Scott Heintzelman, Vice-President of Finance at Martin's Famous Pastry Shoppe in Pennsylvania isn't your ordinary finance chief.
“Social media was a natural extension of blogging and really helped me become more accessible to my readers," he explains.
While Heintzelman closed the blog since starting work for Martin's Famous Pastry Shoppe, he still maintains an active social media presence. For instance, he is an avid Twitter user, posting regularly on Martin's products, business milestones, first forays into Middle Eastern export markets and employment opportunities.
Heintzelman's advice for CFOs who wish to maintain an active social media presence is to be authentic and never criticise a competitor or customer. “Limit the amount of hard selling you do on social media – try to add value," he suggests.
He says the business derives considerable commercial benefit by engaging in social media. “It means I can be a brand champion for our company and show a human element as a C-suite executive. It allows me to connect with customers who may traditionally only ever connect with a marketing person when they come into contact with the business too."
While Heintzelman is passionate about social media, he remains an outlier among most CFOs, who are yet to truly embrace social media.
According to research from Leadtail Inc., a survey of 501 CFOs and senior finance executives active on social media found, “CFOs are still in the early stages of social media participation." The 2015 study, Social Insights: How CFOs Engage with People, Brands, and Content on Twitter, found CFOs had plenty of opportunity to explore “green field" topics.
The research also found, “CFOs use social media to talk about the issues they are currently dealing with in their jobs, but they also use it to engage in lively conversations about politics, sports and current events."
Judy Sahay, Director of Digital Media at Crowd Media advises CFOs and senior executives on their social media presence.
“Every company must be talking very strategically about what it does and why people should work for them or consume their products and services. It's not so much about communicating how the company is performing, it's more about being able to articulate the future direction of the business," says Sahay.
“Every executive, whether they're a CFO, CEO or CMO must have a strong online profile. You are promoting the company and also yourself as a leader in the field," she says. The first step she suggests is to understand the different social platforms' unique purpose. For CFOs for example, LinkedIn is one of the go-to platforms because it allows them to share interesting ideas, create their own content and start and join communities of likeminded people.
Rather than making random posts, Sahay suggests developing a coherent social media strategy.
“Before you start, think about who you're targeting and understand the psychology of each platform. A lot of people post the same content across different social media sites, but they all have different purposes and it's important to understand what these are," Sahay adds.
For example, LinkedIn as a networking tool is a professional platform where users can post news, trends and create a position as industry leaders. “Re-posting content works quite well on LinkedIn," she explains.
Instagram, she says, is an aspirational site, based on images and videos. “On Instagram CFOs could post content related to leadership, motivation, setting goals and innovation," Sahay says. And Twitter can be a way to drive traffic back into their company's website.
“The strategy should also address risk. Some CFOs are so risk-averse when it comes to social media they don't want to have a profile at all. The problem is that if you don't have a risk management strategy in place, if the business does become a hot topic on social media, you won't be able to take a front foot approach," Sahay says.
For instance, she recently contacted the CEO of a business in the middle of a product recall situation. The CEO had shut down his social media accounts as the crisis evolved, an action that could have inflamed the situation.
“That sends a message to consumers the business is not accountable for what's happened. Instead they could have turned a negative situation around using Twitter, and being open around their communication and how they intended to fix the problem," she adds.
Ideally, says Sahay, the CFO makes a contribution to internal thinking about how the business should be portrayed on social media.
“People want to know about the humanity behind the brand, not just the brand itself. They want to buy into the story, and that's where the CFO's social media presence really comes into play. It's up to the senior executive team to consistently communicate what the company is all about, rather than just communicating the numbers," she adds.
Overall, Sahay says the message for CFOs is to decide how they want to engage in social media, and develop and roll out a plan that aligns to the business' strategic goals. At the same time, it's important to assess the risks inherent in social media and also develop a mitigation plan. That way, if the business does become the subject of a social media discussion – positive or negative – it's prepared.
- Understand the unique values of each social media platform.
- Create a strategic reason for each post.
- Prepare to engage with your audience after a post.