by Careen Winters

Carreen Winters
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the lack of social engagement among CEOs, and the impact of this trend upon overall leadership and company positioning. However, social media isn’t totally lost within the C-suite. There are some CEOs who not only demonstrate their use of social media for effective thought leadership, but also demonstrate social media best practices in general.

Let’s lay some groundwork here. In my opinion, a socially effective C-suite is indicated by:

• Engaging, trust-building stakeholder dialogue (versus push monologue)

• Relevance to audiences, with quality content that adds value – indicated by an engaged response – rather than noise

• Frequency and consistency

In no special order, below are my top picks.

1. The Transparent Engager – Sir Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group

Branson gives the appearance of self-managing his active social engagement, tweeting and blogging personal musings as well as thought leadership.

Across platforms (including Facebook and Google+), he gives stakeholders a “peek behind the curtain” of his business empire, discussing R & D and business decisions. He’s blogged about the possibility of buying back Virgin Records, and directly invites followers to ask him questions on Twitter.

By being a (mostly) open book about business decisions, even if the proverbial sausage is still in the process of being made, Branson achieves transparency and trust. However, keeping a consistent, personal voice is what allows Branson to stay relevant. By default, his company gains trust and relevance from these humanizing stakeholder connections.

2. The Targeted Publisher – Michael Dell, CEO, Dell

Contrasting with Branson, Dell uses social – including Twitter and Google+ – to provide stakeholders with company news, rather than personal opinions, and positions himself as an authority on the tech industry in general.

His engagement is a great example of fishing where your fish are. In the case of Dell’s “tech-y” community in which he aims to thrive, Google+ is an effective platform – even if it isn’t the most relevant place for other audiences.

3. The (Local) Dark Horse – John Pepper, CEO, Boloco

Although he is not yet a Fortune 500 CEO, Pepper – Founder and CEO of New England and D.C.-based burrito restaurant chain, Boloco – is exemplary in intertwining his own social presence with that of the brand. Although he uses @BolocoCEO as his Twitter handle, he also engages with those who tweet @boloco, personally thanking them for brand advocacy or constructive criticism.

Pepper also demonstrates a clear understanding that identifying with existing local communities (for example, posting videos on Google+ of Patriots game outings with his Massachusetts-based family) can help a smaller business stay relevant.

Time will tell how big Boloco will get. But by making social media engagement a habit, Pepper gives me the confidence to say that he’ll likely continue to maintain this consistent, personal engagement.

The above CEOs each use social media to build trust, and accelerate relevance. We know it can be done. But social media engagement is unfortunately still the exception in the C-suite, rather than the rule. The good news is, because most CEOs have not yet caught up, the opportunity still exists for yours to get social and stand out.

As communications professionals, we often look to compelling case studies to inspire our business strategies and get them right. So, why should our approach be any different when it comes to advising our leaders on their own communications strategies?

Feel free to share other examples here, as more evidence of success.

Carreen Winters is executive VP-crisis communications at MWW Group.She previously wrote A Beginner's Guide to Socializing Your CEO and Socializing the C-Suite at

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