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Defining the social CEO

In late July, Kevin Roberts, the executive chairman of ad agency Saatchi & Saatchi, caused a furor by claiming in an interview that the gender debate at work was over. This interview led to his submitting his resignation after swift corrective action from Saatchi & Saatchi owner, Publicis.
Would such quick action have happened before social media? Maybe. Most probably not. Today, thanks to social media, no CEO or C –suite executive can escape the fact that his or her personality is closely tied to the company’s brand.
Jennefer Witter, CEO and founder, The Boreland Group Inc. a boutique public relations agency headquartered in New York City, told PRmoment India that, “ Think of it – who comes to mind when you think of Microsoft or Apple? Bet you said Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – most people do. There’s just one thing - Gates hasn’t been at the helm of Microsoft for years, while Jobs passed away in 2011. This was all well before social media became the force that it now is. Social media has influenced personal branding because it is …. social. I see social media – whether it’s Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook – as a conversation between two people. When a CEO posts, while it may go out to thousands – or even millions – the person receiving the message feels that the chief executive is talking to her, even though it is quite the contrary. “
Witter adds, “The perception that a direct conversation is being held is quite strong and enhances the relationship between the CEO (and the company) and its target audience. CEOs don’t HAVE to be on social media to be successful. But if you want a strong personal brand that elevates and distinguishes you and your company from the competition, it’s best to investigate creating your own brand.” 
Are CEOs big brands in India?
Ankita Malik, manager- corporate communication & marketing, Intex, says that, “In India, while it is still common for the CEOs to be used as the face of the brand during launches or for specific projects, we still shy away from aligning them with the strategic long-term vision. Establishing the CEO to enhance the brand experience makes more sense because CEOs are perceived as the authentic representatives of the brand, underlining their excellent potential as brand ambassadors. In the modern day business scenario where the brands become more personal and transparent, well-groomed CEOs can not only be the most suited face, but also the voice to various stake-holders.”
How should a CEO go about building their brand? 
Jaideep Shergill, co-founder, Pitchfork Partners, says the core quality is, “In one word, genuineness. I would like to see CEOs project themselves and their corporations in an honest, open manner. Also, social media is a commitment. Therefore, I believe in what I call the ‘3R’ approach – regular, responsive and responsible. One-tweet-a-week CEOs will make no headway, neither will those who are distant and un-engaging. Lastly, CEOs have a responsibility to multiple audiences – customers, employees, investors, etc. They must ensure that none of those interests are impacted negatively.” 
Subhash Pais, founder and business head, i9 Communications believes it is fast becoming a must for CEO's across the board to indulge in social media. Says Pais, “In fact not only CEOs but also key members of an organization should look to invest in engaging over social media platforms.” 
Pais advises that, “I would recommend CEOs from all walks of life and industries to be the custodians of their brand. In today's world we have head honchos of multi-billion dollar corporations, heads of state and even celebrities taking control of their brand. I don't see why anyone should skip only because their industry might not be conducive to social platforms.” 
Anand Mahindra pioneered the social age CEO as a brand in India 
Asked to pick his list of leaders who do well on social media, Pais, flags off, “Justin Trudeau, the PM of Canada for his charm offensive and for reminding us that Canada is far more than a country that Indians migrate to. Anand Mahindra, the CMD of Mahindra Group for literally writing the book on engagement with key audiences on social media. Aditya Ghosh, president, IndiGo for being courageous in reaching out in spite of being in an industry with a potential for regular crisis such as aviation. Deepinder Goyal, founder and CEO of Zomato for being consistent in imbibing the same entrepreneurial spirit that pushed him to start Zomato. Aashish Sommaiyaa Managing Director & CEO, Motilal Oswal Asset Management Company for being an aggressive communicator and an initiative taker on issues that most in his sector don't on social media platforms. They all have, in their dealings on social media created huge energies for the brand they represent and immense trust for their own personalities. “ 
Pais’s top tips for cracking your social media brand:
  • Keep a close focus on the key messages you want to reiterate on the medium
  • Be humble but firm, don't be bullied
  • Don't let it take over your personal and social space
  • Make sure you do what you say you'll do
  • Always be graceful no matter what
Witter, who has included a chapter on personal branding in her book,” The Little Book of Big PR: 100+ Quick Tips to Get Your Small Business Noticed” says that the, “The C-suite executive who does a great job of personal branding is Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Can any of you say what exactly she does on behalf of Facebook in the chief operations officer category? If you answer no, you’re not alone. However, can you name the COO of eBay? Intuit? Let me guess – no. Now here’s the thing - Sheryl is better known for her work on behalf of women in the workplace, having lectured on it and written a world-wide best-selling book. Silicon Valley is not known for being welcoming to women. “…. Silicon Valley is a cesspool of sexism,” wrote the Huffington Post. Sheryl, while a billionaire C-suite executive, is an employee. To do what she does, she needs the blessing of her boss, which he has obviously has given. The benefit – Facebook is seen as a welcoming company where strong, smart women can succeed and climb the professional ladder. Her work is an excellent recruitment tool for stellar women in technology.” 
Sheryl Sandberg has effectively built her own brand and Facebook’s 
Witter’s top tips for building your own brand:
  • Determine what your objective is. 
  • Audit – How are you seen? Does perception meet reality? Auditing a group of about 20 people with pinpointed questions will help you to determine how you are perceived. The survey group should include your business associates, professional contacts and the like. Questions should include: -- What do I do? -- What can I do better? -- What value do I bring to the organization? 
  • Research – Go to a search engine like Google, and see what is being said or written about you. Download the information. - Analyze – Combine the audit results with your research. 
  • This is the really hard part – summarizing the information to create a personal branding statement that’s no more than three, four at the most, sentences. 
  • The personal branding statement is the most aspect of the entire process, because it will identify who you are as your company’s CEO.

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