Not long ago, CEOs — especially those at the helms of financial organizations — were perceived as inhabitants of lofty ivory towers, where their importance and superiority kept them isolated and safe from the investing public. And for centuries, the masses accepted it. Then the internet came along and changed everything.
Now, before deciding to buy from, do business with or work for a financial or insurance company, consumers and advisors expect to make authentic, real-time connections with these brands. A luxury ushered in by the social media revolution, this practice has become so commonplace that many take it for granted. For these reasons and more, investment or insurance company leaders (not to mention advisors) who hope to connect with investors are quickly discovering that actively engaging on social media is not only necessary, but extremely beneficial to the bottom line.
Consider these stats from TheSocialCEO.org:
- Three in four American consumers say social media influences their buying decisions.
- A whopping 80% of consumers are more likely to trust a company with a CEO who is active on social media.
- 78% of employees would rather work for an organization helmed by a CEO who leverages social media.
Yet despite such obvious advantages of becoming a social CEO, 61% of Fortune 500 chief executives have absolutely no social media presence. This would suggest that while almost everyone else — including President Obama, leader of the free world, and Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church — grasps the value of social media, the heads of most Fortune 500 companies remain either unwilling or unsure about engaging with their audience online.
While social media isn’t without its risks, CEOs who embrace it usually find that the numerous business benefits far outweigh any potential, and easily mitigated risks.
Here’s how a company can benefit from having a CEO who understands and is active on social media.
1. It can humanize the organization and build trust. We may live in an increasingly digital world, but people still want to see a face — not to mention a personality — behind the brands they do business with. In fact, 80% of consumers are not only more likely to trust a company whose chief executive officer participates in social media, but they’re also more likely to make a purchase from these companies. It’s no surprise that the most recognized brands are led by equally well-known CEOs—think Microsoft and Gates, Facebook and Zuckerberg, Virgin and Branson.
These leaders understand the influence their authority and credibility afford them. After all, who better to communicate an organization’s values and beliefs than its leader? CEOs can also use social media to:
- Reassure the public that there’s someone real at the top who has their best interests in mind.
- Engender trust while enhancing brand credibility, authority and likeability.
- Inspire much-needed transparency surrounding goals, decisions, initiatives, financial stability, direction, etc., all of which are particularly crucial in the investment and insurance industries.
- Reinforce the organization’s reputation for innovation and responsiveness.
- Influence consumers to do business with them and top advisors to work with them.
- Demonstrate an understanding of stakeholder needs and concerns.
- Make themselves accessible by participating in conversations and soliciting feedback.
In the investment and insurance space, one CEO does a particularly good job of humanizing his organization: TD Ameritrade CEO Tim Hockey (@TimHockey). With an active Twitter account and a LinkedIn presence, Hockey’s witty humor reveals his personality and makes him relatable to employees and investors alike. He posts a variety of content that demonstrates his own leadership beliefs as well as TD Ameritrade’s value proposition. Overtly accessible, Hockey eagerly engages with employees and customers who are only too happy to share pictures and anecdotes with him.
2. Social media is a great platform for CEOs to amplify their brand’s message. While Fortune 500 leaders are slowly beginning to adopt social media messaging strategies, it’s the forward-looking CEOs new to the list who are driving this change, according to the 2015 Social CEO Report from CEO.com Unlike the Fortune 500’s more tenured and immutable execs, newcomers see social networks as cost-effective conduits they can tap to push messages to customers, prospects, employees and even the media.
Vastly more digestible than stuffy press releases with a potential reach that puts even the best email blast to shame, a single social media post allows CEOs to publish information on a variety of topics quickly and efficiently. These messages often garner greater attention thanks to organic shares, likes and replies. And yes, the CEO should author their own social posts if they hope to demonstrate sincerity, spread messages further and cultivate likeability. By using social media to broadcast their message and share information CEOs can also:
- Increase the odds that communications will reach their target audience by employing other messaging platforms that don’t cost a cent.
- Provide access to their thoughts, for lack of a better term, allowing anyone who’s interested to discover what’s on their minds.
- Shape conversations by providing commentary, sharing news and stirring the pot.
- Offer the kind of thought leadership customers and employees crave.
- Demonstrate innovation with announcements regarding new strategies, research, products, services and features.
- Help generate their own publicity, acknowledging awards, media mentions and pats on the back for the company and individual employees.
- Ask for, respond to and share insights from customers and employees.
Chairman and CEO of LPL Financial Mark Casady (@MSCasady) has mastered social media. Making frequent Twitter and LinkedIn updates, Casady embraces several platforms and isn’t afraid to share what’s on his mind, from brilliantly celebrating team USA during the Rio Olympics to relaying personal stories. In addition to providing advisors and consumers with valuable resources, he recommends books, asks followers for suggestions, likes and shares salient quotes and studies, and directly interacts with his community. Not only does his social broadcasting approach make it possible for him to connect with more of his target audience, it also encourages people to identify with him on both a personal and professional level.
3. Glean insights directly from your target audience and employees. Social media sites make it easier, faster and cheaper than ever for CEOs to monitor what’s going on in their employee, prospect and customer communities. Whereas studies and focus groups require substantial investments in time, money and resources, social platforms are filled with information that’s delivered in real time. Monitoring these channels is what social media listening is all about.
By encouraging clients, prospects, and employees to post their thoughts, CEOs can quickly formulate a real-time portrait of the company’s reputation. And if they take the time each day to monitor these conversations on social media they will:
- Demonstrate a commitment to engaging with stakeholders of all kinds.
- Easily listen and respond to employee and consumer concerns, sentiments, challenges, questions, ideas, recommendations, etc.
- Identify what’s going well and what’s going wrong, allowing for proactive strategy adjustments.
- Meet customers at every stage of the buying process and provide appropriate resources.
- Ascertain what clients, staffers, competitors, the media and the public are truly saying about the company.
- Keep an eye out for complaints, general or customer questions, accolades, requests for new products, services or features, etc., facilitating real-time responses.
- Satisfy their employees, 78% of whom prefer working for CEOs who actively use social media.
Of all the CEOs on the formidable Fortune 500 list, longtime insurance industry influencer Jack Salzwedel of American Family Insurance (@AmFamJack) is easily the most engaged. Salzwedel clearly keeps a close eye on his social media community, maintaining an impressive Twitter account (with 8,545 tweets and more than 8,000 followers as of Oct. 7, 2016), a robust LinkedIn profile with thoughtful blog posts and a hefty share of Facebook mentions. He posts congratulatory notes, family photos and anecdotes, and expresses solidarity with worthwhile causes that resonate with his target audience.
For leaders in the investment and insurance industries, building and maintaining a strong social media presence goes a long way toward rewarding your brand with big-time benefits, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
--- Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Mark Casady as president and CEO of LPL. He is chairman and CEO. We also incorrectly attributed LPL's Facebook activity to Casady; he posts updates from LinkedIn and Twitter. This article has been updated.
--- Read Advisors Getting More Clients Via Social Media: Putnam Investments on ThinkAdvisor.