Signal Social CEO Index finds just 1 in 14 CEOs are using Twitter to communicate

TORONTO — Signal Leadership Communication Inc. (SLC), a social public relations firm for executives and companies dealing with digital disruption, today released the results of a new study of how leading Canadian chief executives are using – and not using – social media. The Signal Social CEO Index is based on the Canadian Business magazine list of Canada’s Top 100 highest-paid CEOs (published on January 4th 2016).

Conducted by Ryerson University’s respected Infoscape Research Lab, the SLC study – the first of its kind in Canada – found that a majority (53%) of the country’s top CEOs are on at least one social media platform. However, only 16% of them are using two or more social networks.

“Almost half (47%) of top Canadian CEOs have no presence whatsoever on social media. When you consider the digital disruption their companies are confronting nowadays, that’s a shocking statistic,” said SLC Principal Bob Pickard. “But it also underlines a galvanizing PR opportunity for the country’s chief executives to become ‘social CEOs.’ Communication capability in general – and digital presence in particular – are becoming must-have business assets for leaders and our study shows that CEOs are really only just getting started on social.”

The Signal Social CEO Index highlighted LinkedIn as the most popular platform for the CEOs surveyed (45% have accounts there). However, only 50% of those CEOs have a profile photograph and just 33% have a proper biography. This represents a striking underdevelopment of what could be a much more powerful social media platform for corporate and leadership communication.

Despite the fact that Twitter has become the ‘go-to’ social network for journalists and breaking news, only 7% of the Canadian CEOs researched have Twitter accounts. Not including BlackBerry CEO John Chen (who has an impressive 19,100+ followers at last count), the six remaining CEOs on Twitter averaged just 316 followers. All the CEOs on Twitter (including Chen) showed limited interest in following others. On average, they followed only 65 Twitter users.

“Many CEOs are afraid to use social media, but they shouldn’t be,” said SLC Principal Janice Mandel. “A platform like Twitter offers a way for executives to be visible, connect with people and build trust. It also allows them to listen to what’s being said about their company, weigh in and create transparency. There really are many practical benefits. It’s a shame more executives don’t understand this.”

Just 17% of the CEOs studied are known to have Facebook accounts, the study found. Only nine CEO accounts could be viewed publicly, and they had an average total of 79 friends. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of CEO Facebook posts were personal in nature while only 2% promoted business operations

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Ryerson’s Infoscape Research Lab found that the CEOs share several different types of content on social media, including: thought leadership (20%), business promotion and philanthropy (tied at 13%), mentorship (11%), and governance (9%). Strikingly, though, only 2.5% of posts promoted or lauded the employees of a CEO’s company. Fewer than 1% of tweets were directed at – or spoke to – the experience of individual consumers or clients of a company.

The Signal Social CEO Index comes on the heels of a Nanos Research poll conducted for SLC which found Canadians overwhelmingly (84%) rate social media as the medium most able to damage an individual’s or organization’s public image.

Pickard believes that fear of social media’s new power may be the key emotion explaining the disparity between the obvious potential of digital media to help achieve positive image outcomes and the limited uptake and personal involvement of high-profile business leaders. “Our study found little evidence of strategic social media or leadership communication campaigns designed and implemented for, or by, CEOs,” he said.

Ryerson’s Professor Greg Elmer explained: “There are obvious risks in CEOs using social media. A novice and unprepared CEO risks offending communities by contravening online practices and conventions, or may simply post unedited comments by accident. That said, there is another less tangible – yet equally important – risk for the CEO: silence. In other words, by not engaging with social media, CEOs run the risk of being perceived as aloof, out of touch, or uncaring by their own employees, customers, or the public at large.”

Mandel said that “Now is the time for leaders to invest in social leadership communication. This will serve them well, and ensure that they won’t learn about social media the hard way by making mistakes when inevitable crisis situations occur.”

The full results of the study can be accessed here:

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