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PR in the c-suite: harnessing the disruptive power of social media for leadership communication

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If the cautionary Trump case study teaches us anything, it is the disruptive power of social media for leadership communication.

Communication technology has always been used for good and for ill, but when it is applied by leaders who understand public relations — or propaganda, its ‘evil twin’ — social media is now probably the most formidable force both for ethical persuasion and mass manipulation.

Especially when something goes wrong for an organization in the public domain, all eyes go online looking for the leader. But often CEOs are absent from social media and among those who are online, there are many who don’t know how to communicate with the public.

What we are seeing today is one PR disaster after another playing out on social media, with the character and capability of CEO communication proving decisive in deciding whether reputations are ruined or brands are built at these spectacular moments of truth.

Success in the c-suite has always been the holiest of grails for the public relations industry, but Bob Pickard of Signal Leadership Communication Inc. — one of Canada’s best known corporate communicators with a 20 year record building PR businesses overseas — believes that our industry is not yet realizing its potential when it comes to the public communication of top executives on social media.

Bob, who has counselled and coached hundreds of senior leaders around the world, will explain the challenges of access and attitude for CEO communication and share the latest ideas and insights about what he will argue is increasingly one of the most important segments of the public relations consulting business.

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PR in the c-suite: harnessing the disruptive power of social media for leadership communication

