Readers asked several pertinent questions after my column, “8 ways to persuade your boss to embrace social media.” Here’s one of those questions, and the answer.
What pitfalls should you avoid when taking your CEO online?
1. Unrealistic expectations
Provide your CEO with an overview of your communications program and how his or her new social media role will fit into it. If the executive cannot fully commit to this program, it may be best to look at alternatives including online Q&As that you can assist with in real time.
Set expectations by showing how long it can take to build an audience and gain public trust. This is not an overnight popularity contest and should be treated as a long-term approach to community relations. Unless they have the notoriety of Richard Branson this will be a long road. Too many CEOs have started a blog or a Twitter account only to abandon it weeks later before it had any time to gain traction.
Fully explain how social media can enhance or possibly harm your CEO’s public image. Listen to his or her concerns and goals regarding image. Raise concerns regarding how the public will tie the CEO’s image to the organization’s mission and brand. For instance, if your mission is to promote fair trade shopping then photos had better not contain any questionable products that could land your CEO in hot water.
3. Lack of content
Once you have discussed a realistic social media format, you need to review appropriate topics. Ask your CEO to keep an ear to the ground for fresh topics that are unique to his or her position. Respect his or her feedback and don’t push for too much too quickly. Some CEOs may begin this process full of energy and slowly taper off as the process becomes a grind. Be sure to have suggested topics to keep the ball rolling.
4. Lack of attention
After you discuss appropriate topics, you should create a weekly schedule. Of course, distractions will happen so you’ll need to be flexible; however, it needs to be a regular part of your meetings with your CEO. Proposing ideas for posts, sometimes weeks in advance in the case of fundraisers and events, can really help to get the juices flowing and keep ideas fresh.
5. Missing details
Ghostwriting is allowed. While this can provide you with a sense of control, you may miss a few key details. Authors can gain rare insight by requesting notes from their CEOs prior to jotting down their first drafts. You may be surprised by the small details that help you take an article or a tweet from being posted to being shared.
6. Poor dubbing
One of the (few) things that worse than a poorly dubbed film is a blog that is clearly not written by the CEO. If you’re writing your CEO’s posts, you had better be a fantastic impersonator. By agreeing to go public, your CEO made a promise with the public to speak with them directly. It is OK if a CEO dictates topics and details to you to write up, but you must always use his or her voice. If your writing is not authentic, it can ruin the entire program. (The following step will also help you keep an authentic voice in all posts.)
7. Rookie mistakes
Each post ties directly to your CEOs image as well as your organization’s brand. Regardless of writing responsibilities, you and your CEO should review posts prior to making them public. Even if one of you eventually trusts the other to post without a review, don’t do it. It only takes a moment to review a tweet or a few minutes to check a blog post.
Schedules may fill up, but it’s important to remember the importance of each positively received post and the potential harm of a negative placement. I recommend drafting practice posts for days, weeks, or months before taking them public to work out any kinks in your review process. Some of these posts can be evergreens and remain eligible for future posting.
It is best to iron out wrinkles, build trust, and grow into your new regimen privately. You want to avoid any novice errors that create a need for your crisis communications skills.
Brian Adams consults with nonprofits, including Komera Project, regarding communications strategy. I am the former senior director of communications at United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley. A version of this story first appeared on the author’s blog.