The successful social CEO: Strong arguments for digital visibility

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The successful social CEO: Strong arguments for digital visibility

25 April 2022 – Updated 26 March 2023

Definition Social CEO

Social CEOs are CEOs who use social media such as LinkedIn or Twitter to put a human face on the company, the brand and its goals.
These modern personal brands are still the exception rather than the norm in Germany.
But the strong professionalization of this stakeholder communication in the last two years is proof:
The trend toward the CEO as the top corporate influencer is irreversible.



What are the goals of strategic CEO branding?

The short- to medium-term goals of professional CEO branding in social media are awareness and reputation. In the long run, it’s influence, power and opinion leadership.
Depending on the company’s situation, customer loyalty and employer branding can also be added.


Why is the “CEO Reputation Premium” so crucial for the corporate brand?

Why are more and more CEOs – whether in DAX, professional services, midmarket or startups – building digital visibility as social CEOs? They know about the correlation “visibility = reputation” and about their “CEO Reputation Premium”. After all, it is not only luxury cars that benefit from a strong “Reputation Premium”.

In the meantime, the reputation of the CEO accounts for 58% of a company’s overall reputation. A few years ago, this was still at 45%, according to the study “The State of Corporate Reputation 2020” (WeberShandwick).

As a result, 67% of global leaders want:
Every CEO should specifically expand his or her public visibility! Incidentally, 71% of managers also expect this of themselves.



Does a social CEO belong in the modern communications mix?

Numerous evidence – from the classic study by WeberShandwick back in 2012 to the bestseller “ The Social CEO: How Social Media Can Make You A Stronger Leader “by Damian Corbet – underscore the relevance of the social CEO.

Modern leaders not only achieve economic success, but also communicate it confidently and proactively. In the past, top decision-makers primarily relied on classic leading media. Today, strong personal branding on social media is part of the equation. This modern stakeholder management enables CEOs to reach all relevant target groups – from employees and multipliers in politics, business and society to investors.

In short:
A professional LinkedIn and/or Twitter presence is an integral part of any communication strategy and a sustainable differentiating CEO positioning.


On LinkedIn, what characterizes the social CEO in the HDAX?

In early 2023, Palmer Hargreaves analyzed for the third time how the CEOs of HDAX-listed companies used LinkedIn in 2022 as a whole. To do this, they evaluated 2,200 posts, 21,200 self-interactions and 1,600,000 audience reactions.

Source: “ The CEO-LinkedIndex 2022

Who are the top ten social CEOs on LinkedIn?

The top ten social CEOs on LinkedIn not only demonstrate aparticularly effective strategy of self-presentation, but together they have an extremely wide reach. At the end of 2022, they collectively had more than 662,000 followers.

Two players are new to the top ten ranking:

  • Manas Human from Nagarro (#2)
  • Oliver Bäte, the Allianz CEO (#8 – 74,275 followers:inside on 27/3/2023).
Source: “ The CEO-LinkedIndex 2022

What is the ranking of the “Social CEO Check”?

How do the authors describe it:

“CEOs are the most important faces of corporations. People expect them to have an attitude, to act based on values, and to engage in honest dialog. CEO communication has thus become more challenging because it takes place more than ever in the area of tension between corporate communications and the CEO’s own perceptions. Balancing that is not easy, yet at the same time it’s the key success factor.”

Source: Cocodibu & Macromedia University of Applied Sciences


What are the ten key categories of an effective content mix on LinkedIn?

Social CEOs communicate strategically, i.e. goal-oriented. This is also reflected in their content mix.

Their LinkedIn posts therefore convey carefully curated information. This is how your digital CEO reputation your “social me”.

The aforementioned “CEO LinkedIn Index “ categorizes the content mix.

In alphabetical order, these are the aspects:
activating, event-related, professional, social, collegial, educational, personal, on the road, networked as well as promotional.

The basis for the approach is “ A framework for categorizing social media posts “, a typology of professional brand management. In 2016, this was developed at the School of Economics, University of Tromsø, Norway.


What does the topic matrix of the most successful players look like?

Landau Media’s matrix underscores that there is NO cookie-cutter approach to CEO positioning on LinkedIn. This is shown by a look at the top 3 in the“CEO LinkedIn Navigator” – Diess (VW), Klein (SAP) and Höttges (DTAG) – in the three particularly relevant areas:

  1. Strategy/Positioning
  2. Products/Services and
  3. Brand/Communication.

The weightings could not be more different in some cases. And yet all three CEOs are highly successful in their positioning.

