Should Marketers Use Social Media Personally Before They Use it Professionally?

by Mack Collier

social media, companies, marketing, ceoI recently read an emarketer article on a study BRANDfog did into how employees viewed their CEO, if the CEO tweeted.

The study found that 51% of employees were more likely to trust a CEO that tweeted, while another 31% were much more likely to trust their CEO, if they tweeted.  The study also found that 82% of respondents said they trust a company more when its C-Suite is using social media.

Does this hold true for you?  Are you more likely to trust and view a brand favorably, if its CEO is active on Twitter?  I tend to agree with this, because it makes me feel that the CEO is at least familiar with the tool, and is likely encouraging their employees to be active in social media as well.

So to flip this around, instead of companies cutting off access to Facebook and other popular social media sites at work, should they instead be encouraging employees, and especially executives to use social media?

A big problem I see with how many companies use social media is that they view it as a marketing tool, instead of a communications tool. They learn about how popular Facebook and Twitter are, and think ‘Ohhh….shiny new marketing channel!’  When of course, we are using these tools to CONNECT with each other, not to market to each other!

What if a company was wanting to start using social media, and the CEO called her executive team in and told them to start a Facebook and Twitter personal account, and pick one other account.  It could be a blog, Plus, Pinterest, whatever.   Let’s say the CEO just told her team to use the tools for a month, and then everyone would report back with their thoughts on the tools, and their experiences.

If a company took this approach and FIRST used the tools personally, would that make their efforts in using the tools professionally more or less effective?  What do you think?

Gigi Peterkin April 4, 2012 at 9:21 am

This is an interesting question Mack – and interesting data. I am a bit surprised by this shift as it wasn’t long ago that the public didn’t want to read blogs from the C-Suite as they rang as false or corporate speak, and many didn’t trust that it was actually the CEO blogging. It seems that hasn’t translated to Twitter use, or the sentiment has shifted? I’m also interested in the data as it differs from what we found in the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, which saw CEOs credibility fall to record lows.

BUT, that’s not really the point. Sorry. Data fascinates me, though not as much as people, behavior, patterns and motivation. I’m really taken with your parting question – should the C-Suite USE the social media tools personally and report back? That’s a great question. Disruptive. I like it. However, I’m not convinced that the answer is yes. It could be an interesting experiment to be sure, but would it be effective? We are each drawn to the social media platforms we use because they hold meaning – they help us share and curate news – ours and other’s – (Twitter), keep in touch with old friends (Facebook), showcase our thoughts/photos/artwork (Posterous, Tumblr), communicate visually (Pinterest). You get the idea. We MAKE the time because we perceive, and derive, a benefit from using these media to connect with people. I’m not sold that the experiment you propose would deliver the benefit these executives would need in order to genuinely participate on the medium. Maybe I’m jaded. Maybe I worked in corporate America for too long.

I think the social media channels belong to the people who’ve grown up using them, and this tends to be the junior staff (not everyone is CEO in his 20s a la Zuck). IMO, the people who inherently understand social media, how to use it and WHY are the best spokespeople for a company online. In the end, I believe genuine engagement wins out over the CEO doing the tweeting.

You know what could really be disruptive? A training where the junior staff train the executives on these channels, what they mean, why we use them and the benefits of this “new” engagement. THAT I’d like to see. Hell, that I’d like to make happen.

Thanks for the post Mack, and thank you for the opportunity to comment and voice my views. I hope others do the same and look forward to a robust conversation.

Mack Collier April 4, 2012 at 9:30 am

Thank you Gigi! You hit on an excellent point that I was hoping someone would raise in the comments: The disconnect that sometimes (often?) exists between how a company’s senior leadership uses/views social media, and how its younger employees do. If you’re under the age of 25 or so, social media is simply part of your life. How this group views social media almost has to be completely different from how a senior exec would view Facebook (for example) if he’s never used it before.

Unfortunately, I think we often see culture-clash happen when the senior execs want to use social media one way, and the younger employees use the tools in a completely different way. The good news is as more of these younger and social media-savvy employees move up the ranks and into senior leadership roles, cultures within their companies will change to be more open to the power of these emerging tools and technologies. Of course the bad news is, that change will take years in many cases.

