24 Jan Executive Spotlight: Mary Barra
Mary Barra is the chairman and CEO of General Motors and with over 1.2 million followers on LinkedIn and over 48K followers on Twitter, it is clear that she is a well-connected executive. For many executives who act as a brand advocate on social media, one of their core strengths is maintaining consistency in their tone. In this article, we will take a closer look at how Barra’s social media strategy helps reinforce a positive brand image.
LinkedIn: Sharing Original Articles
First, we will analyze Barro’s LinkedIn profile. The header image features a look inside a General Motors factory, emphasizing the industry she is in. Compared to her Twitter profile header, this is more brand-related and speaks more about the tangible products the company offers.
The majority of her content is brand-related, whether it is an original article, sharing a post from another executive at GM, or linking to a third-party article that discusses the GM brand. However, Barra also posts about topics related to Stanford University where she graduated from, and social issues such as women’s rights. For executives who are using their online presence to be a brand advocate, occasionally discussing other topics can add some variety to the feed. When posting content about social causes, this can also inform the audience about topics the executive feels passionate about.
Barra makes excellent use of LinkedIn’s article section, posting about one article per month. All of these are related to General Motors and provide readers with a behind-the-scenes look at the company. Her latest article, Thriving, Sustainably, is an interview with the company’s first ever “Chief Sustainability Officer,” Dane Parker. It strengthens the connection between the brand and environmentally-friendly initiatives the company is undertaking. Making use of this article feature on LinkedIn is one way executives can share more of their thoughts, especially in a longer format. A long post on an individual’s regular feed will get cut off with a “Read More” link and many users may skip these posts if they are just quickly browsing their feed. LinkedIn articles allow users to write longer content, embed images, and use blockquotes.
Twitter: Promoting LinkedIn Content
Next is Barro’s Twitter profile, which features a much different header image than her LinkedIn profile. Here, she is using the header space to highlight a team-based environment, which is understandable since on both her Twitter and LinkedIn bio, she refers to being a part of a larger team.
Similar to her LinkedIn account, Barro uses Twitter primarily to share information about the GM brand, while also frequently directing users to her LinkedIn articles. She also retweets content from other sources, such as the official GM Twitter account and other GM executives. When multiple executives for a brand are on social media, retweeting or sharing his or her content is an effective way to cross-promote these individuals.
Equal pay is not only a moral issue but a business issue. Businesses have an opportunity to create significant impact and demonstrate actual change, and I’m proud of @GM for having no gender pay gap across the company. #IWD2019 https://t.co/yK7JFMUEel
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) March 8, 2019
Influential Executive: Consistency
One of Barro’s strengths is that she maintains a consistent, professional tone of voice throughout all of her posts. She focuses on the future of the GM brand, especially in areas such as autonomous driving and zero carbon emissions. When she discusses GM, it is done with an aspirational tone that ties the brand to innovation and consumer-friendly practices.
Barra frequently cross-promotes content across her social media platforms, seen in the example below. This is typically done on Twitter, where she links to her LinkedIn content.
The automotive industry has to be part of any solution for a more sustainable future. Hear from Dane Parker, our first Chief Sustainability Officer, on how we’ll aggressively pursue our vision for zero emissions. https://t.co/ltG8owrz9P
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) January 16, 2020
When executives post different content on their social, it is a good idea to mention it on their other accounts. This not only increases the content’s reach, but can also entice users to follow an executive on multiple platforms. Cross-promotion is a technique we saw John Legere use very effectively in order to promote his Facebook live stream on Twitter.
Next, the header image on a social media profile can set the tone when a user views the page. While using the same image across all social media accounts is better than using no banner at all, Barro has taken an extra step to further customize her Twitter and LinkedIn accounts. Both images are brand related, but emphasize different aspects of the GM brand–tangible products versus intangible human connections.
Barra posts a few times per month on Twitter and approximately once per month on LinkedIn. Compared to other active executives on social media, her activity levels are on the lower side. However, she is consistent with this schedule and never goes for several weeks or months without posting. Part of setting an effective social media strategy is establishing a realistic, consistent schedule, which Barra has done.
At @LAAF’s #WomeninLeadership course at @StanfordGSB, energizing discussion on purposeful leadership and how students can identify and respond to the very real challenges all leaders face without compromising values or authenticity. Great to have STEM advocate @karliekloss join! pic.twitter.com/ugZh29AK0v
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) June 6, 2019
Improvements: Understanding Each Platform’s Best Practices
On Twitter, we recommend that Barra update her Twitter profile image, as it is not quite centered and it features a lot of empty space on the left. Cropping images for banners and profile images are an important step in achieving a professional aesthetic.
On LinkedIn, Barra’s “About” section is very brief: “General Motors CEO leading an outstanding team. Passionate about customers. Supporter of STEM education.” While the bio section on some social media platforms have a limited character count (such as on Twitter and Instagram), LinkedIn allows for much longer copy. Some executives use the About section to write a few paragraphs about themselves, what they are passionate about, or their company.
Barra’s current About section is written in a format that fits other platforms, like Twitter, but the short phrases are not necessary nor recommended on LinkedIn. We recommend an overhaul of this section and diving deeper into each of the points mentioned. For example, answering questions as to why is she passionate about customers, what that has to do with the GM brand, what she does to support STEM education, and why it is important to her.
On both platforms, most of Barra’s posts feature no hashtags, with occasional posts featuring one hashtag. We recommend using one to two hashtags in a tweet and one to three in a LinkedIn post in order to increase the post’s reach. These hashtags should target key terms or phrases in the copy. Using branded hashtags, like #GM or #GeneralMotors, is another way to connect her tweets to her company.
Mobility as we know it is being reinvented. Our zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion vision is not a slogan but a commitment. Through our partnership with @Cruise and @Honda, we are taking one more step toward achieving this vision with the Origin. https://t.co/6ySkoDcLIJ
— Mary Barra (@mtbarra) January 22, 2020
In Barro’s posts, she often uses “we” and “our” instead of “I,” which furthers strengthens her connection to the GM company as a brand advocate, though this may also make posts feel more like it is coming from the brand than an individual. When creating brand-related posts, we recommend that executives sometimes use a more personal approach, such as injecting their own thoughts into the comment. The effectiveness of an executive on social media stems from the fact that the audience wants to hear from an individual, rather than a faceless brand account.
Conclusion: A Brand Advocate for GM
Mary Barra’s Twitter and LinkedIn profiles demonstrate the power of consistency and being a brand advocate for her company. In analyzing the tone, content, and scheduling of her social media posts, it is clear she has found a strategy that works best for her. She does not post as often as other executives, but when establishing a social media program, being consistent in your posting schedule can make up for not posting every day.
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