Humanizing the CEO: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Do It Well

May 14, 2024 | CEOs, LinkedIn, Personal branding

CEOs and social media — it’s a love-hate relationship, right? Most CEOs and senior execs see value in adding social media to their communications mix. But really, does any CEO get up in the morning and think, “I can’t wait to share [fill in the blank] on social!” 

No matter how big or small your company is, there are so many other things to do before your social media presence gets attention. Understandable. But perhaps, short-sighted, especially in our current economy.

What if social media — done well, done strategically — turns out to be not only one of your best communication tools but also a business-building tool? A tool with maximum reach — speaking directly to your desired network, drawing people into it — with amazingly low costs? 

 

Not All Social Media Is Created Equal

There are plenty of platforms, but if you’re talking business — if you’re doing business — use LinkedIn. You can post other places, but unless you’re selling low-investment products to a wide range of consumers (not B2B), LinkedIn is the better choice. With 1+ billion members in 200+ countries and territories, LinkedIn is the platform for people in business.

 

You Need More Than a Company Presence & Professional Brand

Yes, your company should have a page on LinkedIn, and someone from your communications group — not the CEO — should post strategically and consistently. And just as importantly, a CEO needs their own profile, plan, and presence. Although some may say a LinkedIn company page will fill that need, they would be missing a significant advantage.

I’ve written about the long-term benefits of personal branding for CEOs, the power of CEO storytelling, the essential dimensions of a CEO’s communication strategy, and how a well-executed plan on LinkedIn can positively impact multiple aspects of your business. But one, slightly unexpected function of LinkedIn is how it can be used to “humanize” a CEO and the payoff of that work.

 

Humanizing the CEO?

Of course, CEOs are humans, but depending on the size and culture of their companies, they may seem (or be) isolated, unrelatable, or even unapproachable. That gap — perceived or real — between the CEO and the other humans they want to invite into partnering, doing business, or working with them can slow growth and derail long-term plans.

The antidote? “Humanize the CEO,” that is, present the CEO in a way that emphasizes their personal traits, emotions, and everyday aspects rather than simply a corporate role and responsibilities. The process involves sharing stories about your personal life, challenges you’ve faced, your leadership philosophy and values, and your hobbies or outside interests (don’t worry — you only need a little of the extracurricular stuff).

You can see how humanizing the CEO content should be posted from your profile rather than on a company page. For example, you might share how someone mentored you or gave you a chance as you began your career. While distinctly professional, this kind of post is also personal — you express gratitude, acknowledge that you got help from another person, and you might say how that support continues to influence your leadership now. That message would be awkward if originated on a company page but is authentic coming from an individual. (That said, your team should share the post on the company page with an appropriate comment.)

 

Why Humanize a CEO?

Humanizing the CEO makes a leader more relatable and approachable to employees, customers, and the public, and shows that they are not just a business figure but a multifaceted person with depth and relatability. That image transformation pays off with multiple benefits:

    • Build Trust and Loyalty: Humanizing your image can build deeper trust and loyalty among employees and customers. People feel more connected and committed to leaders they see as relatable and understanding. As Bob Burg said in his Golden Rule of Networking, “All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like, and trust.”

       

    • Cultivate a Thriving Company Culture: It can seem uncomfortable at first, but sharing your perspectives and selective personal aspects of your life can positively influence the company culture, making it more open and supportive, which leads to improved morale and lower turnover — even easier recruiting.
    • Improve Communication: Leaders who are perceived as more approachable are likely to receive more honest and direct feedback from their teams, which can lead to better collaboration and decision-making.

 

Best Practices in Humanizing a CEO

Like most successful social media work, humanizing a CEO starts with defining goals: What is important to you? What do you want people to know about you? How do you want to be known, and does that image match who you are? Get crystal clear on those answers for yourself (and your social team, if you have one), and then develop a plan and parameters (what you consider off-limits). Here’s a template to get you started.

Content Mix: The content should be a combination of personal and professional posts.

    • Personal Insights (30%): Share stories about challenges and milestones in your career, lessons learned, personal habits that lead to success, and occasionally, glimpses into your personal life (like hobbies or volunteering).

       

    • Industry Insights (30%): Post articles, thoughts, and commentary about trends in the industry. This positions you as a thought leader while remaining relatable and grounded.

       

    • Company News (30%): Share updates about the company but link back to the team’s effort, focusing on how company milestones have been a collective achievement.

       

    • Professional Achievements (10%): Highlight your achievements and the company’s — always be humble, grateful, and emphasize teamwork.

Engagement Strategy: Posting consistently builds momentum.

    • Weekly Posts: Schedule 2-3 posts per week to maintain a consistent presence without overwhelming the followers.

       

    • Interactive Posts: Occasionally post questions or ask for feedback to encourage interaction. This would work well on posts about industry trends, general business advice, or personal insights.

       

    • Respond to Comments: You may not have time to personally engage with all the comments, but it would be ideal to respond to some comments to foster engagement and show you value the input of your network.

       

    • Engage with Peers: Engage with content from other industry leaders or partners. This shows openness to community and collaboration.

Photos & Videos: Keep your content interesting and energetic by mixing media.

    • Videos: Share short videos of you discussing industry news, giving a sneak peek into your daily routine, or explaining complex concepts simply.

       

    • Images: Use images from events and behind-the-scenes photos that reveal your personality and sense of humor.

Storytelling: Stories grab people’s attention and draw them into your narrative. Use a generous mix of these stories.

    • Personal Stories: Use storytelling techniques to discuss challenges and victories, weaving personal and professional experiences into a narrative that resonates on a human level.

       

    • Customer Stories: Share stories of how the company’s product has positively impacted customers, focusing on the human element.

       

    • Team Stories: Regularly feature stories about employees or teams, emphasizing their contributions and successes.

 

Risks to Humanizing a CEO

Humanizing the CEO offers many benefits, but it comes with risks that need careful management:

    • Overexposure or Inconsistency: Sharing too much personal information can lead to overexposure, making you seem less professional or diluting the impact of your messages. It’s important to balance being relatable and maintaining an aura of leadership and professionalism. Additionally, if your online persona and your real-life interactions with staff or the public don’t match up, it can lead to perceptions of inauthenticity.

       

    • Privacy Concerns or Misinterpretation: In sharing personal stories or details, you may inadvertently compromise your privacy or that of your family. And, unfortunately, some posts meant to humanize the CEO can sometimes be misinterpreted ― what is intended as relatability can be seen as a lack of focus on business priorities.

       

    • Brand Damage or Crisis Amplification: If you share personal opinions or controversial topics, they may alienate certain groups of customers or stakeholders. Or, if your company faces a crisis, you — the highly visible CEO — can become a focal point for criticism.

To mitigate these risks, make sure you have a clear strategy and guidelines on the extent and nature of personal content shared, be consistent in your messaging, and maintain professional boundaries. Regularly evaluate the impact of the humanization efforts on both your and the company’s reputation.

 

“. . . don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business.”

That unforgettable line comes from Mario Puzo’s classic book and movie, “The Godfather.” And while that’s probably not your business model, there’s real wisdom in the advice. People want to do business with people — not organizations — and humanizing the CEO can help you do more business.

Whether your team is small enough that you still know each other well or large enough that you have people to deal with people, investing in humanizing the CEO can pay off in multiple ways. The process requires time and effort, not just from you but also from the communications team that supports you.

If you’d like help getting started, our team is here to help. Contact me on LinkedIn or book a quick call, and let’s discuss how we can help you make LinkedIn work for you and your company.

Who else should read this? Please share!

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