I still maintain that there is enormous marketing potential for social media, but that potential is often best realized if companies work within the parameters of the tool and use it as its customers do: For communication, not marketing. Thanks again for kicking off the comments, Gigi 😉

Dean April 4, 2012 at 10:25 am

An excellent subject to chew on and, as you mentioned on Twttr, at least tangentially related to a previous post.

Props to Gigi Peterkin for her salient comment.

I agree with Gigi “…media channels belong to the people who’ve grown up using them…” From this, one shouldn’t infer I believe senior management is incapable of using social media effectively. But I do believe that social media is external to the cultural paradigm in which they were formed and, therefore, an intrinsic disconnect between utilization and appreciation exists.

In addition, there is almost a proprietary suspicion held by the more youthful whenever their “seniors” attempt to relate to them on their level, i.e. social media. Senior management is almost always viewed as disingenuous when it latches-on to a concept 90 or 180 degrees out from their established personality and vision. It’s an unfair appraisal in my view, but it’s a palpable obstacle in my opinion.

We will not overcome the youthful reticence to fully co-opt senior management into “their world;” however, the medium of text presents certain drawbacks that might be mitigated by video. Michael Dell for example makes good use of Googl+ to connect and expound on his vision. This of course dispels the notion that it’s not really the CEO trying to reach-out when he is sitting there in front of you. Using all the social media tools at your disposal, incorporating junior staff as a kind of advisory body, and a willingness to admit that it’s a “brave new world” will go a long way to validate corporate as a willing partner in social media.

Sorry for my disjointed thoughts. And thanks for the heads-up, Mack!

Mack Collier April 4, 2012 at 10:44 am

Dean what a great comment, loved this point: ” But I do believe that social media is external to the cultural paradigm in which they were formed and, therefore, an intrinsic disconnect between utilization and appreciation exists.”

Also, I think you make a great point about how Michael Dell has embraced Hangouts on Plus. One thing that a lot of companies are struggling with is getting their Subject Matter Experts involved in social media. It seems that too often, the Social Media Manager/guy/gal tries to get them to write for the company blog, and that’s the only option they are given. What about video? Podcasts? Pictures? There’s so many forms of content that can be created, and to your point, I think one of the draws for Michael is that he loves just ‘hanging out’ with people. When we had #DellCAP last year in Austin and Michael stopped by, one of the attendees asking him about his use of Plus. He said he just loved being able to talk about the products with the customers directly. And Plus gives him the ability to do that via posts and Hangouts.

But Michael is an atypical CEO I think in that he wants to use these social tools simply because he knows his customers are using them, so that means he and his company needs to as well.

Thanks to both of you, Dean and Gigi, great thoughts!

Aaron Lintz April 4, 2012 at 11:48 am

I defiantly agree with the sentiment here regarding perception of a marketing tool vs. communications tool. I would add that it is important to test the waters with a personal account to determine the audience, reach, and scalability as well. Their will be winners and losers as we have seen recently, but the value always comes down to your willingness to get off the fence.

Frank Strong April 4, 2012 at 12:41 pm

As risk of jumping on the bandwagon, I’d have to agree too, but on a smaller level, and based on interviewing and hiring: candidates that are active users of social media personally are much better positioned to use it well for a company. I think this is especially true of blogging and microblogging.

Craig S. Kiessling April 4, 2012 at 2:08 pm

In short, yes, I believe that using social media personally first is a good step. Each social network has its own quirks, tones, methods, etc. that take some time to learn and get use to the nuances therein.

Social Media for businesses is a different and yet not-so-different animal. If biz uses social media via creating a pretty and interactive page, incentives and all the other suggestions you can find on the net, but ends up just spamming anyway…Down the drain you go.

Previous personal experience will stop this mistake before it begins.

But of course, employees who will be using it professionally will need to understand the differences (and for that matter, so should the C-Levels.

Gigi Peterkin April 4, 2012 at 2:11 pm

Thanks Dean and Mack for your feedback – we’re getting a chat going about this. Dean, I have to echo Mack’s sentiment; you’ve succinctly distilled the issue with your comment “But I do believe that social media is external to the cultural paradigm in which they were formed and, therefore, an intrinsic disconnect between utilization and appreciation exists.” So well said, and if it weren’t quite so long I would get it tattooed on my forearm.

