CEO TalkBack: Leadership Learning to ‘Like’ Social Media


By Natalie Michael, CPHR

Last month I was at an executive coaching conference and in between sessions the majority of people quickly grabbed their phones and started tapping away. I am not sure what exactly they were doing. Email? Instagram? LinkedIn? Snap chat? Text? I had no idea.

When I got back to my hotel room and checked the hashtag for the conference on Twitter, and the conference group on LinkedIn, my social media feeds erupted. Pretty much every minute of the conference was available to me, including play-by-plays of the moments I missed. The point is—social media is everywhere.

Digging deeper for this issue of PeopleTalk, I spoke with Nancy Mackay, CEO of Mackay CEO Forums, and Michael Riedijk, CEO of PageFreezer Software to better understand their views on the social media phenomenon—as well as the upside and dark side for HR.

Survey Reveals Technology Gap
MacKay CEO Forums offers CEO and executive peer groups with over 800 members across the country, and more than 40 forum chairs. In her role as CEO, MacKay views social media as one aspect of a larger conversation about exponential change, something she believes HR and CEOs need to be embracing as a world view.

Recently, her firm surveyed 200 CEOs to better understand what differentiates companies which are embracing exponential change, and those that are not. She found embracing technology was the second biggest growth opportunity for CEOs. CEOs themselves believe they are not embracing technology at the pace of change they need to thrive in the world today, and social media is a part of this broader conversation.

A Primary Pillar: Key to Recruitment
To ensure she is walking the talk, MacKay and her firm are embracing social media as one pillar of their growth strategy. “Our big goal is to have 10,000 leaders become a part of our peer groups. We target leaders who want to raise their game, and make the world a better place. To enable our growth I am recruiting CEO forum chairs across the country,” MacKay shares.

Although she does not use social media exclusively, she finds that LinkedIn is a powerful tool for finding chair partners, people who are aligned culturally with the firm, and the go-to people for CEOs.

MacKay explains: “When recruiting chairs, I will often personally reach out to people to see if they are interested in exploring an opportunity. We find that people with an entrepreneurial mindset are open-minded to the benefits of LinkedIn, and although it doesn’t replace a personalized high touch approach, it can open doors for all parties.”

A Two-Way Lens of Potential
Michael Riedijk, CEO of PageFreezer Software, a leading provider of website and social media archiving solutions, sees the power of social media in recruitment as well, but he also sees the limitations. When hiring new employees for his firm he will often use social media as part of a broader sourcing strategy; however, he also uses social media as a way to understand what potential hires value.

“We will do a search on Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn as part of the hiring process to evaluate whether potential hires are thoughtful about their social media strategy, and promoting a certain point of view on business issues that matter to our company,” says Riedijk.

He has found that potential candidates often under-utilize social media as a professional tool, and at times, candidates seem oblivious to the reality that personal posts may have professional implications. “It’s common for us to see questionable posts on social media that have us pause to think about a person’s professionalism. I encourage our staff to have personal and professional social media accounts so that they can position themselves as thought leaders in their field while still enjoying the personal benefits that social media provides.”

Of Caution and Litigation
However, Riedijk is also wise about how social media can present problems for companies given that PageFreezer offers an online evidence service for social media, helping companies archive social media data in such a way that it can be permissible as evidence in a court of law, or for regulatory purposes.
Riedijk explains: “When employees get disgruntled and leave a firm they often vent on social media. We recommend that all our clients monitor their social media accounts using key words, and that they have a social media policy to explicitly state the expectations for using this tool.”

He also adds that his firm is growing at a fast pace because social media related legal cases are on the rise, particularly related to workplace harassment and copyright infringement among other topics.

“If a situation goes bad, it is not enough for a company to simply print a screen shot and submit it their lawyer,” says Riedijk. “Although it is a good start, digital evidence need to be collected and preserved in a more thoughtful way, everything from tweets, social media chat lots, Instagram images, webpages blog posts, and Linked In connections among others.”

Growing in the Know
With the ‘flip side’ potential of social media ever present, companies need to be aware that they are responsible for their social media content so due diligence and care is worthwhile. So, while it is clear that social media is an important tool for enabling companies to grow, and for employees to share their thought leadership, it’s also important to ensure that the risks are kept in check.

However, ignoring social media as one way to mitigate the downside risks is not an effective strategy. Social media has come too far and, in a world of exponential change, it is more important than ever for CEOS and HR professionals to develop their personal comfort with social media tools, and their skill sets.

Natalie Michael is a CEO and executive coach with the Karmichael Group and a MacKay CEO Forums chair. She coaches executives who want to extract more meaning from their work, refine their leadership style, and be more influential in challenging (and sometimes political) environments.

(PeopleTalk Summer 2017)

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