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5 Leadership Social Missteps and How to Avoid Them

“CEOs who aren’t afraid to embrace the power of social media will have a significant competitive edge.” — Josh James, Domo CEO

I don’t know how to put this, but social media is kind of a big deal. People know social media. Social media is very important. If social media had an apartment, it would smell of rich mahogany, and there would definitely be a room full of leather-bound books. Yet, despite its importance, most executive leaders aren’t giving social media the time of day. According to’s Social CEO Report, 61% of CEOs have no social presence whatsoever, and there isn’t a single executive who has presence across all 6 major social networks.

Why are there so few executive leaders using social media? Aside from naming lack of time a primary reason, there is a very real fear of fudging up. And when you fudge up on social media, the Internet is ruthless and never forgets. If you understand the benefits of being a social executive and learn from the mistakes and mishaps of others, there’s no need to fear the socialsphere.

7 Benefits of Executive Leadership Using Social Media

First things first, to overcome social media fears, you must understand the benefits your social presence can bring to your organization.

  • Connect with current and potential customers on a more personal level. Personal connections are everything in the digital era. Mingling with your customers online helps you gain a better understanding of who your customer is, what they want and where their pain points are.
  • Show the people behind the brand. Social media gives you the opportunity to show your customers the people behind your brand. Doing so humanizes the company, conveys authenticity and injects personality. A brand can’t have personality without people and people don’t like brands without personality.
  • An opportunity to inspire customers and employees. How cool is it when a powerhouse executive like Bill Gates of Richard Branson responds to or even favorites one of your tweets?! The answer is, pretty damn cool and pretty damn inspiring.
  • Provide transparency.  Today’s customers are savvy to corporate smoke and mirrors. The visibility of your social media presence brings credibility which builds consumer trust.
  • Meet the customer where they live. Brands tend to think that their customers should come to them, but social media has changed that. Now, brands need to go to where the customers are.
  • Attract and recruit top talent to work for your company. Many companies now check social media profiles when vetting potential employees. Guess what, those potential candidates are vetting your company as well. Does your organization’s messaging entice the top talent you seek?
  • Act as a steward of the brand. Executives who are active on social media make the brand feel more accessible, committed to customer service more genuinely interested in their audience. Accessibility, commitment to, and genuine interest in, the audience boosts brand confidence and increases loyalty.

Social media is so much more than viral cat videos and pictures of food. There are tangible business benefits to having a strong social presence, but those benefits can quickly become a major PR nightmare if you don’t mind your social p’s and q’s. Remember, once it’s on the Internet, you can’t delete it. Here are a few leadership missteps to learn from.


Lesson: Don’t use social media to privately communicate sensitive information and if you do, triple check that you really are sending a direct message to the correct person.

The Ask an Executive Live Q&A Disaster

JPMorgan invited Twitter users to send questions to one of their executives using #AskJPM. What seemed like a fun, harmless Q&A turned ugly when users responded with a flurry of frustrations towards the company. With 2 out of every 3 tweets sent being negative, JPMorgan canceled the scheduled Q&A.

Lesson: Make sure you have your finger on the audience’s pulse before you invite them to ask an executive whatever is on their mind. You could be opening a pandora’s box of trouble.

The Little Joke that Ruins Your Life

Justine Sacco, the former Director of Corporate Communications at InterActiveCorp (IAC), enroute to South Africa to visit her family, began tweeting sarcastic jokes about the struggles of travel. Before the last leg of her trip, she tweeted this “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Then she turned her phone off for the 11-hour flight. When she landed, she found out her tweet had spread far beyond her 170 followers. Tens of thousands of angry tweets had been sent in response to her joke. One single tweet ruined her life.

Lesson: Think very carefully before you publish something. Spreading at the speed of social, what may seem like an innocent joke can ruin a reputation in a matter of minutes.

The “Oops I Forgot to Logout of My Brand’s Account”

The last person to use the American Red Cross Twitter handle clearly forgot to switch accounts before tweeting about #gettingslizzerd.


Lesson: Being hands on with your brand’s social media presence is great. It lends to the authenticity and human factor. If you happen to have access to your brand’s social channels, make sure you switch accounts before posting about your evening activities.

The benefits of executive leaders using social media are plenty. The potential pitfalls and PR nightmares can be avoided if you learn from the mistakes of others and keep these key things in mind:

  1. Think before you post. As a leader in your company, everything you digitally say is under intense scrutiny.
  2. Remember, once it’s on the Internet, it’s on there forever. If you delete it, even if it’s only a minute later, it’s already too late.
  3. Check the audience’s pulse. If there’s already significant frustration with your brand or another executive leader, don’t poke the bear with a open-ended live Q&A.
  4. Always switch accounts. Better yet, don’t ever login to a brand account on your phone, computer or laptop.
  5. Don’t use DMs to exchange sensitive information.

Social media is a big deal; it’s changed the way we find and share information, communicate and connect. In the digital era, there is a desire from your customers, stakeholders, and employees that you be active, accessible and visible on social media. If you’re still hesitant, need more persuasive data or want to know more about social media best practices, chat with us; we eat, drink and breathe all things social.


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