Source:“CEO LinkedIn Navigator” October 2021

Why is the social CEO a logical consequence of our VUCA world?

The acronym VUCA (Volatility – Uncertainty – Complexity – Ambiguity) first appeared in 1985. The book “Leaders. The Strategies For Taking Charge” describes the challenges of the various external factors for management and leadership and their consequences for corporate management.

At the latest since the COVID19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression on Ukraine on February 24, 2022, VUCA has become the permanent state of everyday CEO life. This hyper-connected and highly complex world full of unexpected risks demands strategic solutions around the clock. The accompanying communication channels must be available quickly and around the clock.

Being able to have immediate, personal dialogs with diverse stakeholders as a close top decision maker is part of the solution.

Demonstrating poise as a social CEO and proving oneself as a “good corporate citizen” is the logical consequence of a VUCA world. Especially in the Western world, the pressure will continue to increase, as will the question of purpose and relevance of companies.


Is CEO activism becoming more important as part of personal branding?

Especially in times of crisis such as the COVID19 pandemic or the current Ukraine war, it is proving increasingly difficult for companies to do without edge. Silence is increasingly interpreted negatively. Watzlawik’s axiomYou cannot not communicate” has an effect!

Back in 2018, the New York Times called CEO activism #newnormal. The dictum of economist Milton Friedman “ The business of business is business” is old news.

The demand instead: Top decision-makers to comment on sociopolitical issues – from climate change to immigration to LGBTQ rights – beyond their core business.

So an ‘attitude to attitude‘ is inevitable – both for the corporate brand and the social CEO.

In this context, you might be interested in my #BeraterBerater column: “ Showing attitude – Is CEO activism now the order of the day for consultants?


Does the CEO’s digital visibility increase trust in the entire company?

The classic – the “ 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer ” – states a crisis of confidence. In Germany, CEOs (36%; globally: 49%), government officials (36%; globally: 42%) and journalists (41%; globally: 46%) had negative trust in them as leaders.

Contrast this with the high expectations placed on CEOs. 70% of Germans demand: CEOs should help shape and influence discussions on business topics and political debates. Only transparent, continuous communication can help here. That’s what a professional social media presence can do.

There are two more numbers that speak to strategically building a social CEO position. According to “ Connected Leadership 2021 ” by Brunswick

  • 78% of decision-makers look at the CEO’s social media account when researching a company.
  • Trust in a CEO who uses social media is nine times higher than in one who does not.

Which digital sources determine the reputation of a CEO?

Probably for some top decision makers a reason to rethink: The personal LinkedIn presence beats Google!

Source:“Connected Leadership 2021” – Brunswick

Where does the social CEO experience differences from classic PR?

Corporate leaders experience three aspects as differences from traditional public relations:

  1. Self-efficacy instead of dependence
    Social CEOs can curate their own personal narratives. They are no longer dependent on favor and visibility for interviews in the leading media.
  2. The 24/7 pulse of a social media presence
    For print media, it’s wickedly said, “Today’s paper wraps up tomorrow’s fish!” In contrast, social media are not only direct and fast, but they also never forget anything. This makes the pulse beat completely different.
  3. “Everybody’s darling is nobody’s friend”
    On LinkedIn and Twitter, clear positions and attitudes with rough edges are in demand. Character’ instead of abstract corporate news. This is the only way to create a strong personal brand that goes hand in hand with corporate values and communication.

Why do social CEOs grow their follower counts so much – even among their own employees?

People follow people – and much rather than an abstract logo! In social media, CEOs communicate primarily as people. They present themselves in an approachable, tangible way. This works in the attention economy – both to outside third parties and to employees.

For example, Joe Kaeser, the ex-CEO of Siemens, was quick to bet on the potential of LinkedIn for internal communication. Of the DAX company’s 4.1 million employees, 1.4 million are on LinkedIn. About one in three VW employees is on the business platform.

As a personal brand, CEOs can communicate directly what issues they stand for. And for which not.

As a result, more and more CEOs are becoming top corporate influencers. Through comments from within the Group, they achieve a reach from which an ever larger, external community emerges. Brand loyalty in this form supports share prices and strengthens employer branding.

