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The Quick-Start Guide To Social Media For Time-Strapped Execs

Arriving late to social, or have zero time to tweet? Let this CEO of a social media company show you the ropes.

[Photo: Flickr user Esther Vargas]

Last month, I wrote an article here at Fast Company pointing out that more than half of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence whatsoever, which means they're leaving on the table a huge opportunity to connect with customers and employees. That article was shared more than 4,000 times on social media in the first 48 hours. My own Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook streams have exploded with thousands of comments on the subject. I understood the scope of the problem (it's why I wrote the story), but I've been really surprised at the interest there appears to be in fixing it.

Since then, I’ve had a chance to talk with the heads of companies with thousands (and tens of thousands) of employees, and I’ve heard the same refrain: "Listen, I want to get on social media, but I don’t have the time and don’t know how to get started." I realized that I’d explained the "why" of social media for C-level executives, but not the "how."

For CEOs, social media presents special challenges: Time is limited, the stakes are high, and the array of options can be paralyzing. I’ve experienced all of this firsthand as CEO of Hootsuite. With that in mind, here’s a quick, no-nonsense guide—made up of the same steps that I've taken to build my own million-strong following across the leading social platforms.

1. First, Get Help

You're strapped for time as it is, so how are you supposed to manage a social media account, let alone several? While the personal touch is key in social media, it's simply unrealistic for most execs to manage their own accounts 100% of the time. The truth is that very few of even the most social CEOs engage without a team or even just one person behind them. This can be a specialized social agency or a member of your marketing or PR squads. (Just don’t leave your voice in the hands of an intern.)

Bringing on support staff doesn't consign you to sending pointless, canned messages. Instead, it can free you up to focus focus on injecting your own insight and personality—maximizing the return on your time investment, however limited that may be. I can’t emphasize this enough: The right support will make this entire process easier, from strategizing on what to post to ensuring that all content is safe and compliant.

2. Define Your "What" And "Why"

Before sending out your first tweet, know your objective. In simplest form, this means thinking about what audience you want to reach and what change you want to provoke, whether that's raising awareness among customers or boosting engagement with employees. Equally important is understanding what you want to share. Your team will help crystallize this, but the most effective social CEOs offer a window into their world—their company, passions, hobbies, etc.

Once you've nailed down the sort of conversation you'd like to have, you can set a tone that feels right for you. That can range from off-the-cuff and funny (@levie) to hard-nosed and data-driven (@elonmusk), but authenticity is nonnegotiable. Here's a quick hack: Think of three hashtags that define you (mine are #socialmedia, #entrepreneurship, and #technology), and start from there.

3. Choose Your Weapon(s)

Different social media platforms obviously target different audiences. LinkedIn is a powerful B2B network. Twitter is the domain of the tech- and media-savvy. Facebook and Instagram have broad consumer reach, while Snapchat dominates among teen users. Lean on your social team to identify which channels best align with your audience and goals. They can also equip you with the right tool to scale and streamline your efforts. The best tools offer an easy interface to draft, schedule, and monitor posts across multiple social networks.

4. Create Content That Isn't Terrible

Building an audience and staking your place as a thought leader in a certain field is all about sharing quality content. What counts as "quality content," of course, partly depends on who you're trying to reach. Maybe it's behind-the-scenes photos, some industry insights, short videos, company updates, or even impromptu posts on food and hobbies. With your collaborators, decide on the right mix of personal and professional, as well as planned and spontaneous content.

The real key to success—and where most CEOs fail—is simple consistency. Set up a regular schedule that fits your calendar. This can be as minimal as allocating five minutes every Monday to chime in on breaking news, five minutes on Wednesday to shoot a 30-second leadership short with your phone, and five minutes on Friday for a company update. (If you can't spare 15 minutes a week, you may have bigger problems to deal with than not being on social media.)

5. Amplify Your Work

This is the missing link that too many people overlook. Yes, some social media messages just "go viral," spreading like wildfire and getting in front of huge numbers of people. But that's the exception, not the rule—don't think you've failed simply because your every Facebook post doesn't break the Internet.

The truth is that most social posts need a little help. Employee advocacy can be a powerful (and basically no-cost) way to extend the reach of your updates: Enlist team members to re-share relevant posts with their followers. (A caveat: there are better and worse ways to do this—here are a few helpful tips.) At companies with hundreds of employees, each of whom may have hundreds of followers, this quickly adds up.

And like it or not, paid social media is also an integral piece of the puzzle. All the major networks will "promote" your posts to key demographics for a fee. This up-front expense compresses the timeframe needed for CEOs to build a following and reach critical mass.

For executives, it’s getting harder to ignore the ROI on social media. Consumers now spend more time on Facebook and Instagram than they do watching television. Employees are already using social platforms like Slack and Facebook at Work to share information and streamline processes. It’s hard to lead this kind of digital transformation without a personal social media presence—even if your marketing department is doing great work on behalf of the brand. But it's easier to get started than many think, and reward-to-effort ratio improves swiftly.

I've been glad to see how much interest there is in making these changes. So if you have questions or want a little help, feel free to reach to me on Twitter or Facebook or—if you’re not quite there yet—drop me a line at my CEO helpdesk: csuitesocial@hootsuite.com.

Related: Have You Mastered Social Media?

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