  1. 1. PR in the c-suite Harnessing the disruptive power of social media for leadership communication 2018.08.23 Canadian Public Relations Society
  2. 2. Signal Leadership Communication Inc.
  3. 3. Signal Leadership Communication Inc. § A public relations consultancy for c-level executives dealing with digital disruption § Exclusively serving leaders with PR counsel that is senior, strategic – and social § Focused on image creation, issues management, relationship building, and reputation protection § Serving clients in Asia, Europe and North America § Partnered with the Nanos Research Group
  4. 4. Social media is making PR more key When asked about the importance of PR today compared to 10 years ago, more than three- quarters (76%) feel that PR is more important, 16 percent (16%) say that it is as important while five percent (5%) say it is less important and three percent (3%) are unsure. Do you think that with the rise of social media, public relations, also known as PR, is becoming more important, less important or as important for organizations today compared to 10 years ago? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, May 24th to 25th 2017, n=1000, accurate to 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. 76 16 5 3 More important As important Less important Unsure
  5. 5. That’s what the public says, but is PR now more key in the c-suite?
  6. 6. Many things have changed in the c-suite since the 20th century, but some things remain the same…
  7. 7. Bernays’ definition of PR (1920) Public relations is the management function which tabulates public attitudes, defines the policies, procedures and interest of an organization followed by executing a program of action to earn public understanding and acceptance.
  8. 8. Continuing corporate PR challenges § Frequently corporate communications is an ill-understood and lower-status corporate function § Too often, the comms person reports to an HR exec or to a lawyer who don’t know PR adequately well, in their bones § In many corporations there is neither a ‘CCO’ nor a senior comms executive reporting directly into the CEO § Communication is seen as explaining what is already decided by executives with the ‘real’ power jobs § Quite a few who don’t seem to deserve a seat in c-suite § Too many heads of PR are ‘heel clickers’ and ‘yes people’ lacking efficacy, moxie and he courage of candid counsel § ‘Communications’ has largely replaced ‘PR’ in the parlance
  9. 9. Harold Burson remembers (2014)
  10. 10. Burson’s four roles of the PR chief § Sensor – ‘early warning radar’ on trending issues § Conscience – aligning with the public interest § Communicator – sharing information persuasively § Monitor – walking the talk/talking the walk
  11. 11. Edelman’s ‘public relationships’ (2006) This fundamental shift from one-way, or even two-way communications to a form of inclusive communications requires a fundamental shift in the public relations business – in what we do and how we do it. To be effective today we must forge public relationships.
  12. 12. Distinctly Canadians dynamics § So much of the PR money in the Canadian agency consulting economy is controlled by foreign multinationals § Rampant copycatism just following the US market (‘save as’) § ‘Small potatoes’ parochial thinking corrosive to efficacy § Not many Canadian-based multinationals doing global- grade international corporate communication § People transfers and talent swaps overseas so rare § There is a LOT of world-class PR talent in Canada, but so few Canadians in major international roles overseas § Only a handful of ‘scaled’ top quality independents § Caution and prudence often trump risk and daring
  13. 13. Speaking of Trump...
  14. 14. 2001
  15. 15. The Trump impact on social CEOs § Many CEOs took note of how Trump got elected by communicating every day on Twitter and so for the first time ever, they really felt the power of social § Some were repelled and frightened and others were captivated and inspired to imitate him § Overall more CEOs think they had better be on social, although not to communicate like Trump § For the first time, the risk of being absent on social is seen to be greater than the risk of being present
  16. 16. The importance of communication skills for leaders continues to increase
  17. 17. “The art of communication is the language of leadership”
  18. 18. EU SME Centre (2014)
  19. 19. Social media is now the most powerful communication platform
  20. 20. Social media seen as most damaging A large majority believe that social media has the capacity to do the greatest damage to an individual or organization’s image. 84% 71% 71% Social Media Online News Broadcast Television 52% 48% Print Newspapers Radio Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, March 31st to April 4th 2016, n=1000, accurate to 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20.
  21. 21. Social media seen driving PR disasters More than half of Canadians (54%) say that social media is a major contributor to PR disasters for companies. Roughly a third of (35%) feel that social media is a minor contributor and five percent (5%) say that social media is not a contributor to PR disasters. Six percent are unsure. Would you say that social media like Twitter and Facebook are major contributors, minor contributors or not contributors to public relations disasters for companies? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, May 24th to 25th 2017, n=1000, accurate to 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. 5435 5 6 Major contributor Minor contributor Not contributor Unsure
  22. 22. Alas, many leaders are struggling with social media
  23. 23. Social sentiment = Public sentiment? DATACONOMY (2017)
  24. 24. Spheres of social CEO PR influence DATACONOMY (2017)
  25. 25. Risk-averse chiefs are cautious to avoid making big social media mistakes
  26. 26. “Despite the fact that Twitter has become the ‘go-to’ social network for journalists and breaking news, only 7% of the Canadian CEOs researched have Twitter accounts.”
  27. 27. Kylie Tweets…
  28. 28. …then SNAP stock plummets
  29. 29. When something goes wrong (and it always does), all eyes go online looking for the leader
  30. 30. Best way to respond in a PR disaster Just over seven in ten (70%) say that the best way for a troubled organization to respond is to “acknowledge the problem and communicate on social media.” Twenty-three percent (23%) say organizations should “acknowledge the problem but not communicate on social media.” Two percent (2%) said they should “communicate nothing” and five percent (5%) are unsure. When an organization has a PR disaster on social media like Twitter or Facebook, what would you say is the best way for the troubled organization to respond? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, May 24th to 25th 2017, n=1000, accurate to 3.1 percentage points plus or minus, 19 times out of 20. 70 23 2 5 Acknowledge and communicate Acknowledge but don't communicate Communicate nothing Unsure
  31. 31. Importance of social media use by CEOs for crisis communication Six out of ten (61%) feel that it is important (28%) or somewhat important (33%) for CEOs to use social media to “directly communicate with the public” when a company has a crisis. When a company has a crisis and something major goes wrong, are the following important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant or unimportant as things to do to communicate about the problem [ROTATE]: that the CEO use social media like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to directly communicate with the public? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, June 26-28th 2018, n=1000, accurate to ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding. 28 33 15 18 6 Important Somewhat important Somewhat unimportant Unimportant Unsure
