Why CEOs Should Care About Their Online Reputation

A Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is the face of their company’s brand. Many CEOs (think Elon Musk and other dynamic technology executives) have become celebrities in their own right. Their “star power” has the potential to drive the business forward — but one misstep can bring it all crashing down.

Gone are the days when an unfortunate choice of words could go unnoticed or be swept under the rug. Nowadays, a negative news cycle can begin with a single tweet, cascading into a ripple effect that impacts a CEO’s online reputation, from social media to search engine results.

In 2017, CNBC found that only 20% of CEOs qualified as being “active” on social media, a figure that grew increasingly smaller once divided amongst the various social platforms. Given the paradigm shift in modes of communication and audience interaction trending towards online, this equals a missed opportunity for many CEOs to take control of their online reputation.

There’s more at stake than personal pride. Read on to find out how fake or malicious news can bog down search engine results, and how a CEO’s reputation impacts business relationships, and the larger corporate brand.

Potential for negative news reports

Bad press can weigh a CEO’s brand down like an anchor. Speaking of anchoring, negative news can weigh down a CEO’s online reputation, even if the source is penned by an author with an ulterior motive (an investment website that might be shorting a company’s stock, for example, or an author that has ties to a competitor). Many times, these misleading stories are indistinguishable from reliable ones. Even if they’re proven untrue, online content can be syndicated and exist on the internet for years to come.

Not only do false articles spread like wildfire, but newsworthy corporate mishaps like a lawsuit, public scandal, disappointing earnings report or other negative coverage can end up in Google results when someone searches a CEO’s name. Negative news coverage is a part of doing business. However, CEOs must protect their brand in the event of a crisis in order to limit the longevity of negative articles appearing in search results.

Impact on business relationships

A CEO is a living, breathing human, but they also exist as a business figurehead. They have the ability to influence business relationships as a result of their online reputation. The earlier mention of Elon Musk stands as a prime example of what not to do online. In 2018, after tweeting about taking Tesla private with funding it turned out he didn’t actually have, Musk faced serious consequences. He was subsequently forced out as Tesla’s chairman, paid millions of dollars in fines, and faced a grueling legal battle with the SEC over what he was — and wasn’t — allowed to say on Twitter.

Sure, Musk has developed a maverick, no-holds-barred personal brand on Twitter, but at what cost? Though considered a technology celebrity, his business relationships, especially those with investors, have suffered as a result of his “loose cannon” reputation.

Impact on corporate reputation

One of the fascinating things about CEOs is their ability to translate their individual expertise online,thereby appearing more approachable to stakeholders and the public.

Personal reputation-building lays a strong foundation for CEOs to brand themselves. This also enables them to build emotional connections, allowing them to compete both in the internal hierarchy of their corporation as well as the external market.

This concept of “CEOs as influencers” has a real-world impact that trickles down into a company’s overall corporate reputation. CNBC also found that socially active CEOs made improvements in the following areas:

  • They were 89% better at empowering others.
  • They were 52% better at communicating effectively.
  • They were 36% better at cultivating networks.
  • They were 16% better at making decisions.

The points above don’t just refer to the way a CEO interacts with immediate staff or the public; they also set the precedent for social interaction throughout the company. When a CEO has a great reputation, their company’s reputation also soars. This can tie directly into business outcomes, such as increased hiring and retention rates, funding, and sales.Additionally, many marketing experts believe purpose-driven CEOs — executives who are vocal about current issues — can increase positive visibility for themselves and their company. PRNewswire commented that “Two-thirds of communications and marketing executives (67 percent) in the US, UK and China whose CEOs have spoken out on hotly debated current issues believe that CEO activism reaps reputational rewards.” Though not without risk, CEO activism is becoming increasingly part of corporate strategy in order to align with shifting trends in expression and public opinion. The digital age means that mistakes can’t be erased with the wave of a hand. CEOs are under intense media scrutiny and, as a result, their online reputation is one of their company’s most critical assets. It’s important for CEOs to understand the value and impact their online presence has upon the success of their company, and to work with reputational marketing experts to improve their branded search results.

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