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In Denial? The 61% of Global CEOs still eschewing social media are increasingly out of step with staff and customers alike

70% of senior professionals says that having a ‘social CEO' makes their company a more attractive place to work.

The world and his wife (and his ex-girlfriend, brother, colleague, neighbour, mother-in-law, maiden aunt...) have embraced the wonders of social media, but that's far less likely to be true if you're a top CEO.

According to new research from CEO.com, reported on the World Economic Forum (WEF) website (the article headline says it all: "The most important digital skill for tomorrow's CEOs"), the heads of the world's biggest and most powerful companies are amongst the biggest laggards when it comes to joining the global social media conversation. In fact, a stunning 61% have no social media presence at all! And many of those who do have social accounts rarely have anything to say.

It seems that for most CEOs, social media is still seen as just a distraction - something that junior staff do when they should be getting on with the 'real work.' But having this mentality means missing a very important trick. In fact I would argue that that it’s downright dangerous.

The fact is that consumers just can't get enough of social media, and it's becoming inexorably bound up in most of our lives. A report from Strategy Analytics shows that more than two billion people throughout the world are now on social media, with users spending an average of two hours per day on these platforms.

This is having a huge impact on people’s browsing and spending habits - millennials now watch more YouTube than TV, and a Market Force study found that fully three-quarters of consumers say social media now influences their buying decisions. So how in the world can CEOs continue to kid themselves that this isn’t relevant to the success - and potentially even long-term survival - of their business?

The biggest barriers to social media for these executives seem to be lack of time, a difficulty in understanding the personal and corporate ROI benefits and a lack of confidence in their ability to master the technical aspects of social media (which no doubt seem ever more daunting, the longer they remain opted out). And we should’t under-estimate a fear of looking like a complete idiot - after all, one slip-up on social media can become the stuff of legend (on which note, Happy Ed Balls Day everyone!).

But when handled carefully and expertly, social media can be one of the best tools under a CEO's belt - helping them to be more productive, promoting themselves and their companies on a global scale, providing insights on what their customers and rivals are up to, and acting as a brilliant PR channel.

Perhaps most importantly, when a CEO has a social media presence they show the face behind the name, which is crucial to building up trust, loyalty and engagement. People no longer expect CEOs to be mysterious characters locked away at the top of a skyscraper. They want to see who's running the show.

What's more, when CEOs are active on social media it tends to reverberate throughout the company, breaking down hierarchies and opening up the lines of communication. For me, one of the most telling stats in the WEF report was the finding that 70% of senior professionals says that having a ‘social CEO' makes their company a more attractive place to work. At a time when attracting - and retaining - top talent is higher than ever on corporate agendas, this fact along should be enough to convince any still-wavering CEO.

And it's not just staff who are influenced positively by having a social CEO, it's the company's overall brand reputation. The CEO.com report says that "highly regarded companies are more than three times as likely as those with weak reputations to have a CEO who participates in social media."

With all these benefits, it's genuinely shocking to me that so many CEOs still remain in social media denial. As the WEF article points out, if even the President of the United States decides it’s time to open a Twitter account - as Barack Obama did last year - then what excuse is there for anyone else. (And we're talking about a World Economic Forum article, based on on CEO.com research of every single Fortune 500 company here folks, not some throwaway PR puff piece that can be readily dismissed).

I'll leave the final word on the subject to the CEO.com report: "Simply put, social media has become a vital tool for CEOs to better communicate and connect with their key stakeholders and enhance the reputations of their companies."

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