One of the interesting side-effects of social media for those in communication and corporate affairs is that individual business leaders now have a personal following that can rival those of the companies they lead. It's a sign of the times that a successful CEO at a top Australian company isn't just expected to interview well with traditional media, they also have to be active across social platforms.
It's this transition from a brand-led corporate profile to individual-led that was underscored in the Edelman Trust Barometer earlier this year. While trust in business is down, trust in individual CEOs has increased – one of the few areas where trust is growing year-on-year. What's more, many of these leading CEOs are now becoming social media personalities in their own right, attracting hundreds of thousands, even millions of followers for their 'personal' accounts on LinkedIn and Twitter.
However, Edelman also suggested there was another key development: the rise of the activist CEO, that is driving the popularity of business leaders online.
Activist CEOs take centre stage
CEOs aren't just wielding more influence online, they're proving to be more likely to use this influence, taking a stand on issues as broad as modern-day slavery and marriage equality, according to Edelman.
CEO social media accounts require a bespoke content mix
These are messages that would usually be contained in a corporate social responsibility strategy (or downplayed entirely in the communications mix). Now, they're coming from the CEOs own social accounts as a personal project. As a result, they sound more authentic coming from an individual, rather than a generic corporate social media account.
Of course, the increasing role of activist CEOs owning their own social media channels will present new challenges for communication and corporate affairs professionals. Most pressing, CEO social media accounts require a bespoke content mix, with more focus on formats that showcase CEO personalities; in particular video content that isn't overly 'staged', but resembles an Instagram Story.
For corporate affairs professionals, it also changes the role social media plays in CEO succession planning. It may be in future years that boards are looking at the number of followers a CEO has on social media when they're recruiting. Likewise, corporate affairs teams working with leaders in their first CEO-level role will find one of their first challenges is to build up their social profile and advise on the issues where they can take a stand and be authentic.
It's still yet to be seen how important social media presence is going to be for CEOs in the future. But, however this trend develops, it's going to create new challenges for corporate affairs and communication professionals.