The Anti-Social CEO

It's tough at the top.

The modern CEO is expected to be a latter day action hero, juggling demanding shareholders and expectant consumers while calmly presenting the acceptable face of the company.

From a communications perspective, the challenge has always been to make executives look “human”.

Social media is held up as the golden key to stakeholder engagement.  But it seems that our elite executives are pretty terrible tweeters.

Headland research shows that FTSE 100 social media engagement remains dismally low.

LinkedIn, the employer’s online dating portal, is fairly popular, with exactly one third of CEOs having some form of presence on the network.

But on Twitter engagement really falls off a cliff.

Only eight FTSE 100 chiefs have an active Twitter presence, and a miserly four of these have been deemed interesting and relevant enough to be “verified”, and awarded the coveted blue tick beside their names.

Admittedly there are some trailblazers.

Our champion is Sebastian James, CEO of Dixons Carphone, who replaced the equally proactive Samir Brikho after Amec Foster Wheeler was unceremoniously dumped from the FTSE 100.

While he remains unverified, James commands 27,000 followers and regularly posts an array of corporate news, as well as suitably blurry pictures of family and employees.

Other relative luminaries include Stephen Kelly, CEO of Sage on 7,400 followers, and Xavier Rolet, CEO of the London Stock Exchange, on 1,100 followers. But there are also some stragglers.

When we discuss social media, it all comes down to ‘authenticity’. It’s difficult to get that impression from the Twitter profile of Steve Holliday, CEO of National Grid.

Holliday gets straight to the point, noting in his bio section that the account is managed “by the exec office and tweets from Steve are signed SH” – unsurprisingly, none are, and his follower count remains languishing in the three digit mark.

Senior figures across politics, media and entertainment have shown that genuine leadership can be transmitted through social media, but only if a certain amount of interest or sympathy already exists.

It’s no good setting up a social media profile just to tackle one incident, or leaving one dormant until a compromising situation arises.

Consumers and shareholders expect constant engagement. PR agencies advocate it.

But many of our most successful and powerful chief executives still seem to regard social media as an unnecessary distraction.

Perhaps they see it as too risky or too much of a lightning-rod for criticism and customer complaint, given the relentless focus on high salaries at the top.

Or maybe our CEOs are just by nature rather…anti-social.