Michael Kempner
Michael Kempner

Founder and Chief Executive Officer of MWWPR, one of the largest independent public relations firms in the nation.

A New York Times analysis of American internet usage during the Covid-19 pandemic shows a dramatic increase in social media consumption – exceeding even the increase in entertainment streaming via platforms like Netflix and YouTube. It’s clear that, during a time when in-person social interaction is extremely limited, online social activity is filling a deep void.

People are seeking digital social interaction at the same time they’re searching for online information about how to stay safe during the pandemic. Furthermore, today’s consumers not only expect corporations to champion their health and wellbeing during the Covid-19 crisis; they also expect brands to take a stand on the ongoing social, political and economic issues of our time.;

This is no time for the c-suite to remain silent; in fact, the age of the silent CEO is over. Though the pandemic presents enormous challenges to businesses, it’s also a huge opportunity for executives to embrace social media as a way to connect with company stakeholders more than ever before.

Understanding The Stakes

Today’s consumers expect corporate America to solve big problems because they don’t think governments can. During and long after the pandemic, people will vote with their pocket books to support those companies that take a true, purposeful stand on major issues in order to drive meaningful change.

2020 was forecasted to be the year of purpose for companies even before the pandemic upended the world. The decisions companies make right now – their action or their inaction – will be rewarded or punished. There is no escaping public appraisal, today, when silence and inertia are inextricably linked with being complicit.

Embracing CEO Activism

Executives embody the role of activist when they speak out on social, political and environmental issues that are not directly related to their core business or bottom line. Research from Duke University and the Harvard Business School suggests that not only can CEO activism positively influence like-minded consumers’ decision to buy; it can also influence public opinion about government policies and create more fertile ground for change.

Sparking Purposeful Conversation

Just as it’s unacceptable to remain silent, it’s also not enough to seek safety in the status quo. Especially now, having a cookie cutter “social presence” will not suffice. Today’s consumers want to hear real talk directly from a company’s heart and mind – and they want to hear it in real time.

People need to engage in dialogue. They need to connect, and this connection must be authentic and two-sided. But, in a polarized world, where one misstep can instigate “cancel culture,” CEOs are often fearful of engaging their stakeholders. Succumbing to this fear is a mistake.

We live in a world where no one is going to love your brand and its message 100% of the time. But brands who truly understand and care about their stakeholders’ values enough to speak unabashedly about their bigger social mission – not their bottom line – will find that what is good for society and what is good for business are not mutually exclusive. When you have a clearly-defined set of values that you consistently uphold, people will reward you for your commitment, even if they don’t always agree with your position.

Knowing Your Audience

Technology is a powerful driver of human engagement. Today’s social analytics tools allow businesses to measure which executives are sparking the most relevant conversations and which audiences are most engaged. Predictive analytics that monitor social conversation against the backdrop of breaking news and current events can help executives deliver their most important and impactful messages at the right time.

Time is of the essence. So is frequency. With 70% of people seeking coronavirus news once a day and a third of the population checking multiple times a day, the social CEO and his or her support team should never rest on their laurels.

The ultimate focus should be on owning core stories by being a thought leader on issues that matter most to your key audience segments. The rapidly unfolding events of our world demand companies that are not only able to appropriately respond to crises like Covid-19 in the present moment, but actively anticipate what is next on the horizon and proactively take a stance.


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