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Stephen Miles is the founder and chief executive officer of The Miles Group. Previously, he was a vice chairman at Heidrick & Struggles and ran Leadership Advisory Services. With more[…]

In our age of social media, CEOs should have a two-way dialogue with their broader constituencies.

Question: How large a social media presence should CEOs have?

Stephen Miles: I coach many CEOs around the world, and some are embracing this and creating their own social media strategies as CEO, and others don’t even know what social media is yet and don’t have a personal strategy and aren’t doing anything as it relates to that. I think my message to CEOs is not every CEO needs to be out tweeting every day about they’re going to Starbucks now or they’re in Best Buy, but what they do need to do is have a social media strategy for their company and depending on what company they are, for example, if you look in the technology space Eric Schmidt at Google he tweets. Brian Dunn at Best Buy, he tweets. I mean because the industry that they’re in they need to be savvy and they need to be a forward-looking company as it relates to sort of connecting with their broader constituency who typically are very technology savvy. It makes sense, but it doesn’t make sense for every CEO to have a Twitter account and be out there messaging, but what does make sense is CEOs need to figure out what the right way for them to have a two-way dialogue with the broader constituencies that impact their company and that can be a blog. It can be tweeting. It can be these sorts of videos that go up on the web, but they need to come up with a strategy for their company and for themselves that allows them to have a two-way dialogue. It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. It’s not the old world where you as a CEO message to your constituencies and they say that is great or they don’t read it or they read it. Today it’s you have to have a discussion with everybody and that discussion is often in real time and you need to be part of it, so I think it’s important for CEOs to figure out how they’re going to engage in that dialogue and what their strategy for them personally as a CEO is going to be and then what the strategy is going to be for their company.

Question: Can you provide an example of a CEO failing to utilize social media?

Stephen Miles: Last week or the week before Alan Joyce who is the CEO of Qantas wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal, was interviewed in the Wall Street Journal and what he said that he underestimated when he was dealing with the crisis of the A380 engine was the social aspects of the media part of his campaign in terms of touching the broader constituencies.

So the Qantas crisis was Qantas flies this new super jumbo jet called the A380 double-decker. It’s the greatest, biggest airplane you’ve ever seen in your life. I've flown it many times and love it. What happened was is one of their planes was flying out of Singapore and the engine blew up and they had to do an emergency landing and everything was safe and they landed the plane and everything was good, but coming out of that obviously Qantas grounded their entire A380 fleet and the CEO of Qantas had to reestablish a connection with the broader constituencies, everybody who flies in airplanes, A); and then B); everybody who flies on Qantas airplanes and then sort of reestablish this connection with them that everything is going to be okay, we’re handling this, here are all the safety protocols that we’re going through, Rolls Royce who make the engine we’re in deep discussions with them and we’re not going to put them in the air again until they’re safe and by the way, when the first one flies I'm going to be on it. That is what the CEO did and he was on it. What he said in the article though is he missed the opportunity through social media, Twitter, blogs, every social media outlet to really touch in real time the broader constituencies and he said his learning was if I'm ever in a crisis like that again I'm going to really take that seriously so I can touch people so they know what is going on personally, they don’t have to wait for a press release.

The other one that everybody has read about obviously is in the oil and gas industry and I think the company underestimated sort of how much connective tissue you needed to have with the impacted areas from an oil spill and how you deal with people in real time and how it’s not good enough to put your messages out, but you have to be there in the flesh and taking the hits and if you’re unwilling to do that it’s at your peril because you’re going to fall and somebody else is going to stand up who is willing to go in and take the hits and really engage people in this dialogue, both face-to-face and through every other medium and that is just the world we live in today. You have to get out and touch people.

Recorded January 12, 2011
Interviewed by Max Miller
Directed by Jonathan Fowler
Produced by Elizabeth Rodd