People are fundamentally social creatures. So, it is no surprise that people often think of companies and their CEOs as inseparable in their own minds. People associate Bill Gates with Microsoft, and they associate Steve Jobs with Apple. Neither one of those companies is still run by their extremely famous founders, yet people still think of these men and their companies as intrinsically linked.
These two men were especially charismatic and larger than life figures when they ran their companies. You do not have to be on that level to benefit your company by engaging the public in your role as CEO.
You are The Brand
If you are a CEO, you need to be aware that the public can find it impossible to mentally separate you from your company. If handled well, this can be a feature, not a bug. It can make it easier to develop your brand and establish a reputation as a company. It does require you to be mindful that everything you say in public reflects upon the company. So when you speak, you need to speak as a company representative and not as a private individual.
Be Personable, But Not Too Personal
In order to do this effectively, you need to be reasonably private about personal details, such as who you are dating or what your kids are doing these days and other details that are fundamentally private. It is fine to talk about hobbies and personal interests as long as they are not overly controversial or the kind of thing that would cause other people to say “TMI” — which is Internet slang for “too much information”, often said when someone talks about their sex life or similar.
Internet Tools Let You Interface with the Common Man
The Internet is a great leveler. You can make yourself accessible to anyone who is interested via social media platforms such as Twitter or a personal blog. This has tremendous power to make ordinary people feel they have a personal connection directly to you.
One of the enormous benefits is that it also gives you a personal connection directly to them. The replies or comments that you will receive are valuable feedback that would be nearly impossible to extract via traditional marketing intelligence tools, such as surveys. However, you do need to be disciplined and goal oriented about how you use and — critically — interact with this feedback.
Focus on the Positive
Although criticisms will occur and may need to be addressed in some fashion, the absolute worst thing you can do is to let yourself get dragged into an ugly public argument online. This is one of the big Achilles heels of the Internet: It is extremely hard to resist replying to the negative comments in order to “correct” them. This is a slippery slope that leads to very bad things, things a CEO can ill afford. It can lead to strongly worded, ill-advised comments, swearing and the need to later post a public apology, something best avoided entirely.
Instead, you should have a policy of engaging in a positive manner. Any negative remarks should be used as business intelligence and responded to in a more indirect manner, such as informing the content of a later blog post or making you aware that your remarks are not presenting the kind of message you intend, thus you need to adjust how you are interacting. Try to engage people as positively and constructively as possible. Use remarks as an opening to thank customers for their interaction and loyalty, to say “I am glad you asked that” and use it as an opening to supply additional critical information.
You are not required to reply to every single thing that gets said to you online. Spend some time thinking about the kind of reputation you wish to foster. Think of your online activities as you being “the face of the company.” You are speaking for the company, giving it personality.
So ask yourself some questions, such as: What kinds of topics would customers expect the company to talk about? What kinds of image do you want the company to have? If necessary, write up a general outline of your goals, the type of image you have in mind and so on. Then, keep that handy any time you are online, perhaps in a virtual form.
If you pick your battles, you can turn reputation stumbling blocks into stepping stones. Responding to criticism honestly, with aplomb and in a constructive manner can leave you and your company smelling like a rose after inevitable friction. There will be friction. You do not have to let it destroy you. You can let it polish you and make you shine.