We’ve discussed who should use the tool, and I’m also interested in how. Both Mack and Aaron have raised the point of communications over marketing. We talk about this a lot in our various social media circles. And, on the surface, it sounds good and right and noble.

Here’s where that sentiment breaks down a bit for me: the marketing teams traditionally have the budget, not the comms teams, so if a company is going to invest in social media it will likely be with marketing dollars and an expectation of marketing results. We reference the social media corporate champions Dell and Dominoes as examples of corporate social media titans. Yes, they are talking to customers, but they’re also marketing product and building brand loyalty. Edge did the same with their #soirritating campaign (client). I guess my point is, we’re talking about business here. Yes, people want to be talked to, not sold to. Yes they want engagement, and yes there are better ways than others to accomplish this – rules of the road, best practice and the like. But, gang, we’re fooling ourselves if we think this is all a nice communications initiative and not a marketing one. What do you think?

Dean April 4, 2012 at 2:46 pm

Mack, Gigi,

Thanks to you both for not throwing the “sounds like a professor’s writing” thing at me :-) I don’t mean to be long winded. 😉

In principal, I agree. Marketing dollars are about the business of pushing product, capitalizing on demand, reinvesting, refining products, and repeating the cycle (did I forget “profit” somewhere?). My point is that social media is about 20% product and 80% brand.

There are numerous vehicles to market product effectively. I don’t believe social media is one of them.

It is, however, a brilliant venue to market the humanity of a commercial enterprise.

In America’s recent past, the larger a company became the more it was viewed as a titan of commerce/industry. The face of the people who ran it and those who labored within its walls, however, became just a shadowy impression. Obviously, everything is a human enterprise but was IBM seen with a human face or as a manufacturer of machines?

Social media can be the answer to assuage customer concerns that they are dealing with a machine rather than flesh and blood. In my opinion, this is the first, best function for Twttr, FB, and the like. By all means, push the product; but do it with the TV commercials or the magazine. Push the people as the company face with social media and it will have a positive monetary impact on the product.

This is fun!

Mack Collier April 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Dean to echo my comment to Gigi, I think companies CAN use social media to sell directly and ‘monetize’ their efforts, if those efforts are also creating a level of value for the same people they are trying to sell to.

A personal example: I’ve been doing #Blogchat for 3 years now. I never really pursued sponsors for over 2 years because in great part I was worried about how the regular participants would take it. But last year with the success of the Live #Blogchats, I saw all these additional services I could offer the #Blogchat community that would expand the brand and create MORE value for everyone. The problem for me was that doing so would mean taking time away from my consulting/training work (which pays me) and spending more time building the #Blogchat brand (which doesn’t pay me). So I finally decided that if I had a sponsor for #Blogchat, then I could afford to spend more time on building the brand. So far, there’s been little pushback from #Blogchat members because I think (hope!) they feel there is value being created for them by being a part of #Blogchat, and trust (again, hopefully!) that my bringing in a sponsor would allow me to create even more value for them.

In short, I think when companies use social media, if they use the tools to create value for their customers, the ‘monetization’ angle will take care of itself.

Dean April 4, 2012 at 4:06 pm


Your point is well taken (I need to stop in to Blogchat, as well). My reticence is probably an irrational recoil from being repeatedly struck on the head by the mega-marketing club.

I have no doubt whatever that you have your customers interest as a chief concern. Your way of creating value is laudable. You are not motivated by the bottom-line to the exclusion of everything else. However, I believe the current corporate strategies do not allow that kind of liberty (whether they are inclined or not…probably “not”).

Do corporate methodologies accept the idea that you can couple life cycle value with profit? Instilling a philosophy of cradle to grave value in the bones of a company is best done at the inception of the organization. Can an established corporation resist the temptation to club social media with the marketing stick?

If they can finesse new systems without reaching back to the tried and true maybe your way will work. As far as I can tell, its a mixed bag at the moment…but the day is young :-)


Mack Collier April 4, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Gigi I think I’m going to fall in the middle of you and Dean 😉 I do think companies can effectively market via social media tools. I think the key is to create value in the process. I think many companies fail at using social media as a marketing channel because the value-creation process never enters into the equation. The tools are used for marketing strictly, and that frequently invokes a gag reflex in the very people the company is trying to sell to.

