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Social media channels represent a great way for companies to connect with customers, prospects, shareholders, employees, and the public as a whole on a more human level. Social media is a forum that encourages the sharing of opinions and individual perspectives. With this in mind, more and more CEOs are beginning to use social media platforms to present their viewpoints and opinions on topics ranging from business, politics, social responsibility, even their personal life and day-to-day activities.

A recent article from Forbes, “Why CEOs Should Care: How Social Media Drives Business,” calls attention to the lack of participation on the part of corporate executives. Of the Fortune 500 CEOs, “only 7.6 percent are present on Facebook, only 4 percent use Twitter, and less than 1 percent use Google Plus.” Although the percentage of CEOs currently using social media is low, IBM recently surveyed 1,709 CEOs around the world and found that while only 16% are currently participating in social media, they predict that the number will likely grow to 57% within 5 years.

Why should CEOs care about social media? Not only does it have a humanizing effect, but “using social technologies to engage with customers, suppliers and even their own employees enables organizations to be more adaptive and agile.” And as more companies realize this, they are taking the proper measures to ensure higher-level executives have the proper know-how to actively and appropriately engage in social channels.

The Hartford Financial Services group noticed the same trend – that higher-level executives were reluctant to adopt social media but needed to do so. As a result, the firm launched a “reverse mentoring” program where tech savvy 20-something entry-level employees were paired with an executive in order to tutor them in the world of social networking.  The program has been so successful that they have expanded it this year to include more department heads, one executive stated “it was an unforgettable experience,” as they were truly able to see the benefits of social media through the eyes of “millennials.”

Social media can absolutely be beneficial for business. In fact, according to a BRANDFog 2012 CEO survey, “More than 82% of respondents are likely or much more likely to trust a company whose CEO and team engage in social media. And an amazing 77% of respondents are likely or much more willing to buy from a company whose mission and values are defined through their leaderships’ involvement in social media.”

In the Forbes article, David Williams, CEO of software company, Fishbowl, describes social media as the “universal university,” a place where people ranging from college student to Fortune 500 CEO can relate, argue, learn, and converse with each other in a forum where its not only accepted, but encouraged. While social media might not always result in immediate business leads, it does allow people to experience a relatable side of seemingly impenetrable large corporate entity.

So, how should CEOs approach social media? No one wants to read meaningless drivel, but at the same time, CEOs who share their interests and insights on current issues whether they relate to their business specifically or otherwise have the most success on social media channels. Social media activity, like any other marketing or communications initiative, must stem from a committed brand focus. CEOs need to be able to communicate the right message and tell their story in an authentic way that is relatable. Those who participate in an effective and engaging way are sure to differentiate themselves in more ways than one.

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