How should CEOs use social media?

I saw a video of Charlene Li introducing her new book “The Engaged Leader” some weeks ago on the Oracle Social Spotlight YouTube channel.

Around the same time, I got requests from customers around whether their executive board should be visible on social media. Therefore I decided to dive a bit deeper into the topic and actually read the book.

I don’t want to keep all of that knowledge to me. Let me be social and share my key learnings with you.

The following content is based on Charlene Li’s book “The Engaged Leader” enriched with my own thoughts.

Step by Step

Executives very often are not “social” nor “engaged” or “engaging” in the same way a millennial like myself interprets those words. A step by step approach usually works quite well to start understanding the power of social media and its benefits. Charlene describes 3 phases, best executed in this order: Listen, Share and Engage.

It is important to keep in mind that all of the following does not only apply to the typical public social media networks (like Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook), but also – if not even more – to your internal social networks, your social intranet.

Listen (at scale)

You can’t break anything, if you simply listen. The good news is, that the concept “no risk, no fun” doesn’t apply here. It should rather say: No risk, great insights! By simply listening to the vast information out there, you’ll get holistic insight, which will change the decisions you take for the better. If you take into account what employees, customers and the industry overall are sharing, you’ll excite them with targeted decisions showing that you ARE listening to them.

The first reaction usually is: There is way to much information out there to listen to it all! Yep, completely agree, but that’s no argument for not listening at all. Just by scrolling through the various news feeds on the different social networks, you’ll get a vague idea of how things are going. And another one I loved: Don’t read everything. Just listen to people, who read everything!

Share (to shape)

When you share, you’ll get closer to become a truly engaged leader. It is the next logical step after having started to listen. But do you really want to do that? And if so, why? Charlene is not saying that each and every leader should become an engaged leader. The question can’t be “Should I start using Twitter?”, the questions needs to be “What do I expect from sharing on social media and which audience do I want to address?”.

If you have no good answer to that question, you probably don’t want to share at all. If you do, you’ll know what content to share on which social networks. I have a feeling that often it is easier to start on internal networks or on LinkedIn, where things are more professional, than on Twitter, Facebook and others.

Engage (to transform)

When you start to share, you’ll most likely get engagement and people will expect a reply. One of the biggest concerns for executives is the time, they don’t have, to spend on social media. One technique to control the effort is to make your engagement event-based (public Q&A session).

On the other hand, the more value you see, the happier you’ll be to invest time. At the end of the day, it is a question of setting expectations with your audience and making sure your time spent contributes to your overall goals. The goals we talked about in the paragraph above on why you are active on social in the first place, remember?

Oh and one interesting thought more: Perfection is the biggest enemy of engagement. A perfectly thought through statement will not leave any space for discussion.


Most executives don’t feel comfortable about using social media, but before you reject it, consider the possibilities it offers. Starting passively, just listen. Once you feel the need to actively participate – go ahead – start sharing and engage.

Always make sure your activities are justified by clearly outlined goals. As long as you see (or at least feel) the benefits, every minutes on social is well spent.

As said, far from complete, but a quick summary of the points, that stuck with me. Check out the book, if you want to learn more. It’s a quick, but worthwhile read.

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Watch the YouTube interview with Charlene Li here: