CEO Mindset: Four personal branding lessons for CEOs

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Recently, a rare and exciting picture of Tony Elumelu surfaced online and caused quite a stir among social media users. The Chairman of UBA, Heirs Holdings, and Transcorp, was pictured in an advanced yoga pose. The image originated from his Instagram account where he captioned it “Getting ready for the day. Health is wealth. Stay fit. Stay healthy” with six deliberately handpicked hashtags that point back to the businesses he owns and his expertise. That post attracted nearly 34,000 likes and over 1,000 comments as of the last count, and interactions that lasted at least two days.

Tony Elumelu is a Nigerian CEO who understands the value of personal branding. With nearly 2 million combined followers on LinkedIn and Instagram and an active presence, Elumelu understands that his personal brand is capable of helping his companies achieve their individual and joint goals. He uses social media to grow his personal and company brand, establish relationships with employees, customers, and investors, and build his credibility.

According to the Global, Social CEO survey carried out by Brandfog; social media engagement makes CEOs better in the following ways:

  1. CEO participation in social media leads to better leadership
  2. C-suite executives who actively engage on social media create more transparency for the brand
  3. Actively engaging on social media helps to enhance the image and reputation of C-suite executives as forward-thinking, trend-setting leaders
  4. Executive use of social media creates a channel for authentic engagement with a company’s stakeholders

A CEO’s brand is his image, reputation, and voice. These three must be strong, must communicate impact and inspire followers to take positive action. CEOs must know that their role is not permanent; so they must gain a measure of goodwill that will keep people interested in sustaining a connection with them even after they retire or change jobs. Here are four ways they can do this:

Gain online and offline visibility: Discard the mindset that social media is primarily for young people who are mostly less busy. The only place you can fully connect with your audience these days is on social media so you must use it intentionally. You don’t have to be present on all platforms, especially the ones that do not serve your goal. As a CEO and leader, your target audience is present on the professional platform, LinkedIn, so you can begin from there. If you decide to use other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, make sure all your profiles are consistent. This makes you recognisable and improves your chances of ranking high on Google.

On the other hand, you can build your offline presence through speaking engagements, networking events and media coverage. If you have excellent oratory skills, you need to get yourself in front of your audience by speaking on issues that pertain to your field. Get your team to pitch you to television and radio shows that align with your brand purpose. This is one way to establish thought leadership.

Write: With writing, you amplify your voice and establish your authority on topics that matter to your brand. You can contribute opinion articles and write a guest column in top-tier newspapers, publish articles periodically on LinkedIn, write on the company blog, or get your thoughts out on Twitter. You can also take it a step further by writing a book. Top Nigerian CEOs are known to take this storytelling route to connect with a broader audience. In 2018, Founder/Chairman, Zenith Bank, Jim Ovia published the widely-accepted book, Africa Rise and Shine. The book details Ovia’s business and banking success and how he was able to create one of Africa’s largest banks despite setbacks.

Do it yourself: The weight of your company indeed rests on you, and there’s hardly time to spare for activities that are deemed less profitable. But it’s also true that your team of Public Relations and Branding experts cannot create your brand. They can assist with certain aspects of it, but the bulk of the task is on you. The key to personal branding success is authenticity. Your audience will quickly figure out that your Instagram captions are unoriginal, and a team member crafted your tweets, and they will distance themselves from your brand. Do the work yourself. In the process, engage with your audience. Respond to their questions, like their comments, use emojis, be human.

Be consistent: Your personal branding efforts will not gain overnight success. The CEOs with strong personal brands are those who approached it with sincerity of purpose and consistency. It would help if you communicated integrity to the audience you are building by showing up as promised. Leaving them hungry for content for months sends a wrong message and sets you up for failure.

Personal brand building is a journey that takes time and deliberate effort, even for successful professionals. When done right, your personal brand will cast a positive light on your company’s brand thus improving the public perception of your company. It’s always a win-win!

A publication of the LBS Corporate Communications department