Why ‘Make Me Famous’ Should Be The New CEO Mantra

There is perhaps an aspect of the ‘sharing economy’ that has been overlooked. This hitherto-ignored element isn’t about providing consumer goods and services, or even simplifying our lives. It’s about our identities. More especially, the identities of CEOs and their key executives.

By sharing their thoughts, ideas, stories, feelings and leadership through a myriad of digital channels, are they undermining their status by being too open, or bolstering it by ceasing to be predictably one-dimensional?

It’s a fascinating dilemma and one raised recently by Gillian Tett in the FT Magazine who, considering Mark Zuckerberg’s recent emotionally-raw Facebook postings, asked whether ‘the new sharing mantra is something to be celebrated or merely tolerated?’ Because those who have grown up in a digital age expect their leaders to be ‘authentic’ and ‘accessible’, she added, so organisations ‘need to create as many overlapping webs of connection as possible…be that through ties of friendship, hobbies or just sentiment.’

However, there is another reason for sharing to be considered such a valuable talent, commodity and trait. And that’s fame.

Let me give you an example. About 18 months ago, an executive with quite a senior job at one of my clients, asked me to help him out with a speech and then compile a blog and piece of thought leadership to accompany it. We’d never met before and his first instruction to me was to the point: ‘Grant, make me famous.’

I smiled gently and suppressed a withering head-shake mocking his arrogance. Anyway, in the past few months he has been one of the headline speakers at the SXSW annual digital forum, was lauded by a Google guru for his brilliant blog on the future of the internet of things, and was subsequently elevated high up the bill for a recent conference in London.

Of course he made himself famous, I just helped him a little, gave him clarity and ensured the words he used had power and meaning. It took a while but ‘we’ did it. The key to this story is not that he’s now famous, it’s that he understood long before I did that digital channels are like rocket-fuel for CEOs and ambitious executives who are willing to share – not just their ideas but their personalities. While his colleagues were busy working, he was telling a series of stories via a ghost who – and I’d like to think he’d back me up here – knew the difference between PR guff and valued opinion, corporate blandness and thought leadership. Between a blog-puff and an interesting story.

Shareable stories are the corporate world’s most potent currency. And the CEOs and C-suite executives need specialists to give them eloquence. To find their story.

Slowly, they’ve begun to understand how to take advantage of social media and the wider online world to make themselves – not just the brands they work for – more widely known and valuable. More marketable, They’ve worked out that stardom is not an accident, it requires a professional approach, utilising creative talents that they may not possess but which they know can get them noticed.

‘Make me famous’ is the arrogant battle-cry for the digital era just as ‘make me rich’ was a mantra for a Thatcher-liberated City. LinkedIn, Forbes, Huffington Post, Medium, the World Economic Forum, every major online newspaper you can think of with content marketing channels, personal blogs, specialist blogs, company websites – the greatest currency available to executives is stories and their words. ‘Owned’ words are what provide the opportunity to reach a global audience and make yourself matter. And, if you’re lucky, make yourself famous.

I say we are on the cusp of a new era of ‘fame’ because, in truth, CEO use of digital media is still alarmingly limited. A recent study of the Fortune 500 in America revealed that 68 per cent of CEOs have no social presence but of those who do use one social network, three quarters are on LinkedIn. Plus, 69 per cent of CEOs who have Twitter accounts aren’t actually tweeting. In the UK, only seven CEOs from the FTSE 100 are active users of Twitter.

Aside from the dubious merits of fame, what’s the point of a senior executive using social media? Well, on top of helping to find and attract new customers and giving the company a ‘human’ face, it makes CEOs more effective in managing crises, it has a positive impact on a company’s reputation, it enhances credibility (personal and company), helps build good relationships with the media and allows an efficient – and inspiring – dual communication path between executives and employees.

Plus, a report entitled The Social CEO by communications consultancy Weber Shandwick revealed that 73 per cent of executives search to see what CEOs post and that CEO ‘sociability’ instils positive feelings amongst executive teams.

So why is it such an untapped resource? Either CEO marketing teams aren’t up to the job or they are being actively discouraged by the boss to use digital media to maximise their own authority, communicate their philosophy and that of the organisation they run. 

I am loathe to disagree with my favourite pin-up but I’m afraid Lauren Bacall was wrong. ‘Stardom,’ she once said, ‘isn’t a profession it’s an accident.’ Well maybe it seemed like that for plain old Betty Perske, who escaped the Bronx, teamed up with Humphrey Bogart and spent 70 years as one of Hollywood’s most celebrated stars. Perhaps to her it was all just a lucky accident.

Today, however, stardom when it comes to marketing oneself and brand is calculated, planned and executed with strategic rigour. And it can happen in an instant. Serendipity comes into play but in our never-off, digital world the ability – professional or otherwise – to become famous has never been more valued. Or, indeed, democratised. Anyone can do it.

OK, you need to be presentable, have a modicum of talent, and be willing to stick your head above the parapet to say or do something interesting.But if you want it, you can take it.

Shallow reality TV stars and YouTube warblers have known this for ages. However, we are on the cusp of a new, third age of fame in which thoughts channelled through a myriad of digital outlets have taken the place of images and pretty pictures. First came Lauren and her certified-stars, then came the preening glut of selfie-stars and now we have perhaps the most powerful of all. The suited-stars.

Captains of industry, their trusted but impatient lieutenants, the young turks looking to leap the ladder not climb it. They understand that fame – or perhaps influence and eminence are more appropriate words – should not be left to accident. It’s way too important for that. They’re playing the marketing game better than anyone, leveraging their reputations and trust capital with something reassuringly old-fashioned. Words.

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