Richard Branson, Marissa Mayer, and even Tim Cook have all been praised for using their personal social media engagement to boost their brands’ profiles. Being authentic, opinionated, and real-time responsive can be a great strategy for the top-level CEO – but does it work for the typical small business owner?
The answer to that question is “Yes,” with some caveats. Small businesses are generally even more dependent on their leaders’ personality as a key component of their brands’ identity: think of the restauranteur that greets all her regulars by name, or the community jeweler that has such a bubbly, infectious personality that simply being around them makes everyone smile. Expressing that personality via social media is a way to extend your appeal over a greater distance. Today’s customer has a well-established tendency to want to bond with the face behind the brand. Putting yourself out there makes it easier for that to happen.
Social media also provides a great platform for small business owners to share their expertise. Sharing your opinions and insights about your industry or field can help your customers make more informed decisions; more importantly than that, it helps the public learn to recognize you as an authority in your field. Part of the reason people follow Richard Branson and similar leaders is to gain insights into how these successful people think about the world.
Now about those caveats. While it’s good to be yourself on social media, it’s also important to remember you’re still a business owner. Successful CEOs on social media tend to be positive in their messaging, even if they’re being critical: they seek always to add value to the conversation. You’ll see very little complaining for the sake of complaining. If you’re having a rough day or find yourself very emotionally involved in a controversial conversation, it may be a good idea to step away and let the internet do its thing without you for a little while. One can be both authentic and strategic at the same time.
In the same line, most CEOs limit the type of information they’ll share about their loved ones; you may want to do the same. Finding the right mix of approachability and privacy protection is a balancing act. Being yourself comes with some limits to keep everyone safe and happy. It’s a good idea to have a second set of eyes available to you: delegate a trusted, sensible employee or peer to give your social media periodic reviews to make sure you’re balancing authenticity, safety, and brand identity concerns well.