For the longest time, the rule seemed clear—keep your professional and personal lives separate on social media. Digital platforms like X were deemed too ‘informal,’ unsuitable for a professional presence. So, you joined LinkedIn for your professional persona and maintained your private account elsewhere for your ‘social’ persona. They were two separate worlds, never to collide. Your social account stayed private, known only to your eleven followers—the only ones you reveal your allegiance to Manchester United.
Different messages, different paths, different focuses—this was the norm. And the more senior your position, the more reluctance about being online. Enter ‘cancel culture,’ and suddenly, the fear of social platforms felt all too real. No one wanted to tarnish the company’s image. No one wanted to be ‘canceled.’
But times have changed. Social media has matured. Having a presence on digital platforms, including the more ‘informal’ ones like X, has become vital for an organization’s success.
Today, reputations are forged on social media. According to Weber Shandwick’s 2015 ‘The CEO Reputation Premium’ report, global executives in a survey acknowledge that nearly half (45%) of their company’s reputation is linked to their executive’s reputation. Moreover, the reputation of a company’s leadership directly influences 44% of its market value. Unsurprisingly, communication professionals everywhere are pushing for greater executive visibility. Why? Because it strategically drives brand communication, positioning, and corporate messaging.
Yes, taking the plunge into digital platforms carries risks. But social media has been around long enough, and managing executive visibility is now a refined field for expert communication teams. Today, there’s no denying that the voice of a corporate leader is intrinsic to brand communication. It makes the leader more approachable, trustworthy, and conspicuous to stakeholders.
Employees (important internal stakeholders) expect executives to be the face of change. According to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer:
81% believe CEOs should be personally visible when discussing public policy with external stakeholders or their company's work to benefit society.
60% said that when considering a job, they expect the CEOs to speak out publicly about controversial social and political issues that they, the employees, care about.
So, what exactly is executive visibility? Executive visibility is defined as a top-level executive's presence, recognition, and perception within their industry and organization. It’s about creating a strong and positive public image, actively engaging in relevant conversations, and being recognized as a thought leader or influencer in your field.
I like to think of executive visibility as being like a popular figure in a bustling marketplace. Picture a vendor with a well-lit, attractively arranged stall in the heart of a vibrant marketplace. People naturally flock to this stall due to its visibility, appealing presentation, and the vendor’s reputation for offering high-quality goods or valuable information. Similarly, executives with strong visibility stand out in their industry, attracting attention and interest due to their active presence, valuable contributions, and reputation for expertise and leadership. This visibility allows them to connect with a broad audience, engage meaningfully, and influence the market’s direction.
Investing in an experienced communications team knowledgeable in executive visibility to transform a low visibility profile into a highly visible profile for a leader is crucial for industry positioning. By skillfully using digital platforms, an executive can become a thought leader for their organization and the industry at large.
So, how do you elevate your exec’s profile? First, note that driving recognition and positioning goes beyond a PR campaign. Executive visibility programs should be tailored for the individual. Nevertheless, here’s a general framework:
Thou shalt not split thy personality: Who are you? Be yourself. Authenticity matters. The most successful leaders on digital platforms are those who are genuine, sharing beyond their expertise. They are real people. They enjoy coffee, hate traffic jams, and have an opinion on the newly introduced withholding tax of 5% for payments relating to digital content monetization. According to an article by WinSavvy, “Today’s consumers crave genuine interactions. They seek brands that resonate with their values, beliefs, and lifestyles. Brands that present themselves authentically tend to foster deeper, longer-lasting connections with their audience.”
Thou shall employ authentic tales for thy narratives: Align your personal and professional stories. Stakeholders expect leaders to speak openly, beyond numbers, and address industry trends. Executives should not sound mechanical in their delivery but should instead aim to engage their stakeholders in a conversational manner. Find the balance between business talk and expressing your values and purpose. According to a 2018 study by Sprout Social, regarding an executive leader’s presence on social media, consumers place significant importance on the organization’s rationale behind business decisions, followed by the executive’s thought leadership and glimpses into the organization’s internal workings. People want to know what both the organization and the leader stand for.
Thou shall invest in seasoned communications professionals: Not everyone knows the ropes of executive visibility. The highly polarized nature of digital platforms cannot be overlooked when considering visibility. Communications professionals can guide you in making crucial decisions, tailoring a visibility program, and identifying media and networks your audience finds trustworthy. It requires a time and money investment.
Be thou seen: Establishing a presence activates by being visible. Participate in relevant forums—conferences, webinars, benefits, clubs—that resonate with you, your company, and your audience. Your presence matters as much as what you say.
While corporate brand reputation may be the priority, executive visibility must not be ignored. Reputations are built on digital platforms. Leaders must embrace their authentic narratives and invest in experienced communications teams to stand out in the digital landscape.