CEOs’ Passive/Aggressive Approach to Social Media

A study finds that CEOs actively engage in some social media but are much more passive with others. This blog is part of our current series on the use of social media by various executives in the C-suite.

When it comes to Twitter, CEOs would rather lead than read.

They tweet more than they follow.

But on blogs, YouTube and Web forums, CEOs engage differently. For those social media forums, CEOs spend less time creating content and more time simply viewing and reading.

Examining how CEOs -- and other senior management -- engage with social media was the focus of a study conducted in April 2012 by the Conference Board and the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University. The results were published last October.

The study, titled What do Corporate Directors and Senior Managers Know About Social Media found that CEOs are clearly engaged in social media — over 60% of respondents reported using it in some way in their personal life, with over 82% saying that they use it specifically to keep up with activity of friends and acquaintances. For professional and business uses, the overall percentage of CEOs using social media increases to 70.8%, with over 76% using it to keep up with the activities of professional associates and contacts.

Both for personal and professional uses, CEOs were much more likely to be passive users (e.g. reading blogs, watching videos, reading discussion boards and rating sites). But when it came to Twitter, the numbers were reversed—more CEOs actively tweeted than followed. In their personal accounts, 20.7% followed others; and 31% tweeted. And for professional/business use, 29.4% followed others while 35.3% tweeted.

Another surprise was how many CEOs still get value out of online message boards and forums. 67.6% of CEOs said they read the boards for business and professional purposes, and 41.2% said they posted there. Another area where CEOs actively participated professionally was in posting blogs: 44.1% said they post (and 64.7% said they read them).

What to make of these results? Perhaps these numbers reflect how busy CEOs perceive the value of different social media engagements. They may not want to spend much time reading the tweets of others, but see value for their company in posting tweets themselves. Blogs may be seen as potentially more substantive, valuable for both reading and posting. And because there are still substantive text-based discussions on many old-fashioned message boards and forums — which perhaps older CEOs have been part of for some time — these can be seen as a place where serious and informed discussion on issues for one’s industry take place.

Ultimately then, whether CEOs decide to engage in passive or aggressive behavior depends on the form of the social media/medium at issue.