How to Teach Social Media to Your CEO

by Holland-Mark | January 26, 2012

We do a lot of work with CEOs at Holland-Mark, and some of that work is focused on helping them understand, use, and leverage social media to advance their business agendas and personal brands. We’ve learned a few things along the way about what works in bringing a CEO up to speed on Twitter et al, and about the value of a CEO who “gets it” to the business they run.

If your CEO is something short of Lauzon-esque in his or her mastery of the medium, here’s the best advice we have.

1. Start with empathy.

Business is tough on us middle-aged white guys these days. We’re just cavemen. We don’t understand your “retweet,” or what all this “Like” stuff is about. Facebook is something we worry about our kids using. Your ways are strange to us.

But we’re not about to admit that to your punk-ass. Remember that odds are you’re dealing with somebody who’s just a little embarrassed to be out of the loop at this point. Make them feel at ease. Take the edge off by breaking the ice in private, offering to sit down over coffee, and just help get them “set up.”

Be helpful, and be patient. Don’t judge.

2. Build a personal channel.

Social media starts with listening, and one key to getting a CEO rolling in it is to create a feed worth listening to. We start with and focus on Twitter, just because it’s easy and the behaviors are so universal once you adopt them.

So what’s your CEO interested in? What magazines does he/she read? What celebrities is he/she into? Which competitors is he/she worried about? Ask a bunch of questions like that, sit down together at a conference table, and after creating a basic profile just start following the best sources for that information. Make it easy, demystify the process. But really focus on creating a feed they see value in, and want access to.

3. Get the plumbing sorted out.

Next up is to provide that access… from their browser, and from their phone. Not “a” browser, and not “a” phone. Modify their browser home page to drop them in every day. Add a Shareaholic plug-in to it, and make sure the username and password are stored in it. Do the same with the phone, even if it takes some fumbling and effort.

Stupid little problems with the plumbing of social media end up derailing senior people from the medium, because they hit a roadblock – a forgotten password, an unknown function – and have no idea how to get around it. Anticipate and neutralize those problems, before they happen.

4. Help do it, do not just watch it.

Remember not to show him/her how to do things, but to let him/her struggle with the little details about how to tweet, reply, DM, RT, use hashtags, indicate location, and post a picture. These things seem easy because you’ve done them a thousand times, but you’ll need to coach your CEO through them patiently, and resist the temptation to take over the keyboard.

5. Reinforce the behavioral change.

If you take this approach, I promise you’ll have a great meeting, and that all will be unicorns and rainbows at the end of it. But as is so often the case… if you don’t follow up, the fragile sprout of social proficiency will perish in the stale manure of old habit.

Promote your CEO’s new Twitter address across the company, so he/she starts to see people following. @ and D him/her periodically, and check in if you don’t get a response. Ask for questions, ask how things are going. Suggest topics, and reinforce the idea that in the end it’s just about sharing whatever he/she finds interesting during her day, in a way that benefits the people interested in her.

It ain’t rocket science, people. But it is a change in behavior, and as any Biggest Loser contestant can tell you, changing your behavior takes some work.

If you need a little more help, check out the below, which we produced for our CEO Series a few months back. And if you’d like a printed copy, hit me up on Twitter.

7 Habits of Highly Effective CEO Tweeters

This post originally appeared on on January 24th, 2012.