Social media expectations are creating new challenges for CEOs. As organizations began developing a brand presence through social media, many CEOs personally took a cautious “let someone else do it” approach, relying on the marketing department to engage with the public.

Yet those conversations are shifting, according to a global study of CEOs by IBM. Consumers expect authenticity. Employees want engagement. And partners are ready to crowdsource and collaborate in real time.

Still, change isn’t easy. A show of hands at the Insigniam Executive Summit last month also summed up the dilemma. CEOs and executives on Twitter? Not too many. The IBM study agrees, reporting that only 16% of CEOs are participating on social media.

CEOs on social media

The statistics on CEOs and the C-suite add further insight:

  • IBM estimates that 57% of CEOs will have an active social media presence within five years, a substantial increase from that previous 16%.
  • 81% of respondents in another survey say that CEOs who engage in social media are better equipped to successfully lead a company in a Web. 2.0 world.
  • Social media will surpass more traditional forms of communications, including face-to-face networking, websites, call centers, etc., says the IBM study.

Why the resistance to opening up on social media? Regulations. Media scrutiny. Time. Perhaps several underlying beliefs are present too: Senior management leaders who’ve experienced career churn are wary. “Hiring decisions are based on social media,” one executive confided to me.

Social media & executive hiring

That belief is already being viewed through a different lens: Yes, hiring decisions will be based upon social media presence. However, it won’t be the absence of social media activity that persuades the hiring manager, but rather the executive’s ability to leverage it for recruiting, collaborating, and providing innovation value.

In Europe, three-quarters of senior executives are finding that social media platforms are the competitive differentiator according to a study commissioned by Google. They cited the value of uniting business divisions separated by geography and the speed of collaboration.

No industry or vertical is immune to the growing use of social media in business. If only 16% of CEOs are using social media, who is connecting to the 62% of global consumers already using it?

An equally important discussion should be happening in the boardroom: Are companies unintentionally killing crowd-based innovation by snaring employees in the bureaucracy of social media restrictions and outdated technology?

Upstart companies are wooing customers through the social-media efforts of just a few. Imagine the power of a large enterprise that inspired its people to recruit, collaborate, and share good works. It starts with you first.

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