As claims to fame go, persuading Lloyd Blankfein, the head of Goldman Sachs and one of the world’s most powerful CEOs, to get on twitter is not a bad one. Especially if you are an entrepreneur whose success is built on helping businesses make the most of social media, like Hootsuite’s founder Ryan Holmes.
‘I don’t know him, he lives on the other side of North America, but that’s the power of it, right? His first tweet was about his disappointment at Trump for pulling out of the Paris Accord. I was quite proud of that. Leaders need to get off the sidelines’ says Holmes.
It came about, he adds, because Holmes included an anecdote about Blankfein in his new book The Four Billion Dollar Tweet, and an email duly arrived in Holmes’ inbox from the Wall St titan saying ‘I’m signing up for twitter.’
The question of whether and how business leaders should be active on social media is a very contemporary one, but many still resist. The last time MT looked only 11 FTSE 100 bosses were on Twitter.
Events out there in the wider world suggest that it really is time to bite the social media bullet, however, because otherwise you leave yourself defenceless against potential attacks. ‘What are you going to do if Donald Trump tweets at your company?’ asks Holmes.
It’s a question many bosses must querulously have posed since that fateful Monday morning back in December last year, when the always Twitter-happy Donald Trump fired off a Tweet at US defence giant Lockheed Martin claiming ‘out of control’ costs on the F35 fighter programme.
He wasn’t even officially President at the time, but those few short words wiped no less than $4bn off Lockheed’s share price within a day or two.
‘5% of your market cap in 48 hours is not a good outcome’ he says. ‘Boards need to be considering this too, their job is to downside risk protect.
It’s not just loose-cannon presidents who can cause problems on social media either – when the video of a passenger being forcibly ejected from an overbooked United Airlines plane went viral earlier this year, the lack of a prompt and co-ordinated response from United on Facebook or Twitter made a bad situation even worse.
‘Investors will sell short or long depending on a company’s response on social media’, so you have to be ready. ‘It’s real time. you can’t create a strategy in real time.’
So with this in mind, Holmes has come up with a simple strategy based on 6 ‘pillars’ to help reluctant bosses feel more confident about embracing social media. And here they are:
1. Get Help
Don’t just sit there looking at Twitter thinking ‘What can I say?’ There are lots of people both internal and external who you can bring in to help you. It can also be useful to look at what other bosses who are on social media do. One of Holmes’s personal favourites is Air Asia boss Tony Fernandes (@tonyfernandes) ‘He’s really personal, a great brand.’ Just one thing to avoid – don’t leave your voice in the hands of an intern, no matter how many followers they have on social.
2. Find your voice
One of things that keeps many bosses – who are often of a certain age, shall we say – off social media is worry that the millennials and digital natives who hang out there will make fun of them. Will they be doing the equivalent of Dad Dancing, on the internet? Well maybe they will at first, says Holmes, but that shouldn’t stop you. ‘Nobody owns social, everybody can have a voice and a presence’.
3. Find your channel
Oh the tyranny of choice. Do you need to be on Facebook? Snapchat and Insta? Or LinkedIn and Twitter? Different platforms have different audiences and suite different types of content, says Holmes. ‘’It’s not just marketing, how people become aware of a brand is increasingly on social, they make buying decisions on social and they ask for customer support. All on social.’
4. Entertain your audience
Another big red flag for many c-suiters, for whom the E word is something best left to stand up comics and TV presenters. But if you are going to build your audience you do have to give them something that they want more of. Fortunately you don’t have to crack jokes all the time, just try and be human and share things that you think are interesting and important. Most of all, be consistent and schedule time for social media – even five minutes a day is a start.
This is one area where bosses have a great advantage if they did but know it, says Holmes. It’s called employee advocacy and is about creating relatable content and sharing it with employees. ‘If you share content with your employees and get them engaged around things that resonate with them and that you think are important, that’s a secret weapon. They tell their friends.’ And a friend telling a friend is much more powerful than a company just blowing its own trumpet.
6. If you mess up, apologise
The fear of alienating half their customers or workforce with a ill-judged post keeps many bosses’ lips sealed on social. ‘It’s the elephant in the room’ says Holmes. But stick to this golden rule and you can take the sting out of even the biggest social media fails. ‘If you absolutely own it and apologise, it’s hard for people to keep beating up on you.’
What if you believe in what you said and don’t want to say sorry? ‘You have to decide whether you want to fight that battle’ he says. Apple, for example, has pulled out of some states in the US because of their attitude to same sex marriage. ‘You can make big statements if they are ones you want to make’. Just be prepared to cope with the fallout.
And remember, he adds, that just as we used to say that today's headlines are tomorrow's fish and chip wrapping, so even the worst social media storm abates in the end. ‘No matter how viral something goes, the news cycle does move on.’
The Four Billion Dollar Tweet, by Ryan Holmes, is available on Amazon