26 September 2023

How women CEOs are speaking up on social media and winning

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Roger Christie* says there are many compelling reasons for women in positions of power to speak up.

Peter Dutton was right in his recent comments about business leaders using social media. But not about everything.

In case you missed it last week, the Opposition leader warned business leaders “to stop craving popularity on social media by signing up to every social cause.”

Firm words.

As someone who advises leaders on digital reputation, I agree.

When it comes to their social media actions, any leader who hungrily chases popularity and vanity metrics online sits on a ticking reputation time bomb.

Every leader leaves digital footprints through their posts and comments online.

Footprints the outside world uses to make decisions about who they are, whether they’re worth working with, whether they’re worth buying from, and whether they’re worth trusting.

Getting it wrong can be a governance nightmare for boards and communications teams.

So, does that mean leaders should just stay silent online, as Dutton seemed to also suggest?

Absolutely not.

The truth is, whether they’re active online or not – every leader now has a digital reputation.

This is the one professional asset anyone – worldwide – can access to make decisions about them.

It’s also the one thing leaders themselves should use to exponentially grow their impact beyond organisational and geographical boundaries.

Why stay silent and miss that opportunity? Why stay silent and let others – politicians even – control the dialogue?

What must change, and what Dutton highlights, is social media for the sake of popularity.

Instead, leaders should move towards another ‘p’ word: purpose.

When leaders prioritise purpose over popularity online, we all stand to benefit.

We now have plenty of examples and evidence for what’s possible when they do, and women leaders – in particular – have the most to gain.

But they must speak up to be heard.

“You can’t follow someone you don’t trust; you can’t trust someone you don’t know.”

These are the wise words of Brunswick Group Partner and expert on executive use of social media, Craig Mullaney.

They capture the essence of what’s lost in Dutton’s comments.

The vast majority of leaders are on social media, because that’s where people expect them to be, and where they themselves must be visible to earn trust.

Recently on Women’s Agenda, Angela Priestley called out some of those expectations, highlighting Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

Brunswick’s own Connected Leadership Report backs these numbers, showing:

  • 82 per cent of people expect leaders to use social media to communicate their mission, vision, values;
  • People prefer to work for leaders who use social media 4 times more than leaders who do not; and
  • More than 80 per cent of candidates will research a CEO’s presence online when considering whether to join a company.

These are compelling reasons to speak up.

Global reputation data and insights firm RepTrak adds weight to this argument, too, revealing companies with outspoken CEOs across ESG issues enjoy higher-than-average reputation scores.

And there is a strong positive relationship between these scores and business outcomes (e.g.

purchase intent, talent attraction, trust and advocacy).

In short, participating purposefully on social media is about shares (monetary), not shares (vanity).

For leaders, this is about the battle for trust and reputation, which are assets every executive needs today.

Women ASX leaders are speaking up

Research from my firm, Propel, reveals the unique opportunity women leaders have when speaking up purposefully online.

In our 2022 Digital Reputation Report, a study into the social media use of CEOs leading Australia’s 200 largest listed organisations, we found almost 85 per cent of ASX 200 chief executives were either ‘invisible’, ‘inactive’ or ‘ineffective’ on LinkedIn.

That’s a large number who’ve avoided Dutton’s popularity ticket.

Yet, at the other end of the spectrum, among the 6 per cent of all ASX 200 CEOs assessed as ‘very active’ on LinkedIn (e.g. averaging 3+ posts per month).

Here, it’s women leaders who stand out and excel.

In fact, female CEOs are 6 times more likely to be very active on LinkedIn compared to their male counterparts.

They are not staying silent.

Why stay silent when you can sing your employees praises from the digital rooftops, like Ramsay Health Care CEO Carmel Monaghan?

Why stay silent when you can share stories of reinvention, energy and optimism from within your four walls, like AMP CEO Alexis George?

Why stay silent when you can tell your people where you’ve come from, and where you’re going – together – like Telstra CEO Vicki Brady?

Why stay silent? Because our data shows that, when women leaders speak up, they:

  • Average 80 per cent more engagements on their posts compared with their ‘very active’ male counterparts;
  • Generate 4 times more engagement than ‘very active’ male CEOs (despite having fewer than half the average number of followers);
  • Are 3.5x more active with posting than male CEOs.

In the specific case of Telstra’s Vicki Brady, she generated at least 2 times more engagement per post than any other CEO in the ASX200 – even 7 times that of her ‘very active’ CEO peers.

As these examples and statistics show, leaders who share their purpose clearly and authentically online are magnets for talent, as well as customer, partners and investor attraction.

Purpose trumps popularity every single time.

Are you sharing yours online?

*Roger Christie is Managing Director of digital reputation advisory firm Propel – a multi award-winning firm that helps leaders protect and enhance their digital reputation.

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au

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