Social CEO Since yesterday, Dave Lewis, Chief Executive at Tesco, has been in the firing line. He is new to the role and battling against a crisis that, whilst not of his making, puts him centre stage. Yet a search on the networks shows that Mr Lewis has no social presence. He is off the grid when it comes to the conversation. And there is plenty of chatter:

Topics around the Tesco Crisis

Topics most discussed as the Tesco crisis breaks

Why should this matter?

I was speaking at a Westminster Briefing conference last week, joined by seasoned corporate communications folk, talking about exactly this kind of crisis scenario. All were agreed that the CEO is the guardian of company reputation; and never more so in the digital world. It is the CEO’s job to be visible, engaged and in the heart of their market place. And it was unanimous – social media was part of the chief executive’s remit. There are three reasons why:

1. Social is where CEOs  build brand trust

According to a study by BrandFog, 71% of UK respondents in a survey this year state that CEO engagement on social media helps to communicate company values and shapes a company’s brand reputation.  A socially active C-suite builds relationships. Developing transparency, personality and opening channels that in times of crisis bring influencers, advocates and stakeholders alongside.

But more importantly being active in social media, gives the leadership a voice.  An opportunity to share vision, culture and set the tone of the organisation. And whether things are good or bad, the senior team can amplify the message across all its stakeholders. In fact 68% of UK BrandFog respondents believe that social media is a powerful tool for building thought leadership and enhancing the credibility of C-suite executives with stakeholders.

And at times of crisis there is no more important stakeholder than the journalist (well apart from shareholders). Among UK journalists surveyed by Cision, 57% said they turn to blogs for story research and 75% to microblogging services such as Twitter. A presence by the CEO on the popular networks can make a difference to engagement with the press.

2. Embed your CEO in the industry

Being active in social is much more than a chance to broadcast CEO opinions; it is an opportunity to interact with the industry. For Tesco’s Lewis, it is a chance to engage, beyond the city, and debate with suppliers – farmers are pretty vocal on social media too!

Outside of a crisis the social conversation can lead to innovation. The exchange of ideas and a finger on the pulse of industry sentiment. Listening, debating, sharing and collaborating; the social CEO becomes the heart of the industry. Richard Branson is lauded for innovation. He is also the top social CEO according to LinkedIn. Take a peek at his blog, to see how he opens discussions, shares insight and draws inspiration for innovation.

Quote from Richard Branson

3. CEOs must lead from the social front

As employees we want our leaders to be visible. A study by LinkedIn reveals that 76% of executives say they would rather work for a social CEO. Company staff want transparency. They want access. They want to feel proud of their leadership team.

The social CEO can meet employees where they are spending time. They can tell the company story, and better still, directly engage with employees. Social enables CEOs to digitally walk the shop floor, nod at co-workers and engage in the culture as part of a united team. Right now Dave Lewis needs to rally his company. Social could have helped him do that a wee bit faster and with more credibility that any edict from on high.

Although Lewis is not apparently active on social, he is not alone. According to research from  68% of CEOs have no social media presence at all. My advice: don’t wait until a crisis to engage. Get social now and lay the foundations to mitigate the risks and benefit from better communications across your stakeholders.


What if your organisation was facing a social media crisis? Join Katy Howell for our upcoming webinar on Tuesday 14th October when she will share insights from the Westminster Briefing Crisis Communications Conference.

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7 thoughts on “3 reasons why Tesco’s CEO needs a social presence

  1. Great post, Katy. Like it very much. “Drastic” Dave’s lack of social profile – even, as others note, on LinkedIn – does seem at variance with a modern, dynamic leader. But I’d argue that, before he learns to find his tweets from his elbow, he needs to help retail’s tallest poppy rediscover its purpose; its “why”. If you’ll let me promote my blog on this subject – “What’s the point of Tesco?” – readers might be diverted to look here …

    Phil Clarke tweeted a lot at the start of his blighted tenure, you may recall, including slagging off Finest cheesecake for being – erm – not altogether the finest cheesecake he’d ever tasted. He said “Unfortunately Finest Secret Berry Cheesecake is neither fine nor cheesecake” back in February 2011. His last recorded tweet was on New Year’s Eve that year.

    Being social is critical for today’s CEO; being socially awkward can cause more problems than it solves.

  2. Great post, Katy.

    I think the debate about whether Tesco’s CEO in particular should be on social media or not is moot. As Neville says, the problems at Tesco are much bigger than that.

    However, I think this crisis throws up the wider problem of executive disengagement more generally. I really believe the days when the CEO, CMO, CIO, etc of a major brand like Tesco can stay out of the social media limelight are numbered. If the company’s customers, shareholders, suppliers and other stakeholders are taking to social media to discuss this crisis, it seems absurd that the senior leadership should not be prepared to stick their heads above the parapet and put across their side of the story. Not in the Tony Haward way, but in a considered fashion – perhaps taking advice from an in-house team of advisers. They do have those don’t they?

    Not having ANY social media presence – not even on LinkedIn – makes people like Dave Lewis seem very out of touch. And that’s not what Tesco wants its CEO to be in 2014.

    • I agree Damian

      Still nothing on the Tesco corporate Twitter feed about it, although I did see a Tesco customer service rep trying to answer a customer’s (pointed) questions about the issue …

      As I said in your LinkedIn group, I think it’s less about the CEO (in particular) being overly active personally; there should be a CEO-led drive to use social appropriately throughout the business. Since there is a corporate blog (with only a passing mention of the new CEO and no message from him) on, you’d expect some sort of comment by now – but the last post was on 17 September. So, there is some infrastructure in place – it’s just not being used to best effect.

      Which is doubly strange since Lewis is supposed to have a marketing background …

  3. A good assessment, Katy. They have left it much too late as far as pre-crisis is concerned – Tesco is now embroiled in a crisis of such magnitude that I imagine is greater than any the leaders there could have imagined.

    How will Tesco emerge from this dire place in which they find themselves? Can they or will they, even? Unknown right now. To start with, what’s behind the £250m black hole isn’t known yet.

    So should the CEO be active in social media? Really hard to know the answer without deeper knowledge on what’s happening in Tesco, but my instinct would be no, not yet, not until the crisis communication plan has the details on what measurable strategic goal would be achieved by his being on Twitter. Not until clarity emerges on that £250m situation. That could be the moment where social media (not just Twitter) could play a key role as a communication medium, whether for messaging broadcast or actual engagement, depending on what’s behind it all.

    But right now? Given Tesco’s absence from the social web for so long – and doubtful they have any infrastructure in place yet – I can see little advantage for Tesco in doing that. Except listen. Always listen. That will inform their thinking and planning including how and/or when to join the conversation (to coin a phrase).

  4. katyhowell

    Personally, I think it is too late in the crisis for Lewis. The brand can wrap around, but both him and the company is likely to have to need to stay quiet right now, due to regulations and legals issues. The value was in the profile built before the event – a chance to establish personal credibility that would have removed doubt about his role in steering through this crisis (this is his first role as CEO). Once the dust settles, he does need to look at social. He needs to create a strong leadership style that will bring confidence to stakeholders and shareholders alike.

  5. Spot on Katy; Lewis fails your “don’t-wait-until-a-crisis” test (monumentally). And as you pointed out on Twitter, he has no social presence whatsoever …
    So, given where they are,what should Tesco do now?

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