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Social media lessons from a CEO

Posted by Faye on September 5, 2011 in Marketing & Social Media |

Memo to CEOs: Social media brings you closer to your customers

After working in the corporate world for more than 20 years, I’ve learned that the higher up in the company one’s position is, the further removed he or she is from the customers. I’ve never attained a C-level management position, nor did I aspire to; mainly because it seemed as though these people were either tied up in meetings all day, writing reports, or crunching numbers. I have always preferred jobs that required daily interactions with customers.

Many CEOs believe that social media responsibilities should be relegated to the marketing department. Some even believe that social media should be handed over to an intern. These attitudes only serve to further separate the C-level execs from their customers. In my opinion, those employees in the company who enjoy talking to customers should be given the opportunity to do so using the social networks; provided they have been given the proper training and guidance to speak on behalf of the company. The CEO is the perfect person to do this. I’ve recently discovered (through a serendipitous experience on Twitter) that not all CEOs want to distance themselves from their customers.

A business owner reaches out on Twitter

I like to visit wine country every year for my annual girls’ getaway. My favorite place to sample wine is the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. There are more than 100 wineries scattered over several wine trails, the majority of which lie on Keuka, Seneca, and Cayuga Lakes.

I turned to Twitter to see if there were any special events going on the week we were going to be there. Using the hashtag #flxwine, I posed my question to the person behind the name @Flxwine. Before this person answered my question, a gentleman with the Twitter name @glenorapres answered my tweet. He suggested a 5-course meal at Knapp Winery. Being familiar with Glenora Winery, I checked out his Twitter profile to see who he was (and why he was recommending a winery other than Glenora). Imagine my excitement to discover he was the owner of Glenora and Knapp wineries! Gene Pierce, the CEO was talking to me?!! (You can view the conversation below.)

The end result was a glorious 2-hour sailboat ride around Seneca Lake with Gene and his staff. He couldn’t have been a nicer guy too!

My original intent was to find some things to do (other than drinking wine) during our stay. I assumed the marketing and PR people from Finger Lakes wine country would provide me with some suggestions. I had no idea that the owner of Seneca Lake’s first winery was monitoring the tweets on #flxwine.

 An owner in touch with his customers

After the sailboat ride, Gene was kind enough to visit with us at Glenora before he had to judge a wine competition.

I did a quick interview with him about his use of social media.

F. How long have you been on Twitter?

G. I’ve been on Twitter for about 6-8 months; but have been active in the last 3-4 months.

F. What do you use Twitter primarily for?

G. To let folks know what is happening at Glenora and Knapp, and in our vineyards. I also let them know what is taking place in Finger Lakes wine country, and our involvement in those events. Occasionally I use a sense of humor, or take a poke at the ridiculous rules and regulations we have to live by.

F. How often do you reach out to your customers?

G. I try to post something every day.

F. What other social networks do you use to talk to customers?

G. I use Facebook, LinkedIn; and  I send out a weekly email, “Sunday edition – The Glenora Gazette” using Constant Contact.

I also interviewed Gene briefly at his winery, which you can watch here.

A new customer friend

It might have been just another day on Twitter for Gene, but for this customer, it was a memorable experience. Do you think I’ll return to his wineries and spend more money? Absolutely! Do you think I’ll recommend his wineries to my friends who will be traveling to the Finger Lakes? I already have. Would I have spent $25 for a bottle of Lemberger wine at his winery were it not for this experience? Well, uh, yeah, I would have; it’s really an awesome wine.

For CEOs who would like to venture into the social space, I found a great checklist from @BrandSprout to get started.

To those CEOs who think that the job of social media is for the underlings in your company, take a lesson from Gene Pierce, who believes his customers are worth more than numbers on a balance sheet.

To those consumers who don’t think that companies are listening to them, reach out via the social networks. You never know who might be listening.

What do you think? Should C-level execs take the time to talk to their customers, or should that be the responsibility of the marketing/communications dept.? Have you had a similar experience? I would love to hear it!

Check out this article from eMarketer about CEO engagement on social media.

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