Source:“CEO LinkedIn Navigator” October 2021

Does employer branding benefit from a CEO who is visible on social media?

A resounding “Yes!” In the battle for talent, recruiting teams are increasingly relying on professional social media work. A visible CEO becomes a lead magnet for the next generation – especially in the “Great Resignation”. If you present yourself as a CEO in an approachable manner, demonstrating your issues such as your own opinions and attitude, your applicants will identify significantly better with the company.

Direct, transparent leadership is a clear competitive advantage. This is also impressively demonstrated by the “Connected Leadership 2021” study.

Source:“Connected Leadership 2021” – Brunswick

When asked “leave or stay?!” 51% of employees said:
“I’ll stay if the CEO communicates directly and transparently with me and other employees.”
For 80% of employees (global vs. 70% in Germany), CEO reputation is one of the key retention factors.


Is politics still a no-go for a social CEO in Germany?

Attitude with applause guaranteed ” is how one industry colleague sums it up pointedly. My column ahead of the 2021 federal election “Diversity yes, Baerbock no! Why politics is left out of consulting“, came to a similar conclusion. Decision-makers in Germany continue to have a hard time with the political.

It is true that there is more and more political content in their external communications. However, primarily those on which there is already consensus, such as sustainability, ESG, digitization or diversity. Instead of controversy or even open confrontation, valence issues are chosen, i.e., those on which there is already broad social consensus. Posts calling for the digitization of Germany or united action on the climate crisis in the wake of the pandemic don’t polarize. They don’t hurt, but they do bolster the credibility of a corporate brand.

And yet, an even stronger positioning in the political arena offers strategic opportunities for social CEOs and their companies. Because generations Z and Alpha in particular expect meaning – purpose – from their employers and their leaders.


Are there limits to the digital positioning of a social CEO?

As clearly as any corporate brand benefits from a visible social CEO, this positioning has limitations.

  1. Every CEO is a brand. And brands better not be ‘overstretched’.
    The chosen mix of topics for social media should never be maximally broad, but strategically pointed in terms of the company’s goals. No social CEO, no matter how successful, can credibly cover everything from digitization to diversity to climate change.

  2. Authenticity is important – but carefully curated.
    My column “ Authenticity: Why the hype around it in marketing is dangerous “polarized at the time. The reason: my reference to the limits of this megatrend and Rolf Dobelli’s advice to a ‘foreign minister’. This, he says, is helpful as a second personality to the outside world – a “professional, consistent, reliable attitude to the outsideworld.” After all, social CEOs are also expected to do much more than just be“themselves.

  3. The time spent on LinkedIn must be kept within reasonable limits.
    Even though some social CEOs like to put their daily time commitment at “15 minutes a day” in interviews, you should remain realistic. This can only be achieved with a strong social media team at your side.

  4. CEO Succession or: The term of office of every CEO is ‘finite’.
    If a social CEO is successful, he/she becomes THE brand ambassador, the ONE face of the company. As outlined: CEO reputation accounts for 58% of corporate reputation. No communications strategist should lose sight of this interdependence between brand and person.

As well as last but not least:

Does every CEO have to become a social CEO from now on?

Honestly, “No!” A convinced introvert á la MyersBriggs without any affinity for social media will always remain “analog” at heart. A CEO of the 55++ generation with a classically conservative communication and leadership style cannot avoid a consistent decision. Either he/she remains completely without a social media presence or basically opens up. But a 100% delegation of #SocialMe to agencies and in-house teams is unfortunately not crowned with sustainable success.

Would you also like to become visible as a social CEO?

Then build on my experience of successfully positioning CEOs on LinkedIn since 2008 and my top 1% ranking in the Social Selling Index.


Author: Susanne Mathony

Susanne Mathony
Susanne Mathony

The positioning of brands and people are my passion. For more than two decades, I have lived out my calling with CEO positioning, strategic marketing and communications consulting, PR and business storytelling.
Added in 2014 was the Social Media Consulting. Here, the focus is on #SocialCEO and personal branding and positioning of boards and teams on LinkedIn.My home is Professional Services. At GSA and EMEA level, I worked for AlixPartners, Andersen Consulting (now Accenture), Strategy& as well as Russell Reynolds Associates, among others.
As a political scientist and trained journalist, I started my career at a Washington, D.C., think tank.


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