  32. 32. Importance of CEO social media use for communicating crisis updates Almost two in three Canadians (65%) feel that it is important (33%) or somewhat important (32%) for CEOs to use social media to “share updates about the problem” when a company has a crisis. When a company has a crisis and something major goes wrong, are the following important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant or unimportant as things to do to communicate about the problem [ROTATE]: that the CEO use social media like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn share updates about the problem? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, June 26-28th 2018, n=1000, accurate to ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding. 33 32 15 15 5 Important Somewhat important Somewhat unimportant Unimportant Unsure
  33. 33. Starbucks Philadelphia case study
  34. 34. Importance of CEO social media use for explaining feelings about crisis problem More than half of Canadians (53%) think that it is unimportant (30%) or somewhat unimportant (23%) for CEOs to use social media to “explain how he or she feels about the problem” when a company has a crisis. When a company has a crisis and something major goes wrong, are the following important, somewhat important, somewhat unimportant or unimportant as things to do to communicate about the problem [ROTATE]: That the CEO use social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to explain how he or she feels about the problem? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, June 26-28th 2018, n=1000, accurate to ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding. 16 25 23 30 7 Important Somewhat important Somewhat unimportant Unimportant Unsure
  35. 35. Oh really?
  36. 36. The absence of leaders creates an information vacuum that is filled by critics and naysayers
  37. 37. Meanwhile, inside many companies, digital has been taken over by marketers who see social as a way to sell stuff, not build relationships
  38. 38. Companies are now expected to communicate like real people, not like machines or things
  39. 39. The leader is the ultimate personification of the brand
  40. 40. What do you notice here?
  41. 41. For leaders, social media should be about relationships, custom connectivity and listening with real people
  42. 42. “Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely”
  43. 43. In 2016, Ryerson’s Infoscape Research Lab found that Canadian CEOs share several different types of content on social media, including: thought leadership (20%), business promotion and philanthropy (tied at 13%), mentorship (11%), and governance (9%). Strikingly, though, only 2.5% of posts promoted or lauded the employees of a CEO’s company. Fewer than 1% of tweets were directed at – or spoke to – the experience of individual consumers or clients of a company.
  44. 44. Tuning into people’s emotions, channeling their ideas, sensing their sentiments, rallying them to shared purposes
  45. 45. Communication that prevents PR disaster
  46. 46. “Providing information as we get it”
  47. 47. “This is my worse nightmare”
  48. 48. If they fail to ‘feel,’ leaders will magnify mistakes when inevitable crisis situations occur…
  49. 49. Communication that causes PR disaster
  50. 50. The next generation of leaders will be social CEOs
  51. 51. CEO headhunters seek social savvy
  52. 52. The six dimensions of social-media-literate leadership McKinsey Quarterly (2013)
  53. 53. Social leadership comms keys Personal § speaks to the experience of the communicator, aligns it to target audience sensibility Polite § never hurts feelings of others on purpose Direct § cuts to the chase and transmits ‘signal’ Clear § there should be no doubt about the message Timely § ‘now’ is more narrow and fleeting than ever Careful § consider the angles and audiences beforehand Compelling § persuasive and leading Framed § well in advance, there should be a deliberate decision to share within specific content spheres and personality attributes Image conscious § but not vain Other oriented § not ‘me’ and ‘I’ but ‘we’ and ‘us’
  54. 54. Social leadership comms keys Visual § 80% of our 100 billion neurons are for visual processing (University of Rochester 2004) Fluent § free-flowing, smooth, seemingly effortless, easy, natural, fluid Imperfect § perfection = too slick = not credible Inspiring § Communication designed to strike a chord, lay down a pattern, show the way Complementary § Leadership communication should build on and not replace the corporate PR of the company – the two streams should be in concert and well coordinated
  55. 55. Earning executive confidence § Perform CEO coaching in private to avoid potential embarrassment, not in front of subordinates. Consider independent outside counsel. § Underline that the executives continue to live their own lives the way they already have – social is like wearing a new suit of clothes § Reassure leaders on shameless self-promotion concerns § Design an image plan for your executives and agree with them about how much of who they truly are they want to frame § Offer to be the social media ‘training wheels’ which can come off later, usually through a gradual hybrid approach § Systemize procedures so there are no surprises but also swift sharing § Use conventional ‘media training’ for social media training § Plug the CEO into cool habit-forming analytics dashboards
  56. 56. Amid all the cool digital hype, remember the warmth of analog communication
  57. 57. Preferred method of public relations for CEO crisis communication A majority (53%) say that when a company has a crisis, CEOs should “communicate primarily through their public relations team communicating with journalists in the media” while about a third (34%) say CEOs should “communicate with the public directly on social networks.” When a company has a crisis because something major goes wrong, should a CEO: communicate with the public directly on social networks or communicate primarily through their PR team communicating with journalists in the media? Nanos Research, RDD dual frame hybrid telephone and online random survey, June 26-28th 2018, n=1000, accurate to ±3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Charts may not add up to 100 due to rounding. 53 34 13 Communicate through their PR team with journalists in the media Communicate with the public directly on social networks Unsure
  58. 58. Mass customized comms at scale? “We can really only maintain about 150 meaningful relationships at any time. Study after study confirms that most people have about five intimate friends, 15 close friends, 50 general friends and 150 acquaintances”
  59. 59. CEOs behaving badly: stubborn PR stains § A 2016 study from researchers at Stanford showed that the fallout from chief executives behaving badly…was large and lasting. On average each of the 38 incidents studied garnered 250 news stories with media attention lasting 4.9 years.
  60. 60. “We think we know someone, but the truth is that we only know the version of them that they have chosen to show us” — Taylor Swift
  61. 61. The looking glass self
  62. 62. Thank you ! @bobpickard @signaleadership 2018.08.23 Canadian Public Relations Society

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