3 ways leaders can build trust with employees and customers on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn

Tim Cook

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Social media has become an increasingly central way for leaders to project a positive image, both within the company and externally. 

Following the pro-Trump insurrection at the US Capitol on Wednesday, corporate leaders at major companies from Microsoft to Paypal publicly spoke out condemning the events — and they took to social media to do so. Paypal CEO Dan Schulman wrote a LinkedIn post urging leaders to use their platforms to speak out. 

Data from the business advisory firm Brunswick shows that, of the 6,500 employees and 5,200 readers of financial publications surveyed, 81% say it’s important for business leaders to actively communicate on social media. 

And the importance social media is only heightened during times of crisis. The majority of respondents (90%) in the Brunswick study cited the importance of a CEO’s social media communications when a company is undergoing a crisis. 

A CEO’s social media platform can set the tone for a company’s direction internally, but it can also serve as an informative tool for potential employees looking to research the leadership of a future employer. About 20% of employees prefer to work for a CEO with a social media presence over one without social media, according to Brunswick. 

“In the midst of the massive dislocation and crisis that we’ve all experienced in the past year, the way people experience CEOs is entirely through a screen,” Craig Mullaney, a partner at Brunswick Group, told Insider. “That’s a real challenge for company leaders to connect with their audiences in a way that feels authentic and timely.” 

But not every CEO is using their social media effectively. In 2019, Brunswick found that only one in four of S&P 500 and FTSE 350 CEOs with social media presences posted in the past year. 

Business leaders will need to turn to social media to build brands and businesses that others can trust. Here’s how they can do that effectively. 

Read more: The CEO of testing giant Labcorp says there are 3 pieces of advice he’d give to new leaders

Put forward an authentic image 


Authenticity is key when it comes to building an image online, and it’s crucial to maintain a human element to the type of presence you put forward as a leader. 

“The truth of social media networks is that zero people have joined to follow companies; they’re on those platforms to connect with other people,” Mullaney said. “Content from individuals has far more resonance and engagement than even the best content from brands in corporate.” 

That’s why it makes sense for an executive to create their own account, separate from the company. This account should post more personal content. 

Social media posts formatted as video statements can add a human aspect to a message, since users can view a leader’s expression and voice directly. 

For example, Apple CEO Tim Cook took to Twitter in June to deliver a personal video message in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and announcing the company’s $100 million commitment to its’ racial justice initiative. Cook made the statement personal, connecting his own background and upbringing with his support for racial justice. 

Go beyond LinkedIn 

While LinkedIn tends to be the default social media platform for business, leaders shouldn’t feel confined to the platform. 

Other platforms can also give executives the chance to expand their outreach to a wider range of people. Of the 6,500 employees surveyed in the Brunswick study, 93% of employees reported using YouTube on a daily or weekly basis, and 95% reported using Facebook and Instagram on a daily or weekly basis. 

But this can also depend on the specific needs to the audience that the leader is trying to reach. 

“Where do your audiences spend time? Who are you trying to reach, and where are they? That’s going to differ by market considerably. dramatically different usage of social media platforms, market by market,” Mullaney said. 

It also depends on the leader’s specific character. For example, if you’re someone more accustomed to witty repartee and short-form posts, Twitter might be your best bet, Mullaney said. 

Show compassion and vulnerability 


BP CEO Bernard Looney has taken to LinkedIn and Instagram to keep people informed about the company’s progress in the past year. The CEO releases regular statements articulating his strategy and communicating his decisions. 

In his updates, Looney demonstrates how leaders can address the specific challenges. In April, he discussed the company’s Q1 results on Instagram TV, acknowledging the company’s poorer-than-average performance and the grief that many were facing as a result of the pandemic. Looney used his platform to personally explain how he planned to go forward. 

This kind of consistent messaging on social media builds trust and makes the company’s executive thought process transparent to the public. 

“Doing so in a really human and compassionate way allowed him to reach employees from the outside-in and bring some kind of bring your heart to the table,” Mullaney said. 

SEE ALSO: Read the spreadsheet Stacey Abrams has used since college to plan and accomplish her biggest life goals

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