Since I am currently the Senior Data Scientist at SMS – this might seem like an odd article to write but hang with me just a second. I recently stepped down as CEO of SMS, a role I held for the last 32 years across 4 successful tech businesses and 3 spectacular failures (Currently Batting .571). I built and managed the Regional CEO Roundtables on the Central Coast of California and was the Program Director for 11 years. All my life and all my friends are and have been CEOs of SMBs. I have been a Digital Marketing advisor to hundreds of business over the last 24 years so I am completely comfortable with this topic. I have been involved with social media networks since their inception starting with MySpace and creating one called Kids Around the World around 1995.
CEO’s hold a unique position within their organization. They report to nobody but are responsible to everyone. My friends sometimes joke that the CEO has more bosses than anyone and to some degree, this is true depending on your perspective. What I want to explore in this article is a high-level strategy that I propose fits most CEO’s. This tactic fits any organization where the CEO has a key market facing role. In some organizations, this might be one of the other C level executives but for this article, CEO means the top market facing executive.
This tactic is NOT for communicating from Executive to the Consumer Market. That will be a future article, but it is out of scope for the purpose of this article. Social Media is a tool that can be used in many ways and for many purposes. The scope in this tactic is communication to a Professional Network NOT a Consumer Network like Facebook.
CEO’s have the greatest communication challenge of any executive because in almost all cases, the other executives have a subset of the responsibility of the CEO. In the typical business CEO’s need to be aware of and sometimes communicate with Clients, Customers, Prospects, Vendors, Employees, Partners, Competitors, and more.
This is actually the easiest part of because the answer is LinkedIn. Wasn’t that easy? Don’t you wish all executive decisions were that easy? It was easy because we limited the scope to CEO communications to their Professional Networks and the Social Media Network for that is LinkedIn.
Social Media has a basic design concept that you have to work within. As Yoda said to Luke Skywalker “You must become one with the force” and in social media, the power comes from your connections. This means that if you want to communicate you need to build connections. So here is the rule: No network = No Voice.
As the CEO, you are the tip of the spear so you have to decide who your second tier is going to be. This varies greatly from company to company but normally your second tier will be all your customer-facing executives. For many companies, this includes Sales, Marketing, Purchasing, Customer Service, and Transportation. In our business, we have three market-facing positions CEO, Marketing Strategy, and Data Science. The CEO will direct the next connection request from each new contact based on messaging to the contact. The table below is a typical second-tier distribution.
|Customers||Sales, Customer Service, Transportation|
|Competitors||Maybe direct to Channel Manager|
This is the normal starting point for most businesses because this communication is typically the highest priority – Customers First is a pretty common priority. Now we get to the grueling part and many executives delegate or outsource this. Here are the steps:
If you did a good introduction, you should get a very strong positive response from your list. Also, resist the temptation to use the tools that send invites to all your email contacts. This uses a singular connection request and it compromises the quality of the request. Finally, you do not want the same message sent to customers and vendors. These are different requests. Consider extending your connection requests with website content especially for your second tier. If your approval rate of connection requests is less than 50% consider testing new copy for your introduction.
After a connection is accepted here are the standard steps:
Normally, second in priority are Vendors and the process is the same. Write an introduction specifically for vendors, find the contact and send the request. Normally, the connection is the Executive Contact for the vendor. Many vendor lists have the contact as the order processor or A/P person but that is not the CEO’s peer so do not send requests to these. This dilutes your voice and communicates to the wrong person. This takes a little bit of research but the admin or A/P contact name will lead you to the all company connections and your goal is to find your peer.
Okay, this is where it gets dicey. Some CEOs truly like to be at the tip of the spear but the world of prospecting is where the world gets messy. If the CEO has a role in sales, as many do, then they should lead this process. Others support but not get involved in sales and those should delegate this to the lead sales executive. Here the steps are the same as customers but it starts by segmenting the industries and writing introductions to specific to each industry. Be clear about how you create value for the prospect.
Prospecting is fraught with problems and not the least of which is a very high rejection rate. If you select the targeting properly, have a great introduction, and a solid value for the prospect you should see an acceptance rate of 20% or better. If it’s much lower than that, test carefully and adjust until you have a good intro message. Prospects are the rest of the world so this can and should go on forever.
This network building campaign is last and you should think deeply about this before getting started. Connecting with competitors can be a source of valuable information but it can also be a leak of strategic information to them. In other words, be careful! In some cases, this might be better delegated to Channel Managers and kept out of the CEO network.
In all campaigns, there are a few decisions that have to be evaluated and this section raises and explores these:
There are plenty of automation tools around to help import your list into Social Media Networks and LinkedIn has some powerful ones. However, with great power comes great risk and you need to understand this. LinkedIn has tools that will take your entire contact list from your email into the system. The problem is people do this and send invites to people that should not be in your communication strategy. The golden rule here is do not use a mixed list like your email contacts. If you have a clean customer list with email contacts that could be a potential source but again a warning: Many customer lists are administrative contacts, not executive contacts. The CEO needs to be connected to their peers. When you have a mixed list you have to compromise the connection request and that degrades your positive response rate.
Let’s face the facts here, doing this is a grind and it’s probably NOT the best use of a CEO’s time but it does need your involvement. DIY (Doing It Yourself) is probably the least appealing and the least leveraged way to get this done but if the data is a mess, it might be the best way. If your list requires your special knowledge to know the people you should and should not connect to them DIY might be the right strategy. Delegation is a common way to get this done but it has its challenges as well. Every CEO I know staffs the business using the N-1 formula. N-1 stands for Necessary minus one. When you look across your staff, what you find are people that have projects, goals, and missions and giving this to them distracts from those. It is a rare situation where a CEO has excess staff sitting around waiting for work to find them. If you do have that situation, meet with your HR and fix that problem now. Outsourcing is a common way but it has its challenges – sound familiar? The problem here is that the outsourced resource may not know your business and with poor guidelines, processes, and procedures they can introduce errors in the requests. The way you get this done is not important but that you get it done is.
The world changes and this means that on some schedule, you need to Audit your network to make sure that it is the best it can be. Because it takes a long time to send and respond to connection requests our general recommendation is that you audit your network at least once a year. If your business is very active with lots of personnel movements, you might want to make this more frequent.
Social Networks evolve daily and the CEO has to be trained on how to keep their profile up to date. When you meet a new person, you need to request a connection. When something happens in your network, react to it and watch your feed on a regular basis.
Within this article, we reference the second tier in the business strategy. Each of these will also require an audit and support to build out the enterprise network. When finished the enterprise network should have an open communication channel to every part of the enterprise that touches and outside audience. For example, your Marketing Department should have a connection to every media resource in your market, sales should be connected to every prospect, and purchasing should be connected to every vendor.
Here are the steps we recommend if you decided to delegate or outsource your network audit.
The reason for this change is that you do not want to disclose your password because many times there are patterns that people can learn to break your passwords in the future. The reason for changing it back should be obvious so your account is not exposed after the work is finished.
Social Media is a mystery to many CEOs but this basic process is not. Building the right network is the key to success in this area. Follow these simple processes and with time and effort, you can dominate communications to your market. Make sure that in your business plan you have a social media section that details the tactics and strategies involved in this.
No general article should be taken as a specific implementable tactic. You have to take the general guidelines and adapt them to best fit your enterprise. In social media, there are no one size fits all solutions and your network will be as unique as your personality and enterprise. If you would like to discuss specifics I am always open to those conversations. Feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org