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The Future of Work

Why Facebook, Not LinkedIn, Is The Professional Network Of Choice For These 4 CEOs

For some, Facebook is an ideal platform to blur the lines between professional networking, personal branding, and social media marketing.

[Photo: Flickr user Jimmy Baikovicius]

She’s got 225,000 Facebook likes, knows her way around a selfie stick, and posts updates that get reshared hundreds of times. And she isn't a Kardashian. She's Meg Whitman, the 59-year-old CEO of Hewlett Packard Enterprise.

While teens (and lately, brands) flock to Snapchat and the rest of us wrestle with Twitter’s new character counts, business leaders are migrating to an old-school network that’s turning over a new leaf. LinkedIn may be the professional platform de rigueur (especially after this months' Microsoft acquisition announcement), but Facebook is increasingly a go-to choice for execs, managers, and business gurus, from T-Mobile CEO John Legere to World Bank president Jim Yong Kim. Access to the world’s biggest social audience (1.6 billion people and counting), not to mention a slew of new tools like live video, seem to be luring the C-suite to Zuckerberg's turf.

Here's why, and what it means for you.

Tapping Facebook's Human Side

Social-savvy execs are finding ways to humanize their companies and put a face to their corporate logos. They’re connecting directly with customers and employers, and they’re building personal audiences in the thousands. And make no mistake—they absolutely should be.

But for every social success story is yet another drab CEO profile, blasting out corporate updates to a handful of indifferent followers. Just as in business, success on Facebook is an elusive blend of art and science, and your C-level status is no guarantee of a huge following.

These four executives—some familiar names, others up-and-comers—each take their own approach, but they're all doubling down on Facebook because it lets them do something that LinkedIn and other networks largely don't: blur the lines between professional networking, personal branding, and social-media marketing. They're taking tactics already familiar to anyone who's used social media to find a job or launch an ad campaign, and combining them on the platform in novel ways. It's worth taking note of, because that may become a standard operating procedure before too long.

1. Loic Le Meur

While Loic Le Meur may not be a household name, the French-born tech entrepreneur, investor, and blogger has amassed more than 200,000 followers on Facebook in short order with his live, off-the-cuff videos.

Shot on his phone, often at odd hours and in unusual locations, Le Meur’s videos are informal, filled with entrepreneurial insights, and are strangely magnetic to watch. In a recent one, he recorded himself behind the wheel of one of Tesla’s (nearly) self-driving cars. It can be a little scary to see Le Meur completely ignoring the rush-hour traffic whizzing by all around him, but result—as he well knows—is social-media gold.

What you can learn from him: For execs, video doesn’t have to be professional to be effective. (Nor does it need to involve stunt driving.) If you’re willing to broadcast live on Facebook, a five-minute phone-cast can draw in significant followings with minimal prep or effort.

2. Brit Morin

Pregnancy photos, clips from Jimmy Fallon and an ode to lost bobby pins: In many ways, founder and CEO of the DIY site Brit + Co Brit Morin has crafted a Facebook profile that doesn't look much different from your best friend's—and that’s probably one reason why she has 283,000 followers and counting.

While Morin does occasionally plug her company, which sells arts-and-crafts classes and kits, most of her posts are personal, creative, and genuinely worthy of sharing. She hobnobs online with buds like Randi Zuckerberg, celebrates the birth of her new son, and then throws in a few behind-the-scenes shots from a photo shoot at her company. The resulting mix of life and business comes across as natural and genuinely disarming.

What you can learn from her: If you’re willing to get personal and share (select) details of your daily life on Facebook, you’ll stand out from the legions of buttoned-down execs droning on about quarterly profits and company culture.

3. Meg Whitman

There’s nothing fancy about Whitman’s Facebook page, but the Hewlett Packard CEO finds time to post regularly and thoughtfully. Those workmanlike efforts have earned her page more than a quarter-million likes. Whitman is a fan of photo collages, and a typical post will feature images of her at a company event—like kicking off the day at the New York Stock Exchange or visiting a Hewlett Packard office in Japan—accompanied by some brief remarks.

Whitman isn’t a prolific poster (just once every few days), but you get the sense that she actually writes the updates herself instead of outsourcing everything to an intern or PR associate, and enjoys interacting with followers.

What you can learn from her: Getting Facebook right doesn’t require a huge time commitment on the part of executives. Even a few minutes every couple days spent posting and replying to comments can translate into a sizable and loyal following. You just have to get started and keep it up.

4. Leila Janah

Because it’s so personal, Facebook can be a powerful platform for execs to champion social and philanthropic efforts. And perhaps no one does this better than Janah, the social entrepreneur whose nonprofit Sama Group trains people around the world to take on outsourced digital work so they can earn a living wage.

On her profile, she shares a mix of personal photos and videos, thought-provoking articles she’s reading from the Times and Economist, and plenty of success stories from her venture—like this recent post about a Ugandan woman who was able to set up a farm to help lift her family out of poverty after getting digital training.

What you can learn from her: Facebook is a natural choice for execs looking to highlight corporate social responsibility efforts. Share the causes you’re passionate about by sharing articles, videos, and stories from the front lines. Let your followers see your social initiatives in progress—don't just talk about them after they're finished.

What It Takes To Get Facebook Right

There's one important disclaimer here that bears emphasizing. These CEOs definitely aren’t overnight successes when it comes to Facebook. Their mega-followings represent the culmination of a sound Facebook marketing strategy and months, if not years, of faithful updating. But that's all the more reason not to waste time getting started.

As someone building an executive audience from the ground up, I can personally attest that a little effort goes a long way. My own Facebook page has grown from a few hundred to nearly 20,000 followers in recent months. I post a Facebook Live video once a week, comment on tech and gadget stories I’m reading, and also share my own articles on social media and entrepreneurship.

The good news is that these are still early days for Facebook as a professional network in addition to being a social one. If you can get in on the ground floor, you'll be able to leap ahead of the executive pack, which for the most part—and for now, anyway—seems content to stick with LinkedIn exclusively. But the fact is that your most powerful connections and most engaged audiences already don't exist in just one place in the social media universe. Neither should you.

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