social, digital, and traditional channels, so it can be helpful to bring on support to focus on this important initiative.
In summary, yes, launching an executive social media is a journey with challenges along the way, but not ones you can’t overcome. We suggest trying to anticipate and address each challenge upfront and laying out a realistic launch plan that works for your organization. That may include several months of pre-work and planning, but that is perfectly fine. In fact, all the preparation will position you to have a more thoughtful, strategic, and ultimately effective executive social media program that achieves the objectives you’ve laid out.