Influencers dominate today’s social media landscape. Consumers turn to their favorite bloggers, vloggers and online personalities to influence their purchasing decisions on everything from beauty products to streaming services. In the business-to-consumer (B2C) space, almost every major company has an influencer marketing strategy to capitalize on this phenomenon. But what about business-to-business (B2B)?
“Consumers are attracted to charismatic CEOs who make the firm and its products seem special,” says Susan Mudambi, professor of marketing and academic director of the Fox School’s Executive DBA program.
Mudambi views the CEO as an untapped resource for differentiating B2B firms. Mudambi and her colleagues Jay I. Sinha, professor of marketing, and Dori Shae Taylor, DBA ’19, explore the value of establishing the CEO’s social media presence to a B2B firm in their article, “Benchmarking the Social Media Presence of B-to-B CEOs.” Their findings offer insights on building a CEO-focused social strategy.
The power of new media
What sets social media apart from traditional media, like radio or television, is the potential for interaction. As CEOs communicate, collaborate and listen to feedback, they participate in a form of value co-creation that has the power to improve firm effectiveness and to enhance key relationships with their customers.
“That’s not possible in traditional media,” says Mudambi. “Activity on social media can create a larger understanding of what a firm is all about.”
The millennial factor
In the CEO’s value-creating social media network, there are other stakeholders to consider and millennials are a key factor. Millennials are still the largest demographic on social media. Just as they hold significant buying power in the consumer space, millennials also carry influence in business choices. In fact, 73% of millennials are involved in B2B end-purchase decisions.
When it comes to their perception of a company, millennials view CEOs with an established social media presence to be stronger, more personable and more trustworthy. This perception of a company’s leader also plays a role in the recruiting and talent acquisition process and in the investment community.
“Especially in turbulent times, people realize that leadership matters,” says Mudambi. “In the battle for talent and investment, the online voice of the CEO could be a plus.”
Risks vs. rewards
The team analyzed a sample of 50 B2B CEOs across ten critical industry sectors. They found that less than 50% of B2B CEOs have any significant social presence. Reasons cited include lack of time, no clear return on investment and concern for potential risks.
It’s natural to consider the potential risks that come along with a social media savvy CEO. The most common concern is the potential backlash for saying something controversial. “It doesn’t reflect just on the CEO, because they are not just an individual,” says Taylor. “They are viewed as the leader and it’s expected that what they say reflects the views of the firm.”
Given the risks, communications teams may consider managing a social presence on behalf of the CEO. This drops the risk of a misstep significantly, but teams should differentiate this strategy from overall public relations efforts. “It can come off as very stale or generic,” says Taylor. “People want to relate to a CEO and see her personality and opinions.”
Still, there is a compelling case for CEOs to build their social presence. Namely, the current lack of B2B CEO presence provides a major opportunity to get ahead of the curve and stake a claim in the social media space. “For firms trying to get an edge or improve communications with stakeholders, it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity to get the CEO more active,” adds Mudambi.
Socially savvy CEOs can also shape their public persona as a thought leader, move away from the image of a remote figurehead and become more visible in the business community.
In their complementary practitioner article, “Why B-to-B CEOs Should Be More Social on Social Media,” Mudambi, Sinha and Taylor identify outliers in the B2B leadership space, like Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, who can serve as inspiration to CEOs looking to get started. Their research indicates that there are no firmly established norms or consistent strategies for CEO social media activity, but that communication and motivation to engage are important to a successful presence.
The researchers recommend being selective and strategic about which platforms to focus on. LinkedIn is a good starting point, with Twitter and YouTube as supplementary options depending on the time a CEO is able to invest. Content should include a mix of company updates, industry trends and personal topics, like hobbies and philanthropic interests. The posts need to be current and relevant.
“CEOs didn’t get to the position they are in by not taking risks and not being smart and savvy,” says Taylor. “They just need to take that same presence and translate it to social media.”