Social media can be an effective tool when used to help establish and promote a brand, as well as enable interactions with a company. The question that businesses must answer is: who should act as the communiqué for a company?
While higher-ups within a company might be tempted to delegate all corporate social media interactions to other staffers, a recent BRANDFog 2012 CEO, Social Media & Leadership Survey  determined that 82% of respondents were more likely to trust a business whose top leadership communicated openly via social channels.
Of course, before a company turns anyone loose on social media, there needs to be a corporate strategy and set of best practices in place. It does very little good to simply prop a business leader in front of a Twitter profile and tell him to go at it.
George Colony, of Forrester Research, believes that business leaders (he mentions CEOs directly but this applies to any business leader) should engage in social interactions if they meet the following criteria:
1. The CEO has something valuable and specific to say.
Note that there are two details here: valuable AND specific.
Posts, tweets, whatever, must be unique. This does not mean that the content has to be entirely original. In fact, sharing others’ statuses and retweeting others’ tweets is effective and useful. Rather, it is important to bring a unique perspective to the table, and to make sure that the message will be of direct benefit to readers.
It also means that sweeping statements are not nearly as valuable as detailed, specific advice. It does little good for an investment professional to say, “Be sure to choose the best companies in which to invest your hard earned dollars.”
That much is obvious. However, stating “Industries X, Y, and Z have shown appreciable growth for the past three quarters and, based on statistics, looks like solid investments,” will demonstrate expertise and be valuable for readers that want information on that topic.
2. The CEO is prepared to navigate thorny and unique restrictions.
Obviously, business leaders are in a unique position since they represent a business at the highest level. Therefore, it is important to exercise a modicum of caution and be prepared for unforeseen circumstances when communicating directly with the public through social channels.
While specific issues are too varied to address, the best piece of advice I can give is to avoid getting mired in any sort of argument on a public social channel. There are always going to be disgruntled customers or individuals who simply have too much time on their hands, and they will enjoy attempting to incite a public reaction from a business leader. If someone is blatantly trying to cause trouble, it is best to just ignore them. If they have a legitimate customer service complaint, then forward it to the appropriate staffer and send them a private message letting them know you are working to resolve the issue.
3. There is an audience who will, over time, tune in to the CEO’s social message.
Out of all of Colony’s criteria, this is the most difficult to recognize and apply immediately. Therefore, it is best to define goals when entering the social realm, and attempt to follow them to the letter. What is the specific reason that you, as a business leader, wish to use a social channel? Whatever it is, find a way to track it so you have actionable metrics that can be viewed in relation to the overall time spent using social media. And no matter if it’s the CEO or the intern or social media, corporate branding and voice should be adhered to so that the interactions don’t take on the personality of the individual instead of the company.
Despite the hype, and the numerous benefits social media can have for a company, one size does not fit all and it may not always make sense to have top executives on social media. As always, if a strategy does not meet its goals, it is important to modify or pivot to something new.
Ultimately, having a top executive act as the face of corporate social media efforts has the potential increase trust and lend validity to social efforts, resulting in direct benefits for a business.
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