Takeaways from this post:

  • Organizations are very committed to executive social media use, chiefly for the purposes of brand building and thought leadership.
  • They are planning to increase investments through 2021.
  • Despite this commitment, security and compliance protocols lag behind.
  • Organizations know that executive social media accounts expand their threat surface – but security protocols are currently inadequate and ill-defined.

In early 2021, we surveyed 600 enterprise leaders across marketing, communications, and security management roles. The goal was to learn how businesses are approaching the security imperative of digital executive protection. As part of this survey, we learned a great deal about how companies are approaching executive social media strategy.

Common Executive Social Media Strategy Goals

In our survey, all 600 respondents reported that their companies leverage executive social media accounts. Why? It sounds like an obvious question, but it’s useful to step back and consider the macro goals that organizations are pursuing when they encourage their execs toward platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn.

Our survey revealed that the top two goals of executive social media use (accounting for 70% of responses) are brand building and executives’ positioning as thought leaders.

These two goals are now core to any effective social media strategy for executives. Users and market observers expect companies to have a human face, and social media is where execs can fulfill that need. As CEO Magazine put it, social media enables CEOs and business leaders to “strengthen their own personal brand and raise their profile as a thought leader within their industry.” When the CEO looks good, the company looks good.

Executive social media presence is now such a norm that its absence can be an issue. According to LinkedIn:

  • 55% of decision-makers carefully examine a CEO's thought leadership prior to considering interaction with that leader's company.
  • 45% of decision-makers say thought leadership had compelled them to invite an organization to bid on a project when not previously considering them.

In short, in this day and age, an effective executive social media strategy is a PR must. Here is what Lee Caraher, CEO of the Double Forte communications agency, said on the First Watch podcast:

“From a corporate perspective, LinkedIn is no longer an option. You must be on LinkedIn. Even if it's a private account and you're not actively looking for networking, people, customers, and consumers are looking… They want to know who the CEO is, and they want to know what he or she thinks about things.”

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Increased Investments in Executive Social Media Strategy

For most (56%) of our survey respondents, the executive communications’ role will “increase in importance or priority” during 2021.

Already, almost half of organizations (48%) spend between 50 and 100 hours per month on executive communication strategy, demonstrating significant investment and commitment. A projected increase in importance suggests that this number will rise.

What will this increased investment look like? It could take many forms:

  • Greater investment in technology and tools to protect executives from threats such as executive phishing.
  • Greater investment in technology and tools to automate the recording of communications on third-party apps for legal readiness. (Currently, at 63% of companies, this recording remains manual.)
  • Greater investment in a dedicated PR/corporate communications team to oversee the overall executive social media strategy. (Currently, only 1 in 4 organizations have such a team in place.)

Are Organizations Securing Their Executive Social Media Strategy?

Organizations appreciate the importance of a robust executive social media strategy and are looking to do more in 2021. However, they are aware that executives expanding their social media presence also expands the organizational threat surface:

  • A previous SafeGuard Cyber survey revealed that 25% of enterprise IT leaders and cybersecurity professionals see executive social media accounts as a major risk factor.
  • Enterprises are worried about cyber risks. 1 in 3 are most fearful of impersonation or fake accounts; 1 in 4 are most concerned about the possibility of account takeover.
  • Enterprises recognize that the consequences of a cyberattack would be severe. In the event of a hack, 70% of respondents said their company would suffer brand or reputational damage. Half of the respondents predicted potential risk to shareholder value.

However, despite this warranted concern, security and compliance lag behind:

  • A mere 18% of enterprises see cybersecurity as a board-level concern.
  • At 43% of enterprises, there is no proactive oversight of executive social media output.
  • 1 in 3 executives select content and handle entirely posting in isolation.
  • Risk management roles seem unclear or poorly defined: 
    • At 29% of enterprises, the CISO owns the risk.
    • At another 28%, marketing/communications own the risk.
    • At another 19%, an external agency shoulders the burden.
    • Almost 1 in 10 don’t even know who owns the risk.

A Smart Strategy for 2021

Implementing executive protection – on social media or anywhere else – is tricky. 76% of CEOs will try and skip security protocols to get their work done quicker.

However, leaving executives to their own devices is a risky game. Any message arriving in a Twitter or LinkedIn inbox could contain a phishing link. Executives are human and can easily get lax with their login credentials that could be used to mount a takeover. Any robust social media strategy for executives must include security as a core component.

When crafting their executive social media strategy, organizations must include security and compliance as part of that strategy. 84% of C-level executives have been the target of at least one cyber attack. By 2024, Gartner predicts that three out four CEOs (75%) will be held liable for security breaches. Social media is a prominent and visible section of the attack surface and cannot be ignored.

Our previous survey revealed that 56% of businesses look at the impact on business outcomes as a determining factor in their decision to invest in new technology. A security or compliance incident involving executive social media use could be disastrous. Ergo, tools that secure this social media use should be a no-brainer for any org looking to develop a safe executive social media strategy.

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