If I had a dollar for every CEO I've met who thinks his online presence is unimportant, I'd be a one-percenter. In today's column, my colleague Sam Ford, co-author of Spreadable Media, argues why it's critical for every CEO to pay close attention to his digital footprint. Take it away, Sam.
Often when I've met with CEOs and their teams at companies that are experiencing or poised to experience high growth, we've discussed the issue of how the executives manage their online profiles. This includes bios and other material from the company, social network profiles, speaking engagements, media mentions, press releases, articles she has written, comments about her from people outside the company, or anything else that comes up when you search for her name.
And the most fundamental question they ask is how and why that process is a business priority. Based on lessons learned (sometimes painfully) here at Peppercomm and elsewhere, here are my seven most common responses.
1. You typically have a digital profile, even if you aren't active in social media or online publishing.
Many executives over the years have told me that they aren't active in online communication and thus don't have a profile to manage. But of course any public appearance you make, article you're quoted in, or other public mention of you may be shared online, meaning that you do, in fact, have a profile that's available to anyone who types your name into a search engine, whether you've actively managed it or not.
2. Without management, your online profile may be confusing.
We've represented young entrepreneurs who have yet to build a holistic online presence, as well as serial entrepreneurs whose various business endeavors paint a picture online that doesn't seem to fit together. Without active management, your profile may be painting a misleading, outdated, or less-than-strategic picture of who you are.
3. Having a strong online profile is about reputation, not vanity.
Many executives say they care about their company rather than their own profile. But recent press hits, videos in which you address the issues in your industry, or an ongoing column at a leading publication in your field give you a higher degree of credibility, which in turn bolsters the reputation of your company. As your organization grows and you start branching out to audiences outside those that already know you, that individual reputation may be key for your business.
4. You want to show rather than tell your customers and potential employees about your passion and leadership as an executive.
Corporate bios highlight what you've done, but a compelling online presence includes materials that demonstrate your expertise, passion, vision, and leadership. Executives who take the fullest advantage of their digital profile infuse some of their personality into what you find about them online as well. For customers and recruits to believe in your company, that presence is much more authentic and telling--as well as cost-effective--than scores of traditional marketing materials that try to tell people who you are.
5. Reporters' online research is key to their choice of sources to interview for a story.
Journalists are working on deadline and often must be economical in the sources they choose to interview or the companies they choose to feature. They need someone who's knowledgeable and charismatic, and who has a strong reputation. Many times, all the pitching in the world from a media-relations partner like our firm won't matter if the journalist looks you up and they aren't impressed by what they find.
6. Investors and other key business audiences will be watching.
I've heard from colleagues working with high-growth companies that investors are increasingly looking to the online reputation of a company and its leadership to make decisions about where to put their money. For companies looking to raise capital, the strong presence of the executive in charge might be the difference between ripening and withering on the vine.
7. Often you have competition for your name, which means there can be a lot of clutter in search results.
Unless you have a unique name, there can be a lot of other professionals' profiles to sift through when people look you up. For me, "Sam Ford" is also the name of a Washington, D.C. journalist, a rock and roll drummer, several college athletes, and a porn star. That means there are a lot of competing pages (and pictures) to contend with if people look me up. It has been my goal to make sure that compelling content about me is easily found amid all that competition.
Whether or not online sales or social media are a vital part of your go-to-market strategy, making sure you have a strategic online presence that truly reflects who you are is crucial to building your business.
Sam Ford is director of audience engagement at Peppercomm and co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture (NYU Press, 2013). He is an alumnus and affiliate with MIT's Program in Comparative Media Studies/Writing and acts as co-chair of the Ethics Committee for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association.