“Facebook, Twitter? Can’t someone from the marketing team do that?” Those looking to convince senior management of the relevance of their interactions on social media, are usually confronted with a reaction that goes a little something like this: “Social media is for private use only and looks unprofessional!” However, accessibility and interaction on social networks is more important than ever for companies – and that goes for senior managers too. Why should executives be active on social media channels and how can executives benefit from online presence? The answer is simple: “Successful executives will be measured by more than their stock price in the future,” according to the CEO of ING Direct Canada, Peter Aceto. The way in which managers communicate in their environment – with customers, stakeholders or employees, has also become a new criteria.
Trust, transparency, reach: Michael Stenberg, Global VP Digital Marketing for Siemens AG, was one of the first to recognise how a company can benefit from having a strong social media presence. In 2013 he started his program “Executive Enablement”, which he used to train the top managers at Siemens in social media. We spoke to him about the potential of social network use and its benefits for executives.
Experteer Magazine: You brought to life the Executive Enablement program at Siemens. How did it come about?
Michael Stenberg: We observed that the way our customers communicated had changed noticeably in the past few years – they are spending more and more time on social media. In order to reach them on their preferred method for communication we have had to strengthen our social media presence. An important milestone was a decision three years ago to allow all employees to use social media networks in the workplace. It is especially important that it is not only employees using social media channels, senior managers must also participate in the transformation. It was this motivation that brought the program “Executive Enablement” to life.
EM: What is the philosophy behind Executive Enablement?
MS: With “Executive Enablement” I wanted to establish “leaders” on a senior management level, who not only drove the digital movement at Siemens, they also actively lived it. On the one hand, the CEOs should act as an example for the employees, in the way that they use social media channels for communication about Siemens. On the other hand the top managers at Siemens aim to establish themselves as influencers for Siemens’ core topics in the internet.
EM: Why is it important for CEOs to appear on social media channels?
MS: A study from Weber Shandwick found that CEOs influence the trustworthiness of an organisation. Many brand interactions take place in the internet and over social media channels. Those who want to win not only the trust of their employees, but also their customers, have to be present on the same channels. At first it may appear that active interaction on social media channels, like Twitter or LinkedIn, is a waste of time for CEOs. However, we’ve determined that these interactions quickly turn out to be relevant for their businesses. The senior managers who use social media in their daily business life see the positive effects carry into their business dealings.
EM: How do we prepare CEOs for “assignment” in the world of social media?
MS: Before CEOs launch their social media presence they go through training on the matter. Here the mechanics and uses of social media are explained and the concept of a “digital persona” for senior managers, which includes their areas of expertise and interests is brought into focus.
Our senior managers also go through training in “social selling” and learn how they can develop business opportunities on relevant channels.
EM: With Executive Enablement you are giving Siemens a face that is strongly connected to certain personalities. What sort of difficulties derive from this?
MS: When a manager leaves an organisation, he takes his network with him. Of course this is a shame, because it takes time to build an extensive network and suddenly it is no longer available as a resource for the company. However this is something we accept and instead place our trust in the fact that social media presence is a characteristic that will become increasingly important for senior managers, and consequently their successors. When we started the project, we knew that a generic company account, for example “SiemensCEO”, which could be used by numerous people, was not an option. It was against the purpose and meaning of social media, which demands a level of personal exchange and authenticity.
EM: What have you learned from the project so far? What would you recommend to other organisations?
MS: The success of “Executive Enablement” is based on a number of different factors. Consistency and continuity are important – a wide reach and influence on social media is not something you can hope to achieve overnight. It is a product of a slow and long-term building process. The offering of a stream of content and shareable communication make the first steps easier and builds your scope. The last key factor in achieving success lies in measuring and analysing online activity and interaction. Use tailored recommendations and tips to optimise content. So far we have a small group of CEOs with a scope of close to half a million followers and a Klout Score between 70 and 80 percent. Only 5% of internet users in the world have such an influence. For this reason it pays for senior managers to be active on social media.