A public relations executive recently evaluated the number of Fortune 100 CEOs who had presences on social network sites including LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and online information site Wikipedia. Almost none of the chief executives were involved with the Internet destinations, which should not have been a surprise to anyone with sense. The question raised by the PR person is why executives do such a poor job managing their images online. A better question is why a CEO would want to be involved with the websites at all.
Social network advocates have reached the point where they believe that the sun rises and sets on the interactions among their members. Facebook has more than 200 million visitors by one measure. Wikipedia is one of the ten most visited sites in the US. The frenzy of activity around having multiple and well-managed online presences has become a mania without a purpose.
Facebook and MySpace, the two largest social networks, are widely used by agoraphobics and people in state prisons. Almost no one else would have the time to "manage" identities all day long. As a matter of fact, a number of people with identities on the sites are impostors. One of the things these properties have not been able to do is eliminate the activities of pedophiles and other miscreants. CEOs would be mobbed with requests from other Facebook and MySpace members who want to connect with them as "friends" as they are known on the sites. Most of these people are likely be sacked employees and unhappy shareholders. The only large company CEO who could build a positive presence on a social network is one running a company with one shareholder and lifetime employment for all workers.
Wikipedia is another place that executives should avoid. Many of the entries are written by people who would like to distort the public's view about some person, historical movement, product, or service. The entry on long-time GM CEO, one of the great managers of the last century, has a notation: "This section contains weasel words, vague phrasing that often accompanies biased or unverifiable information. Such statements should be clarified or removed." Most corporate image makers do not know what a "weasel word" is and are probably not willing to find out. Alfred P. Sloan had and still has a sterling reputation and is known worldwide for his management prowess. The fact that he cannot get a complete and accurate portrait in Wikipedia should disturb any CEO who hopes to burnish his image or that of his company at this online information repository.
The general conviction among people who use social networks and websites that pretend to share accurate information is that this is the wave of the future when it comes to sharing information, both personal and public. Simply looking for facts and figures on search engines like Yahoo! (YHOO, Google (GOOG), and Microsoft's (MSFT) Bing is not enough. Facts lack flavor and social networks are all about flavor, impression, and the intuitive world.
No doubt, corporate communications executives all over America are attending seminars, paid for by their companies, about how to manage a reputation online. Experts who know nothing beyond what they can discover by having "friends" at Facebook and MySpace come and lecture about the marvel of the new age of impressionistic information. That is simply another way of saying no information at all.
Social networks are meant to be like Boy Scout Jamborees where young people and their troop leaders mass by the tens of thousands on hundreds of acres of land. The scouts set up tents, communications facilities, and crude means of survival. There are no amenities, the bars and private jets that CEOs are used to. Everyone at the Jamboree is kindly regarded by his fellows, even if he is, in real life, a thug or an accountant. It is not the sort of environment the ruler of a large business could survive in. It is also a place and an event that has no utility for him.
CEOs will never come to the social networks in any numbers. Most have enough reputation problems and they do not need those magnified by people who have nothing better to do than go online and insult one another.