Every CEO in the Fortune 500 Has This One Thing in Common

Although CEOs of the top S&P 500 companies possess a diverse array of experiences and knowledge, the majority share this one surprising trait.

We can learn a lot by examining the most successful leaders and the steps they took to get where they are today. A look into the histories and commonalities of executives in the Fortune 500, for example, reveals a few surprising facts — namely that there is no one clear path to success. The CEOs of the top 100 companies got their starts as both independent entrepreneurs and ladder climbers. Some rose from an internship to the highest executive position (Ursula Burns of Xerox, for one), while others began their careers as consultants or accountants. 61% of these CEOs started their careers at a different company, while 33.4% started in a different field entirely.

Despite this wide range of backgrounds, there is one particularly interesting shared characteristic that stands out: the majority of CEOs (61%) have absolutely no social media presence, and not a single one is active on all six of today’s most popular platforms. This stands in stark contrast to the American populace at large, 65% of whom share links or tweet everyday.

A Lesson to be Learned

What’s the key takeaway from this discrepancy? Most simply, the importance of prioritization. These CEOs are too busy focusing on growing their businesses and making real life connections to dedicate the necessary time to establish and foster a presence on social media.

That’s not to say there is no value in a “Social CEO” — social media is a necessary and critical element of any marketing strategy. Indeed, there is an argument to be made for maintaining an active executive team presence on social media, as it can help personalize the company and build brand loyalty. The trick is using social media strategically to achieve this aim. An account for every C-level officer, for example, can be redundant and drown out your brand and messaging, but targeted interaction with the general public can show a company’s commitment to customer service and quality.

Managing Risk

Conversely, as effective as socially savvy CEOs can be, an improperly executed tweet or post could damage an otherwise sterling reputation (you may remember Kenneth Cole’s disastrous tweet during the Arab Spring — the internet never forgets). Inconsistent or superficial posts and limited interaction with followers can also deflate your brand. Meanwhile, engaging conversations can boost your brand’s vibrancy and dynamism, though maintaining such back and forth rapport requires a lot of time and dedication.

The best social media campaigns require so much time and effort that CEOs and other executives aren’t the ones actually running their own accounts. This raises the danger of contradictory messaging that can tarnish the sincerity and authenticity of a particular brand. To ensure that social media is enhancing your personal brand rather than degrading it, consistent storytelling is absolutely imperative.

Making it Work

It is therefore vital to have adequate resources — time, money, and a dedicated team — to pursue a presence on social media. Every company, every brand, and every individual CEO is totally unique, so it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the social media equation.

It’s also worth noting that avoiding social media platforms entirely has worked just fine for 61% of CEOs. A CEO has earned the top spot in the company for a reason, and for some, it may be more productive to focus on keeping the business running smoothly instead of spending an inordinate amount of time brainstorming witty hashtags.

Ken Sterling is the Chief Marketing Officer at BigSpeak Speakers’ bureau – the leading keynote and business speakers bureau in the world. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California and an MBA from Babson College. Ken teaches Entrepreneurship, Marketing and Strategy at UC Santa Barbara. He is a serial entrepreneur, keynote speaker, business consultant and sales & marketing expert. For press interviews, contact marketing@bigspeak.com.

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