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How To Help Your CEO Rewire Their Brain for Social Media Engagement

Nate Riggs
Nate Riggs / September 09, 2013

social business habits @dankimredmango

My first version of this post first appeared on the ElementThree blog. Based in Indianapolis, ElementThree was named as Hubspot's 2012 agency of the year.

Perhaps you've heard of Dan Kim?

With over 150 locations across the country and a rapidly growing domestic and international franchise network, his Frozen Yogurt chain, Red Mango, recently made the Zagat's list for the first time as the leader in the "Best Smoothie/Frozen Yogurt" category.

I know what you're probably thinking.

"Wait a minute, Nate? Only 150 locations and growing? As national chains go, that's really all that impressive compared to the numbers that franchises like Dairy Queen put on the board."

So why then would I make a guess that you've heard of Dan?

Well, if you're a regular social media user, my guess is that you might have already seen one of his famous Instagram product photos or maybe you've even read some of his playful prose in tweets.

I'm even willing to be that if you've visited a Red Mango recently and snapped an Instagram of your frozen delight, Dan may have already retweeted you.

You see, Dan Kim onf of the few and forward-thinking executives who has chosen to adopt social media as a mainstay customer communication tool.

The result? He's been able to scale his attention and connect with thousands of customers in a direct, personalized and meaningful way, and in turn help his brand to build and maintain a strong base of advocates.

Say Hello to the Social CEO

According to a recent study conducted by public relations firm Weber Shandwick that surveyed 600 global executives in companies with revenues above $500 million, attitudes towards the use of social media as a business communication tool are dramatically improving.

  • 89% of respondents surveyed use a personal social media account.
  • 60% of respondents say that they do indeed use social media as part of their job.
  • 76% of respondents surveyed also believe that it's a good idea for top executives to participate on Twitter.

Similar results are echoed in another annual study conducted by niche social media firm BRANDfog. In this survey, responses were collected from 800 US and UK employees across a variety of companies ranging from startups to Fortune 1000 companies. The results among mid-level management employees appear to mirror that of the Weber Shandwick survey.

  • Over 80% of respondents felt that it was important for CEOs to engage with customers on social media channels.
  • More than half of respondents believe social media engagement makes CEOs more effective leaders.
  • Over 87% of respondents believe that the presence of social executives raises the profile of the corporate brand.
  • Nearly 84% believe that CEO social media engagement is an effective in increasing brand loyalty.

All these attitudinal stats look promising and even exciting, right?

And yet, getting from general attitudes towards actual adoption and use of social media among executive teams executive is still presents a significant challenge in most companies.

Shifting from Executive Functions to Habits

One reason that might explain the challenges companies are facing in terms of getting executives to use social media is that these senior leaders tend to expend a lot of mental energy by constantly using a region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex.

This small yet powerful region sits right behind the forehead and commands what neuroscientists like call David Rock call 'executive functions' of a brain.

In his 2009 book Your Brain at Work, Rock uses the metaphor of a stage to describe how the prefrontal cortex actually works. The stage has limited space and can only accommodate so many actors at one time. Likewise, the stage lights require a lot of power to run and can burn out quickly until they are recharged.

Some examples of executive functions include our ability to focus our attention and organize thoughts, problem solve, keep our emotions in check and sort through complex streams of information. All of these functions to the extreme fit neatly into the everyday routine and rigor of a typically CEO. It's logical to assume that their 'stage' is constantly overcrowded.

social business habits Basal Ganglia: Lymbic System

So how do successfully adopted executives make room on their stage for social media interaction?

The answer is simple -- they don't.

Successful social executives like Dan Kim have discovered that the key to staying engaged and consistent on social media lies in a completely different and much older region of the brain known as called the Basal Ganglia where habits or what Rock refers to as 'maps' are stored for recall.

The Basal Ganglia act like a switchboard that, when instructed by the prefrontal cortex as well as other parts of the brain, calls stored maps of repetitive complex tasks into action. This brain function requires significantly less mental energy to operate and in turn, allows the human to do things like drive a car, make a morning cup of coffee and even check their LinkedIn group feeds from their iPhone.

Case in point: In order to help your executive team successfully adopt and consistently use, you will need to help them rewire their brain so that these interactions become a habitual cognitive behavior.

Start Coaching Your Executive Team on Using Social Media

As it usually is in business, innovation comes from the front and middle lines. As a director or manager who lives in the trenches, you hold the keys to stewarding social media adoption among your exectuev team.

Trust me when I tell you that if you start with these four simple steps, you'll go far in building the momentum you need to help make social media a part of your teams everyday communication tools.

1. Help them shift their consumption habits from text to media. According to a survey conducted by, 3 in 4 CEOs aged under 50 say they “mostly consume information online,” and close to 2 in 3 aged over 50 agree that while their information consumption has gone largely digital, it hasn't migrated to newer forms of interactive content.

Help foster your CEO's social business habit formation by getting them to first consume social media on a regular basis. This may mean hijacking their blackberry and trading it out for an iPhone. Work with them to determine the types of news, information and updates they want to see and then help them explore podcasts, live-stream and recorded videos and other online media that gets them the information they're looking for in less time.

2. Use push notifications as a queue for social business habits. I recently had the chance to host a podcast with my friend Santiago Jaramillo. As the founder of two mobile app development companies, Santi believes that push notifications are one of the most underused tactics in the mobile space.

Push notifications are a technique used by apps to alert iPhone owners to content updates, messages, and other events within an app that they may want to be aware of.

Setting up these types of notifications, both audible and visual, can be a quick way to engage the Basal Ganglia and keep your CEO checking their social media feeds.

A word of caution -- be very selective with what push notifications your turn on for your CEO. Using too many at one time can create an annoying amount of noise and in turn, render the notifications ineffective as a mental queue to check a social media feed.

3. Create a public and visual benchmarking system. My friend James Clear wrote a post earlier this year that detailed the a conversation between comedians Brad Isaac and the iconic Jerry Seinfeld. In the original interview on Lifehacker, Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

This idea of using a 'public' benchmarking system hits two different areas. First, Rock proposes the idea in his book that creating visuals can help move ideas and thoughts off of the prefrontal cortex stage faster, reducing mental energy output.

Second, the idea of making activities public is cited by Dr. Jonah Berger as one of the main tenants that causes ideas to spread across a culture. If it's true that organizational culture is in large part, influenced by the company leader, then having your CEO publically track progress on social media engagement can have a trickle down effect.

Note: this tactic will likely work best when an entire executive team is involved, as opposed to singling out your CEO.

4. Help your CEO determine small, personal rewards for their engagement. In Charles Duhigg's book, we learn about the concept of the Habit Loop, a simple cycle for building and maintaining habits that involves a queue, a routine and a reward.

It will be important that you help your CEO determine small, yet meaningful rewards for each time they successfully complete their social business habit routine. In social media, one of the best emotional rewards comes when other followers share our content or even comment back. Make sure to monitor your chief's engagement and reward them by your own social media interactions.

Applied Reading on Social Business Habits

Tagged With: Social Business Design