Should Your CEO Be Tweeting?: An Interview with Neville Hobson

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Published Oct 17, 2013 | Written by Eric Swain

Our own Eric Swain is the co-host (with Ann Hawkins) of a weekly podcast called The Social Media Show. We are providing transcripts of select shows.

Neville Hobson joined Ann and me on the 5th episode to discuss the role an executive should play in social media and content creation. Neville is a consultant, blogger and podcaster.


Ann Hawkins: Neville, in the second show that we did of this series, we had Euan Semple talking about the authenticity of content writing. He was talking about CEOs veering between, on one hand, where you admire them for having a go, but, on the other hand, where they’re as embarrassing as your dad having a dance at a disco and you just want them to stop.

Are we expecting too much when we ask CEOs not only to be running good businesses but also to be good writers?

Neville Hobson: It’s a huge question, Ann. I see that as being talked about a lot as well. But for me, the first question you need really to ask is why would you want your CEO to be engaging via social channels, whether it’s a blog or Twitter or Facebook or whatever? What business goal is that supporting? Is he or she actually the right person to be doing this? Particularly in today’s climate of diminished trust in leaders that we keep hearing about.

Often you see someone in the C-suite engage in social media and they’re not doing it very well. I have to say though, there are examples of people who are doing it very well indeed. Maybe that comes down to the nature of the individual. He or she is actually a natural at this form of informal communication.

Also, I’d like to think that the counsel and advice surrounding that individual in the form of the communicators, typically, know what they’re doing. That’s key to the success of it. More often than not, you hear about the embarrassment factor and there are lots, unfortunately.

Ann: If you were advising a CEO where would you start? You mentioned that they would need some good advice. But who would that advice come from? Is it the marketing department? Is it a social-media manager?

Well, I have a biased view. As I’m a communicator, I wouldn’t recommend the marketing folks. This naturally falls into the realm of (whatever label you give it) communications, whether that’s public relations or it’s corporate.

But it’s someone who has the insight, the oversight as it were, from the big-picture point of view of what this can help achieve in a measurable way that supports a clearly defined business objective.

That individual could come from marketing. It could be anyone in the business. It actually depends on the organisation. I don’t believe that it’s one simple answer that you apply to every organisation. Much depends on the individual company.

Some might have a social-media manager; that may well be the individual. But somebody who has the ability, the skill, and the trust of the people he or she is working with in that C-suite, to be the counsel and advisor to that executive in terms of what to talk about and, often, how to do it, if that person needs that kind of help.

Eric: Do you have any examples of organisations that have advised and have set their CEO up, or one of their senior leaders up, properly in order to be writing good blog posts or creating good communications in the social spaces?

Most of them come out of the States. I’m not aware of too many in the UK here, other than people like Richard Branson, for instance, who is sort of a rock star of this kind of thing.

But you can look at some of these big organisations in the United States, notably in the tech space. Two that readily spring to mind, two individuals: Paul Otellini of Intel and Bill Marriott of the Marriott Hotels. He’s at least in his 80s. Great examples going back a few years from when they started.

They are still, I think, good examples of individuals who know what they’re doing; who are able to engage with customers, and others with an interest in their business, in ways that make those people want to read his or her content constantly.

It’s not pushing his or her business. They are opinions and engagement-type pieces that stimulate people to want to talk to the individual. That’s really what it comes down to. So they’re not giving out corporate messaging all the time. There are a lot of examples of that around.

They are two very good examples.

Eric: Do you think one of the goals of this sort of communication - especially in the social era - is to create a window, a transparency on the organisation, and hopefully to deliver or to generate some trust and better understanding?

Yes. For an executive doing it, I think, it’s absolutely right. This is not about generating sales leads. This is about precisely that. It is providing examples of that leader’s insight. His or her knowledge expressed and articulated in a way that stimulates others to either contribute to some kind of conversation, or want to keep paying attention to what that person is saying. That is a very big part of trust.

There are quite a few bits of research out there, notably in the US, that talk about this kind of activity by a leader who engages informally in this way, and literally engages in conversation with people. It gets more attention on what that person has to say as the representative of his or her business.

It contributes to that feeling of getting insight, knowledge, in a way that isn’t suspect. This adds something that you otherwise wouldn’t get. It does help. Particularly in today’s climate, as evidenced by Edelman’s Trust Barometer of declining trust in leaders.

So this whole thing, this whole area, of thoughts on leadership is a very, very good example that is so easy to do. I’m just amazed more people don’t.

Ann: If someone’s not a particularly talented writer, or a natural writer, as you mentioned, there are all sorts of other ways of communicating now, aren’t there? Like the podcasts that you’ve been doing for many years and little videos on YouTube, like Gary Vaynerchuk and all that kind of stuff. So people who can talk rather than write, there’s really no excuse.

Absolutely. There are many, many channels to get an individual’s words out there in some form. You’re absolutely right, Ann. Some people in leadership roles in organisations aren’t terribly good writers for this kind of writing. They can do a report and all that kind of stuff. But the free-form informality of a blog post, and indeed a Facebook update or a Twitter tweet, things like that, don’t necessarily come naturally to those kinds of people. Plus, you need to clearly address whether this is the right method for this person to be doing these kind of things?

Of course, there are other forms. The person may have a terrific speaking voice. In which case, audio might be good. Maybe they’re very good in front of a camera. In which case, Google Hangouts are great. Or some kind of video messaging that’s stuck up on a blog. Or even a corporate website at a pinch.

There are many ways of doing this that enable you to get your voice out there and be part of that big conversation that’s going on.

It depends on your business, but largely there are going to be people talking about the things you are interested in, whether you’re there or not. In which case, if you’re not there, there’s little you can do to influence that. Whereas if you are, you have a good chance of shaping how the conversation develops and you being at the centre of it. That’s got to be a good thing, I would think.

Eric: And I suppose something that’s enhanced that even more is Google Authorship and what we’ve learned about that over the last few months, and how that’s going to be important to going forward.

Yes, though it’s still emerging how Google Authorship is going to work. But you can actually see quite clearly why this is going to be important in the sense of finding trusted opinion. People that you think, “Okay, this is a great piece. Who is this individual? Who wrote this?” If you just do a search on Google, that person’s name shows up with some kind of link to others who are connected to them, that makes you feel more confident that the person is worth paying attention to.

Over time, according to what I’ve been reading, and I believe this is absolutely going to be the case, this will have a huge influence on what content people do pay attention to. That of course is all to do with driving search and links to websites and so forth.

So if you are missing from that, you will not get the connections. That’s got to be something of concern to every business.

Image courtesy of LikeMinds

Published by Eric Swain October 17, 2013
Eric Swain