Social media is more than just a key to driving sales, it can also be a helpful source for founders to project confidence and grace, or to stay cool during times of crisis. 

That's according to a new study called "C-Suite, Social Media, and Brand Reputation" from BRANDfog, a social media consulting startup that helps Fortune 1000 executives improve their web profiles. It revealed that three-quarters of those surveyed (500 U.S. employees from different companies spanning various industries) believe that social media engagement in the C-suite makes a brand seem more honest and trustworthy.

Since 2013, there's been a 15 percent increase in the number of respondents who believe that social media engagement makes CEOs more effective leaders, it found.

"Most companies are good at utilizing social media on the brand level, but social media at the C-suite is much more strategic," said Ann Charles, founder and CEO at BRANDfog. Prior to launching the company in 2009, Charles held chief marketing positions at several tech startups, and later ghost wrote quarterly earnings scripts for executives.

"They [CEOs] did not see the social media tsunami coming," she recalled.

Of course, leaders need to be thoughtful about the content they push out across such platforms as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest.  A number of companies have come under fire for insensitive commentary. Gap and American Apparel, for instance, tried to capitalize on Hurricane Sandy in 2012 by offering discounts to those living in states that were affected by the storm. Delta Airlines did little research when its main Twitter account tweeted an image of giraffes--meant to represent Ghana--after the U.S. men's soccer team beat the Ghanian team during the 2014 World Cup. Giraffes are in fact not native to Ghana, and the image was a stock photo of a giraffes in Kenya (located, you know, just a few thousand miles away).

Still, when done well and consistently, social media may mitigate risk ahead of a "reputation crisis," according to 85 percent of BRANDfog respondents. Say, for instance, your company is planning layoffs. By preempting the news with a blog post on Facebook or a tweet, the executive can lessen some of the damage ahead of time, and apologize personally, Charles explained. The more attention you pay to your accounts, the more customers will know to turn their when seeking news about the company. 

Libby Turner, the director of client services at Room 214, a digital marketing and social media agency, can point to several entrepreneurs who run social media in an engaging and powerful way, including Stewart Butterfield, co-founder and CEO at  Slack, the nearly $4 billion workplace communications company.

"Overall, he runs his social like he's one of the users [of Slack], which is one of the best, and most relatable things you can do when you hit the C-Level," she says.

He also keeps up with the national political conversation, and has tweeted about controversial topics -- such as Donald Trump celebrating "Hispanics" with a taco bowl on Cinco de Mayo -- in a way that shows he's personally invested, without forcing Slack users to feel a certain way about the presidential candidate.

Turner also signals out Mark Zuckerberg, the famed creator of Facebook, because he does a good job of posting both about the social network and his personal life.

"Essentially, he's very good at using it as a promotional tool, not only for Facebook, but for how people perceive the company through him as the leader," Turner said.

Charles, for her part, says that Richard Branson and Elon Musk are both standout social media users, because they put their personalities into their social media accounts.

When working with executive clients, "I want them to be recognizable to people who know them in the real world -- not just a robot talking about the latest news," she explained. Her best advice: Keep 95 to 97 percent of your content business-related, and the remaining 3 to 5 percent should be more personal.

While making a social media gaffe should be avoided, the more costly mistake is falling out of the conversation altogether, or becoming "invisible."

"When everyone else is being tech-savvy and reachable, there's a risk to looking like you just don't have that skill set, and can be left behind," Charles said.

 inline image