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CEOs and social media: Best practices and examples explained

CEOs are the public face of a company. Learn the components of an executive social strategy as well as how it can boost a company's reputation and attract new audiences.

There's a right and wrong way to use social media as the public face of a company. CEOs are influencers that can affect their company's revenue through a social media presence -- good or bad.

Elon Musk endorsed antisemitic hate speech on X, formerly known as Twitter, in November 2023. Musk and the company faced a wave of backlash that prompted many companies to cease advertising on the platform for fear that ad content would appear side-by-side with hateful content. Apple, Bravo, IBM, Oracle and Xfinity ads all appeared next to pro-Nazi content, according to media watchdog group Media Matters. Several of those companies no longer advertise on the platform.

When advertisers leave X, revenue drops. Revenue has been dropping at X for much of 2023, both because of Musk's changes to the platform and now his public conduct. X's ad revenue has declined at least 55% year-over-year each month in 2023, according to data from Guideline.

Musk's misstep is an example of how an executive should not present themselves on social media. His company and his personal reputation are damaged.

That being said there are many ways executives can benefit their company with a social media presence, and many who are doing it right.

Why should CEOs have a social presence?

Personal social media accounts can be an asset in promoting any brand or company. Specifically, an executive's personal presence can make a difference for online branding efforts because of their importance to the company. Some reasons a CEO should have a social media presence include the following:

  • Humanize the company. A CEO can communicate directly with their audience, which can help gather valuable information and humanize a company in the audience's eyes, ultimately making a company more relatable and trustworthy.
  • Engage new audiences. A social presence from executives can strengthen existing business relationships, forge new ones and even help with recruitment. Social media can help CEOs be better brand advocates and enhance a brand's visibility.
  • Promote transparency. CEOs can share insights, industry news and behind-the-scenes glimpses into the company, adding to the trustworthiness and overall reputation of a company.
  • Gather insights. Engaging on social media lets CEOs gather market and consumer insights first-hand and learn about consumer preferences through real-time feedback.

How should CEOs behave on social media?

To reap these benefits and maximize their influence, CEOs should practice the following:

  • Authenticity. Authentic posts are a great way to humanize the company and people running it. CEOs might share personal details such as unique life milestones, family moments or personal interests. Authentic accounts can foster a deeper connection with a company or brand's audience and earn media attention. Authentic is Merriam-Webster's word of the year in 2023, which highlights the increased value of genuineness in the modern social ecosystem.
  • Consistency. Being consistent with posts, engagement with other people's content on social media and messaging is important for a good executive social strategy. CEOs should post somewhat regularly to maintain their presence and use a posting schedule to reinforce consistency. Hootsuite, Sprout Social and Sprinklr are a few platforms that let teams schedule posts and monitor performance. They should also consistently like, comment on and reshare other people's content if it aligns with their values.
  • Thought leadership. CEOs might act as thought leaders on social platforms to boost engagement and relationships with the audience. Thought leadership can turn executive channels into a destination for users to learn about a specific topic or industry. Thought leadership is also shareable, which delivers the content to new audiences. Engagement with thought leadership can also translate into sales and leads.
  • Social leadership. Social leadership involves demonstrating a commitment to corporate responsibility, sustainability and contributing positively to society. It also involves demonstrating an emotional, empathetic leadership style. The CEO demonstrates their understanding of the importance of strong employee relationships and a positive work environment.
  • Crisis communication. CEOs do not want to come off as apathetic or uninvolved during a crisis. It is important for CEOs to demonstrate empathy and a commitment to action in times of crisis as well as frequently post updates on crisis management and resolution.
  • Posting engaging content and interacting with audience. CEOs should post content that compels the audience to stop, read and engage with it. Post should have an engaging hook in the first line and use rich media, such as images, videos and data visualization, to grab the readers' attention. Listening to and engaging with the audience will give CEOs genuine insights into what consumers want and what is happening in the industry. CEOs can comment on discussions or contribute to collaborative articles with other thought leaders. CEOs should show openness and be responsive.
  • Differentiating personal and company posts. CEO posts should offer personal stories of leadership or unique perspectives on new technology, providing a unique value different from the company's account​. The CEO's personal account lets them use a different, more personal tone. It shouldn't sound like it's run by a PR agency. It also shouldn't be obvious about trying to convert audience members into customers even if it ends up having that effect. It should be squarely about communicating with an audience and building relationships. While CEOs act as an extension of their brand, they should be differentiated to humanize them in contrast to company-run pages.
  • Posting timely content. CEOs should react to the latest news and world events when appropriate. Doing so can start discussions and give CEOs an opportunity to share their perspectives on a certain trending topic. It also helps them stay relevant and post consistently.

Examples of CEOs on social media

Companies can benefit from CEOs being consistent, authentic and engaging on social media. Below are some examples of leaders doing it right.

Adena Friedman

The chair and CEO at Nasdaq publishes directly on LinkedIn and has used the platform to establish herself as a thought leader in the industry. Her position as a leader in a major stock exchange makes her a go-to source of market trends and economic forecasts. She has half a million followers on the platform and is a LinkedIn Top Voice.

Doug McMillon

The president and CEO at Walmart often takes to social media to make appreciation posts detailing his visits to various company-owned stores around the country. He gives shoutouts to employees and posts photos meeting the staff, which is humanizing and shows empathy toward employees.

Sam Altman

The CEO of OpenAI is always taking to social media to show appreciation for his coworkers and makes frequent public appearances to talk about the way his company's product can benefit humanity. Altman also candidly shares his opinions and differentiates his personal account from the company account by making personal tweets.

Shou Zi Chew

The CEO of TikTok uses social media to promote his brand and other brands as well. He posts on his own platform to show how it can connect users with content they love and other users. This both humanizes and promotes the brand.

@shou.time @goldrushvinyl ♬ Sunrise - Official Sound Studio

Satya Nadella

The CEO of Microsoft shares business updates and technology news on social media. He also uses it to communicate core values, such as social justice, equality and diversity. Nadella also shows good crisis management on social. When Altman, CEO of OpenAI -- an important partner of Microsoft -- was abruptly fired by the board, Nadella immediately took to social media to express the company's position. In the days that followed, Altman was rehired at OpenAI, and three of the four remaining board members stepped down. Nadella consistently posted updates on Microsoft's position and expressed appreciation for employees.

Ryan Gellert

The CEO of Patagonia discusses issues that matter to him and reflect Patagonia's core values on social media, particularly the company's commitment to environmental sustainability and social responsibility. His social presence also showcases Patagonia's corporate culture, which is based on activism, sustainability and employee well-being.

Ben Lutkevich is a writer for WhatIs, where he writes definitions and features.

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