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This is why corporate leaders in the Middle East should be on social media

If leaders' online engagement is done right, it can be an incredible way to raise their profile and expand their network.

This is why corporate leaders in the Middle East should be on social media
[Source photo: Pankaj Kirdatt/Fast Company Middle East]

As we approach International Women’s Day, brace yourself for a glossy avalanche of corporate social media posts about female empowerment when companies try – and often fail – to not come across as cynical.

Tonally, it’s a tricky one, with the online gallery ready to pelt those they deem inauthentic – the stuff of nightmares for content specialists who know that one ill-judged move can be fatal. 

Case in point: a couple of years ago, German luxury appliance manufacturer Miele (rather innocently) posted a Facebook image for International Women’s Day of four incredibly excited women next to a washing machine with a cake and confetti on top. The weird 1950s vibe saw the post go viral, be mercilessly mocked, and then pulled down by the company within hours. 

However, in recent times, the biggest liability – especially with the rise of personal branding – can be a company’s CEO. One can think of it as “the Elon Musk effect” – getting so overexcited at having a platform (or owning one in this case) to address the world that you inadvertently wipe out a chunk of your company’s value. 

That doesn’t mean leaders shouldn’t engage with the online world – in fact, done right, it can be an incredible way for them to raise their profile and expand their network. It’s the doing it right bit that thwarts so many.

Annie Meikle, a Dubai-based thought leadership strategist, urges clients to take a professional approach with their personal social postings as they will indirectly impact their company’s reputation – especially on LinkedIn, which DataReportal says now has 6.60 million UAE members. 

“The problem is many CEOs, especially those who are strapped for time, will leave their LinkedIn presence to their PA or a junior,” Meikle explains, “They don’t understand that grammatical and spelling errors, a poorly chosen post or an offhand comment, can seriously harm their reputation and that of their organization.

Meikle says she also makes clients aware of the ‘turn off’ factor – posts that are tone-deaf, aggrandizing, or just plain irritating. “These usually appear when an individual is not skilled at digital communications or cannot read the room – which can be quite dangerous; that’s why having a professional on board is important.”

She offered the example of an overzealous CEO bragging about huge profits or posting a photo from his mega yacht amid company layoffs. 

So, what makes a great LinkedIn post by a company leader? 

“From an engagement perspective, a great post will be useful, entertaining, and authentic – sometimes it’s hard to have all three of those qualities together in one post, but these are the pillars to aim for,” says Meikle. 

One CEO with a knack for getting social media just right is Virgin boss Richard Branson.

With a disarming mix of fun, honesty, and humility, a 2014 Tweet is still quoted regularly ten years later: “Train people well enough so they can leave. Treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” 

Branson is also good at carefully admitting when things go awry without damaging his global brand. Another way company chiefs can torpedo their business is by posting “honest” content about their problems and undermining their status. 

“Be cautious of sharing your difficulties or issues around the area you are promoting yourself as an expert in,” says corporate coach Noona Nafousi, Founder of Neo Noor. 

“Yes, be vulnerable, but be cautious. Remember, every post is an opportunity to show your unique perspective on your industry. It’s crucial to selectively share content that reinforces your expertise and authority in your field.”

Then there’s the issue of feeding the trolls. Experts say a big leadership no-no visibly reacts to insults or abuse in the digital space and turns it into an online brawl.

Dawn-Emily Kubicek, Managing Director at Leaders in Digital, recalls a recent situation with a client bombarded with offensive comments on posts about the business’s services.

“We knew our client has all five-star reviews on Google and hundreds of customer testimonials – but we didn’t want to ignore these comments, so we replied nicely and asked if we could take the matter offline and speak to them directly,” she says. “The client could then call them directly to sort the issue out.

She adds: “Getting dragged into any negative feedback can seriously backfire, resulting in getting more people involved and being detrimental to the brand. The sooner you can sort it out upfront with the individual concerned, the better – face it head-on.”

Speaking of facing things head-on, the highly personal world of podcasting has raised the stakes even higher. 

More than 1.5 million people listen to podcasts in the UAE, while Spotify MENA saw a 190% growth in podcast consumption during 2022 – company leaders host a big chunk of these broadcasts.

Vuk Zlatarov, Co-founder & CEO of Poddster, a network of video podcast production studios, says that while podcasts are a fantastic way to raise their profile, getting it right takes an understanding of the medium.

“Recording a podcast episode behind closed doors of a studio can seem quite safe because you are alone with your guest and you don’t necessarily feel the physical presence of the audience – but in reality, it’s similar to being on stage in front of thousands of people,” he says.

“You must remember that people will listen intently and form their opinions. Don’t underestimate the reach and impact of your podcast, even when you’re just getting started.”

As well as urging solid preparation for each podcast episode, Zlatarov also flagged common mistakes to avoid. “Don’t hire an external host because they will not connect with your audience like you would, and don’t talk about your company and your product or services too much.”

He added some advice to serve anyone on social media well: “Be real, be kind, and act responsibly. The content we put out into the world has consequences.”

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