Do you want your customers to trust your company? Here's one simple tip that many top executives still ignore: Sign up for a Twitter account. Now.

Customers are 82 percent more likely to trust a company whose chief executive and other leaders engage on social media, according to a study last year from Web design firm GO-Gulf. But if embracing Twitter still intimidates you, consider these interim steps to becoming more skilled at social media.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow famously ranked human behavioral needs from the basics, such as food and shelter, to the more complex social and professional requirements that develop later. My social-media variation on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs can help entrepreneurs and business leaders progress from the foundational needs of social media to the more sophisticated skills that will help their companies excel.


Here are a few steps for CEOs who want to advance in that hierarchy and improve their company's social-media standing:

1. Lead With LinkedIn

The professional networking site is your résumé of record on the Web. It showcases your experience, your background, your history, and the types of people who know and recommend working with you. Make sure your page includes recommendations from a few past colleagues, that you invest a small amount of time each month in sharing content from your employees and customers, and that you build your connections list to a respectable number (ideally more than 500).

LinkedIn is the price of admission for CEOs in social media: It's the bare minimum you can do, but it's a solid step in the right direction.

2. Listen Up on Twitter

Most CEOs I speak to ask how I have time to tweet. The reality is, I can't afford NOT to be on Twitter. It's where HubSpot's prospects, customers, employees, and marketing peers alike share information in real time. Spending time listening to and engaging with them isn't just good for our brand; it's good for our business.

If you're not sure you're ready to tweet regularly, at least take the interim step. Create dedicated Twitter lists or streams for your prospects, your existing customers, and thought leaders in your industry. Listen to what those people are saying on Twitter about your market and your business; check in at least three times per week, for at least three weeks. If you don't see value in those conversations, skip Twitter altogether--but my strong suspicion is that you will see and hear relevant conversations that make you want to tweet regularly.

If you do decide to tweet, show some personality. Your audience should know what to expect from you and the point of view you represent. Twitter is not the place for corporate jargon. If you let your personality shine a bit, your customers and employees will appreciate it.

3. Don't Channel Your Inner 'Glengarry Glen Ross'

Social media is not the place to "always be closing." Instead, spend your time there starting actual conversations and meaningful dialogue with your key audiences. Use Twitter and other social media to respond to customer inquiries, to comment on articles by thought leaders in your space, or to publicly praise your employees for exceptional work. Share other people's content, highlight other companies and people you admire, and provide commentary on issues your audience cares about. Your customers expect you to be open, authentic, and reachable; they do not expect you to be pitching your business ad nauseum.

I can absolutely sympathize with CEOs who say they don't have time to tweet. But some CEOs, including Richard Branson and Aaron Levie, are just as busy as the rest of us and still carve out the time to be on social media. They recognize that the world has fundamentally changed, and the C-suite can no longer afford to sit on the sidelines. It's time to get in the social-media game--your bottom line and your brand will thank you for it.