It is not just celebrities, politicians and journalists that use social media as their mouthpiece of choice, corporate bigwigs too have rapidly carved a space for themselves on social media. Stiff suits, earlier usually found between boardrooms or panel discussions, have loosened their ties to unabashedly express their opinions and even share memes.
From Ratan Tata to Anand Mahindra, Ronnie Screwvala and Gautam Singhania to Harsh Goenka and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, India Inc’s crème de la crème frequently feature on ‘must-follow social media influencer’ lists, while their tweets and comments often make it into news headlines.
Having an active online presence has turned senior management into brand ambassadors. “Social media can be used as a very strategic communication tool,” notes Dr Prince Augustin, EVP – group human capital & leadership development, Mahindra & Mahindra. “Therefore, senior leadership is encouraged to put out their thoughts.”
Industry leaders sharing candid opinions add value to the brand’s positioning. “Many of our senior people on social media actually help propagate the company’s image,” says Augustin. “It helps to position the organisation’s philosophy, value system and purpose. It also builds credibility for the company’s communication because it comes from an authentic source.”
“We’ve encouraged our leaders to extensively use social media for brand representation.”
While senior management’s online advocacy helps make long-established MNCs such as Mahindra & Mahindra become even more accessible, it helps young companies, such as upGrad build brand awareness.
“We’re not a tangible product or into manufacturing. We’re in the services industry, purely driven by technology,” says Preeti Kaul, president – HR, upGrad. “So how does one reach out to mass numbers to create brand awareness?” That’s where the company’s honchos with an active social-media presence come handy. “We’ve encouraged our leaders to extensively use social media for brand representation,” informs Kaul.
Attracting & acquiring talent
#NowHiring posts have been doing the rounds on social media ever since social-media platforms became a part of our lives. However, the pandemic-led virtual reality has prompted senior executives to reconsider job postings on social media with renewed vigour. “Earlier, no one really paid attention to them because there were many physical channels through which they could reach out to candidates,” points out Kaul. “The amount of meticulousness with which we use these platforms for hiring purposes now has absolutely changed.”
Active senior management on social media have also helped organisations up their brand value as employers, making them aspirational places to work, for more potential talent. “Earlier, one could physically get people into the office environment to meet the leaders. One could organise hiring drives to provide a touch-and-feel experience to passive candidates. That dynamic of the office ecosystem has been missing this year,” notes Kaul. “Now, as employers, there is no other way to reach out to a wider audience, that the digital platforms. Everything that worked before March, doesn’t anymore.”
“Social media can be used as a very strategic communication tool.Many of our senior people on social media actually help propagate the company’s image.”
Thought makers & shakers
Convocation speeches and Ted Talks are not the only platforms for CEOs and industrialists to give life to their quotable quotes any longer. Now, they can simply tweet, host an Ask me Anything (AMA) or go live on video. This, in turn, further helps advance the organisation’s overall image. “As a senior leader, one plays the role of shaping thoughts and views. If senior leaders are very strategic in their communication, they are able to evoke public opinion and shake philosophies,” explains Augustin. “And since the person represents a brand, that association boosts the company’s image.”
Whether or not one decides to comment on a touchy topic is left to the leader’s discretion. “There are some who speak out, some are very restrained and some outright refuse to comment on certain things,” notes Augustin. “From a communications perspective, it’s a position that an individual takes in the context of the business and view being represented,” he adds.
Crisis waiting to snowball?
For all its merits, it is not like HR is entirely at ease with leadership being online at all times. Enough sleep has been lost over a tweet gone viral for the wrong reasons, and the constant fear of a crisis waiting to snowball. “I do wake up to things, such as a 50-mail chain of ‘this happened’, and ‘somebody wrote that’, ‘how do we contain’,” shares Kaul.
“I think it’s always a double-edged sword, but at the end of the day, freedom of expression is the philosophy we want to maintain as an organisation. One can’t have a selective approach to the social-media policy as HR,” she adds. As for Augustin, he prefers leaving it to the individual. “I only give my views and thoughts when it is absolutely essential. Therefore, a company should leave things flexible.” He recommends that HR “leave it to the senior leadership to decide how they want to articulate their thoughts.”