When you’re curious about a company or brand, what’s the first thing you do?
Probably google them.
Thanks to the internet and social media, everything we want to know about a company is literally a click away. This is a huge shift from traditional marketing, where the brand has always been in control of what to communicate to its audience.
Even though the ball may now be in the audience’s court, it’s still the responsibility of the company to provide what can be found about them online. Especially the information about their executive team.
Whether you’re a potential client, investor, jobseeker, or journalist, you’ll want to know the people behind a company for a number of reasons. They might be your future boss, the subject of your next article, or who you invest millions of dollars with. Naturally, you’d want to know what their credentials are, what other projects they’re involved in, and what they’re like as individuals.
Because anything can be found online now, the reputation of a company’s leaders is as important as the the business’ own. After all, it’s hard to think about Virgin without the eccentric Richard Branson, or Facebook without Sheryl Sandberg. For many businesses,
In other words, your CEO’s reputation can directly affect your company reputation. For this reason, C-suite executives will want to ensure that they build an authentic and distinct online presence.
This is where executive branding comes in.
What is executive branding?
The term executive branding means to build out the profiles of key leaders within a business by highlighting their expertise, personality and opinions in a way that aligns with the values of the company.
When done right, executive branding can help improve brand awareness and company reputation, foster better business partnerships, and prolong customer loyalty. While this doesn’t mean that every CEO needs to be a Branson or a Sandberg, it does mean that your communications team should spend some time googling your executives and helping them improve what they find.
According to Forbes, executive branding was considered to be the number two B2B marketing trend of 2017: “traditional company branding and digital marketing efforts are no longer sufficient. Especially in B2B environments, executive branding is now considered a necessity.”
In this blogpost, we’ll look at three steps that can help your communications team implement an effective executive branding strategy to boost company reputation:
1. Listen and Monitor
Chances are, people are already talking about the C-suites of your company online. All you have to do now is track those conversations.
Similar to conducting a social media or brand audit, you want to get a feel of what people think about your executives, and identify areas where they can improve. For example, you could:
- Use a monitoring tool to track relevant conversations about your CEO
- Analyse the sentiment around their name: is it generally more positive, negative, or neutral?
- Track the sentiment of 2 – 3 other CEOs of competing companies and compare with yours. What are people saying about them? What are they doing right?
On the contrary, perhaps there hasn’t been a lot of chatter about your CEO. It could be because you’re a relatively small or new company. In this case, you can move on to the following steps to help them create more visibility for themselves.
2. Clean-up or create their online presence
Source: Punch Media
Now that you know what people are saying about your CEO you’ll want them to take a good look at their past communications. How do they represent themselves on social media? What have they said online? How does it affect your company reputation? This means looking at everything they’ve published publicly.
When HubSpot’s co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah comes across businesses he is interested in investing in, he will “find everything [the founder] ever said, written or shared, essentially.”
So if your CEO wrote a controversial blog post back in the day or they still have a headshot from the 80’s as their LinkedIn profile picture, it may be time to do an ‘online cleaning.’ Here’s how to do that:
- Update or rewrite social media account bios thoroughly, especially their LinkedIn profile
- Be sure to define their areas of expertise
- Write in a tone that makes them sound authentic and personable
- Replace all avatars with recent, professional headshots
- Delete or deactivate any online profiles that are no longer relevant
- Identify opportunities for improvement: does your CEO tweet too many controversial political cartoons or things that are too personal? You can suggest for them to dial it back.
The goal here is to create an online presence that is relevant, professional and consistent across the web. When in doubt, do as Harvey Specter would.
3. Build thought leadership content
A great way to build conversation around your C-suites is to get them to initiate the discussion.
By putting the spotlight on their insights, experiences and areas of expertise, CEOs can “put a face to their organization and build a more human connection with customers and other stakeholders.” (Approach Marketing)
Here are a few different ways to build thought leadership:
- Publish thought leadership content online
- LinkedIn is the perfect place to build a readership
- Contribute as a guest on major industry publications or partner’s blogs
- Use a ghostwriter if your CEO can’t commit the time
- Go to networking events
- Suggest objectives for them when going to networking events to help them stay focused: speak to one person from X, Y, and Z firms
- Remind them to follow up with people after the event
- Ask to speak at events
- Being a part of a speaking panel can be a great way to align with other industry experts
- If your CEO is not yet a well-groomed public speaker, help them by conducting smaller-scale speaking sessions
Depending on their personality, not every executive leader is the type that feels confident networking or public speaking. In that case, publishing written content may be a better strategy for them. Ultimately, you want to highlight your CEO’s expertise in a way that they feel comfortable with.
4. Be a social CEO
Every company wants to be a ‘social business’ these days. This means everyone in the organization actively takes part in relevant industry conversations on social media. It sounds simple, but the motivation to be a social business needs to come from the top-down. If your CEO wants employees to be active on social media, they need to set the example.
Here are some ways to get your C-suites to be more social:
- Interact with other industry influencers and thought leaders on social media
- Share and comment on influencers’ content; don’t just share your own company’s content all the time
- Use a tool to identify who the key influencers are in your industry
- Give a behind the scenes look to the company
- The CEO can offer a different perspective into the company, give people a glimpse into what they don’t normally get to see
- Show their personality and be authentic
- Encourage them to post about their other passions, projects, and hobbies
- Ask them to give their opinion and insights
Whether your CEO manages their own social media or has someone managing on their behalf, be sure that the tone used is authentic, personable and sounds like them. Because people always want more tweets from stuffy, robotic, CEOs – said no one ever.
Implementing an executive branding strategy is a simple, low-cost and low-risk way to position your CEO as a thought leader, increase brand awareness and improve your company reputation.
Behind every successful executive branding strategy, there’s a great communication team!
Do you have experience using an executive branding strategy to boost company reputation? Let us know in the comments!