How can CEOs get ahead on social media? Be generalists

Jan 15, 2021
FTI study finds LinkedIn remains social platform of choice for company leaders

CEOs who discuss a wide range of topics on social media, from their personal life to business matters and social issues, are most likely to attract an online following, according to a new study from FTI Consulting. 

The research finds more than 40 percent of CEOs at FTSE 100, CAC 40 and DAX 30 companies are actively using social media, but different approaches appear to reap different levels of engagement. 

FTI breaks down the CEOs into five ‘personas’ depending on their social approach. It says generalists – those who post about a variety of subjects – garner the most engagements, such as likes, comments or shares.

The other personas identified in the research are company spokesperson, people person, purpose champion and crisis communicator.

The research highlights how sharing content on a variety of topics can support communications at crucial times. ‘When posting about a crisis, generalist CEOs gained twice as many engagements as crisis communicator CEOs,’ notes the report. 

‘Similarly, when posting about ESG or purpose, generalist CEOs gained an average of 640 engagements per post while purpose champion CEOs received just 397 engagements per post.’

According to the findings, the top CEOs for engagement in each index are all generalist in their approach. They are Bernard Looney of BP (199,852 engagements during the study period), Christian Klein of SAP (161,452) and Paul Hudson of Sanofi (102,596).

Recent activity on Looney’s LinkedIn account offers a taste of his generalist approach. Since the start of the year, he has posted about the ‘brilliant news’ of a new joint venture, liked a comment about a classical music concert and shared a message about the riot at the US Capitol, which he says he watched in ‘utter disbelief’.

Bernard Looney's post on the US Capitol riot

The research analyzed 3,224 social media posts across LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram between January and August last year. 

In its report, FTI notes that LinkedIn is the clear social platform of choice for company bosses. Looking at the 69 CEOs who posted on social media during the study period, 90 percent used LinkedIn, compared with 49 percent who tweeted. Just 7 percent made use of Instagram. 

‘Average rates of engagement for leaders are higher on LinkedIn than Twitter, demonstrating a more engaged audience – not to mention that comments are generally more constructive,’ write the authors. 

‘Gone are the days where the use of LinkedIn is seen as a sign that an individual is looking for a new role – it’s a platform with real communities, geared toward professional content and conversations.’

FTI says conversations with business leaders suggest the Covid-19 pandemic has encouraged greater use of social media, as it provides a way for CEOs to ‘be present’ with employees and stakeholders who are working from home. 

Underlining this trend, 31 percent of all posts covered by the study mention the pandemic, according to FTI.

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