I also think another key is how to find real business benefits from those ‘non’ marketing activities. Like engagement, interactions.

But at the end of the day, it’s like any other business activity: If you’re going to invest dollars in using Social Media, there needs to be a tangible (and measureable) benefit to the business from doing so. Totally on board with you there. ‘Joining the conversation’ is not a line you’ll find on too many balance sheets.

Fred April 4, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Two words: Rupert Murdoch.

Craig S. Kiessling April 4, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Although many of us know who Rupert Murdoch is/was and all of the vast things he was involved in, could you clarify and put it into context?

Fred April 4, 2012 at 3:28 pm

Media mogul Murdoch (WS Journal, London Times, Fox and Sky TV, assorted tabloids), under attack for the appalling ethical standards at his UK tabloids, opens a Twitter account to counter-attack. Turns out to be even more appalling than his papers. That’s the context.

What’s it mean? CEOs and their ilk tend to be psychopaths. Engagement requires empathy.

Craig S. Kiessling April 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Isn’t the main point of this about personal usage first before professional usage? Attacks and Counter-Attacks on social media (or anywhere elsewhere) simply show an amateurish and immature-ish attitude and mindset. After taking the wallops and learning the lessons from a personal usage, then they can think about how to apply these lessons to a professional entity.

Your last statement makes sense, but is not something one can just “do”. It is experiential knowledge & wisdom, gleaned from, like I said earlier, using social media personally, before engaging in it professionally. Otherwise, empathy or not, companies will unknowingly be throwing money down the drain.

Most big companies tout all sorts of SMO stats etc. have beautiful facebook pages or whatever, and then if you watch the reach over time, you will see it go down and down, because they treat it like email marketing – Hi %firstname% check out my %spam%…Over and over.

Contests, incentives, yadda yadda. If it smells fake, looks fake, etc. it’s a duck 😉 Sincerity comes from understanding it and using it. There are just so many factors out there. But most big companies simply do what everyone else is doing, but just with bigger and flashier extras (catch-phrases, bigger prizes, more insincere activity etc.).

Fred April 4, 2012 at 4:42 pm

Correct — it is NOT something you can just do. It demands an entirely different skills set, which some people might call humanity. Company insiders might get a bit of a feel-good vibe when the big boss starts to tweet. Ie, aw, look at Mr Big. At least he’s *trying* to appear human. Perhaps that explains the stats up top. But from an outsider’s point of view, in most instances it will look insincere and patronizing. As you say, fake.

Craig S. Kiessling April 4, 2012 at 11:00 pm

Fred…In a certain aspect, call it “real” if you will…I agree with you 1000% percent (note extra zero intentional). However, there are other aspects of the topic that we’re not addressing with this focus.

Gigi Peterkin April 5, 2012 at 10:45 am


You, Dean and I are closer on this than it may appear – though growth comes from discord and I have learned from both of you on this thread. :) In the end, we as advisors, and often our clients and the company insiders, place more (most?) of the focus on what the company/brand has to say, how they’ll say it (conversation vs broadcast) and who will say it. Where I think we all align is that this is, or should be, a conversation. The consumer has a voice and, often, just wants to be heard and acknowledged. They are interacting because the like the brand and want to tell you Mr. Corporate Guy, they have an issue with the brand or a question. They want the dialogue. Most of my work is done on behalf of heavily regulated clients. They are afraid to listen because of what they might hear, from a legal and regulatory implication. And right there, the game is over before it begins. When a company cannot listen, all they can do is broadcast and market and sell – and talk about their latest corporate good will. Which, in the end, does not go very far.

It comes back to value for the consumer (patient) – if, for example, they get more value from having and unbranded conversation about a disease, then have that conversation. This is where I find the paths diverge. The marketing departments who can make the investment in social media programs don’t see benefit in an unbranded conversation. The communications groups cannot afford to resource the programs effectively. It’s a bit of a stale mate – until a brave CEO or C-suite exec sees the value in disruption of the corporate social media status quo. But, I’m not saying anything new here, am I?

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