The England and Wales Cricket Board’s recent twitter debacle should be a salutary lesson not just for sportspeople but also for senior executives and future business leaders. The fact that tweets posted by Ollie Robinson in his teens emerged on the day of his Test debut should remind us (if that’s really necessary) of the reputational risks posed by ill-judged social media posts. Irrespective of whether he should have been suspended by the ECB, the issue has taken the shine of a special personal milestone, put the sport in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons and placed its governing body at odds with the position taken by the government.
But why should this matter beyond cricket fans and what does it mean for corporate Britain? Whilst the vast majority of the current crop of senior company executives pre-date the proliferation of social media usage, many have become more active, particularly during the pandemic. In addition, the next cohort of business leaders is coming through who were early adopters of LinkedIn and Facebook, and they are followed by the genuinely ‘digitally native’ generation, who have only ever owned a smartphone.
Social media adoption by senior executives is now far more mainstream than it was even two years ago, with some sources reporting a 15% increase in regular activity over the period. This doesn’t mean that CEOs are regularly posting on Facebook (although it fair to say that they are now more likely to use the platform than their children), instead they are using platforms like LinkedIn to secure better access to audiences directly. Many now recognise that communicating via social media channels enables them to be more transparent and more accessible to customers, employees, prospects, and future hires. This trend has accelerated even more dramatically over the last 15 months and with the shift to remote working.
In the past, few people would have delved too deeply into an individual’s social media profile beyond perhaps a cursory glance at LinkedIn. Now a review of LinkedIn is the norm, with many taking a more thorough look at an individual’s social footprint before a meeting. Indeed, SEMrush Keyword Analysis reveals that the CEO of a UK PLC receives an average of 700 searches a month. As media lawyers Schillings stated in December 2020: “It’s a common misconception, particularly by those who understandably wish to remain private, that digital reputation management is really about self-promotion and brand building – that it’s about Google rankings, likes and artfully taken selfies. But this is not the case; it’s about critical risk management and taking control of your online profile-which already exists and, if you aren’t controlling it, then others are. In short, it’s something we all need to be doing – and too few of us are.”
So the question is how prepared are these future business leaders for the increased scrutiny they will face as they become more visible and what steps have they taken to protect their own reputation and indeed, that of their employer? This blurring of personal and corporate brand makes the risk to both parties more acute and something that warrants proper consideration.
Clearly the first step is to not post something which will later cause you embarrassment or possible reputational damage. In the way that a newly capped cricketer should probably have audited or deleted potentially sensitive tweets, business leaders should conduct regular audits of their personal digital profile. This need becomes even more immediate if their public profile is about to increase…for instance, they have been promoted to the Board or to CEO or Chair, or if their employer is about to go through a high-profile corporate event (i.e. flotation, merger, restructuring). Something posted in the distant past may have been appropriate then (even marginally), but might not be regarded as appropriate now due to societal changes or high profile media issues and events. Check, and if in doubt, delete…though remember, there will always be a digital imprint somewhere so flag any potential concerns to your communications team.
Second, is to have as much control of your personal digital profile as possible. The best time to do this is when you/your company have a positive reputation as opposed to when the house is on fire.
Your online presence, particularly on Google Page 1, should be viewed as a digital portfolio with assets and liabilities. Digital assets, like your financial assets, must be actively managed to build long-term value and to mitigate reputational risk online. Business leaders must recognise that there is no such thing as a digital strategy that is just a strategy in a digital world. That’s the world we live in. Ten years ago, ‘What do I look like on Google?’ was a secondary question in media relations, today, it’s often the first.
Search engines offer a digital representation of all our profiles. Unfortunately, Google decides what audiences see, which is why it is essential that business leaders control their digital persona as it is where most people will form an impression, and it should be regarded as important as managing ‘real-world’ image.
The choice for a business leader is to own a portfolio of digital assets that ensures control of an online personal or they face having little to no control over the information that Google (and other search engines) display about them.
Andrew Wessels, founder of The Marque, a full-service digital platform for business leaders and sportspeople, says: “Your online presence should be viewed as a digital portfolio. The only way to protect your personal profile is to invest time and possibly money in reviewing and managing your digital assets. There are owned digital assets such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Vimeo and then assets or liabilities such as Wikipedia, Crunchbase and media coverage. A Marque Profile enables users to collate and control these assets in one place.”
Finally, before reaching for your phone to tweet about the latest issue to spring to mind, it’s worth noting the approach taken by former England footballer to Twitter: “I never tweet when I’ve had a drink. I never tweet if I’m angry… And the third one is that when I do a tweet, I read it back to myself and if I have even a one per cent doubt about it then I won’t post it. Unless I think it’s really funny and then I might.”
To avoid being ‘cancelled’ at a time of potential personal triumph, consider your online persona and take steps to audit, manage and mitigate any possible risks.