Great insight from HBR’s Leslie Gaines-Ross on the rise and rise of Social CEOs.

What CEOs Have Learned About Social Media - HBR

When it comes to social media, today’s CEOs have made a remarkable transition over the past five years. A recent analysis by my firm, Weber Shandwick, found that 80% of the chief executive officers of the world’s largest 50 companies are engaged online and on social media. The results, published in “Socializing Your CEO: From Marginal to Mainstream,” show that CEO sociability has more than doubled since we began tracking the social activities of chief executives in 2010, when only 36% of CEOs were social.

We audited a range of sites and platforms to see how CEOs are engaging socially and compared these results to its 2010 and 2012 findings. CEOs are considered “social” if he or she does at least one of the following: has a public and verifiable social network account on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Weibo, or Mixi; engages on the company website through messages, pictures, or video; appears in a video on the company YouTube or YouKu channel; or authors an external blog.

Being social was once considered too risky, because CEOs feared that saying the wrong thing online would ignite a firestorm of antagonists, dissatisfied customers, and disgruntled employees, who could threaten the company’s reputation. Now, having a digital strategy integrated across multiple channels is the new mandate to neutralize criticism. It’s become more important to transparently tell the company’s story and join the conversation. Research has shown that executives with social CEOs say their CEOs’ social media presence makes them feel inspired (52%), technologically advanced (46%), and proud (41%). Sociability shows that a leader is listening, open to engaging in two-way dialogue with stakeholders, and comfortable with change. And in today’s battle for talent, social CEOs also help to attract and retain employees.

Companies don’t want to be left behind. For example, even in 2013, Scottish fashion brand Lyle & Scott put out a call for a new CEO on Twitter. They linked to a microsite so people could learn about the brand’s history, what it takes to be a leader, and how to apply.