Should all CXOs be active on social media?

In what situations should the CXO avoid engaging with the social media? Is there a choice at all? What is the fallout of not being on social media? Should the C suite be on social media at all with all its inherent pitfalls?

Jaideep Shergill, CEO of MSL India’s says that social media presents three key opportunities to C-level executives. The first is: reputation; "They can drive the narrative around their own, and their organisations reputation by choosing to directly communicate facts and opinion about economic conditions, policy, their sectors, vision for sector an policy, vision for their own organisation and facts about their own organisation — pretty much in this order."

Shergill adds that the second opportunity is insights; "Increasingly, social media is playing an important role in India's day-to-day life. It is influencing how people think, behave, communicate and spend money. By being part of this milieu CXOs can gain deep insights into consumer behaviour.”

And lastly, credibility; "Online influencers have the power to create and destroy the credibility of brand initiatives — by being online CXOs have the opportunity to connect directly with influencers and increase the credibility of their offerings through regular conversations as well as address an issue before it becomes a full blown crisis.”

It’s a measure of the speed of social media that just as we had finished speaking to our experts, and were in the process of writing up this story on the case for the C suite on social media, the incident with Anand Mahindra erupted; showing that being on social media can present a challenge even to those among the C Suite who do it well. Anand Mahindra, Chairman and Managing Director, Mahindra & Mahindra, who regularly turns up on the list of top online  influencers, had a rare trip up online, over a tweet he denied sending according to this story on the Economic Times.

As Mahesh Murthy, Founder of Pinstorm and Co-Founder of Seedfund, puts it, social media is a tool. Like nuclear energy, it can help or harm depending on how it is used or misused. But just like nuclear energy, it has way too much potential and power to be ignored any more. At the very least, the C-suite should hire a good brand management firm to oversee their digital media presence. It is going to be increasingly critical for their business in the months and years ahead. At the very best, C-suite executives should venture out themselves, test the waters and figure out how they can use the medium at their disposal to make a direct connect with employees, trade bodies, customers, regulators and investors."

Murthy, himself an online heavy-hitter who features in the top 100 on the Pinstorm India Influencers 2.0 list says that there is a generation of younger or younger-thinking entrepreneurs who have become influential icons in the Indian social media firmament. The top 100 list features names such as Anand Mahindra, Ramesh Srivats, Vishal Gondal, Suhel Seth. The C suite in India is getting familiar with being online.

Mahesh Murthy advises caution, in certain situations, “One needs to use social media very carefully when it comes to any activity regarding the stock market. There are very clear SEBI and RBI guidelines when it comes to taking cognisance of comments about you as well as when making comments about your own company. Businesses need to understand how to use social media within the ambit of regulations in this scenario – because if misused, they can be harmful. In some other cases, when your stakeholder is the government, you need to be careful on issues of listening, responding as well as making announcements.”

In the high-speed Twitter and Facebook game, is the humble blog still relevant? Jaideep Shergill says, "Blogs continue to be a potent form of communication giving brands and individuals the opportunity to present well thought out arguments that can't necessarily be tweeted in 140 characters. In fact, a good blog post can be the basis of a series of engaging posts on short form content channels like Facebook and Twitter.”

Murthy agrees saying that done well blogs can help CXOS to a position of though leadership in their industries, “Blogs are merely the “living” part of your online presence. Think of it as a way to update your stakeholders- be they employees, investors, prospects, customers, regulators on what you think from time to time. Search engines rank them well – and it is advantageous to be regularly read and quoted.”

Inspite of its ability to trip you up without warning, experts clearly believe that it is best for the C suite to venture out on social media. As Shergill puts it, "I don't believe that not being on social media is a valid choice for anyone with a public profile. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that any CXO who doesn't care about benchmarking their social footprint against their peers in a constructive manner is in for a tough time in the next few years.”