The common perception when it comes to executive use of social media is that they don't much care for it. There's a feeling that when deprived of a clear ROI, it's difficult to motivate many leaders to venture forth into the social world.
Some research conducted by Stanford University suggests that isn't quite the case however. It reveals that executives don't adopt uniform behaviour across social media, but rather use different approaches in different places. For instance, when using Twitter executives were found to lead rather than read, whereas on blogs they spent more time reading than creating content.
The executive 90:9:1 rule
The 90:9:1 rule is a common benchmark for online communities. It states that in a typical community, 90% of members will be passive (ie readers), 9% will engage with content by commenting and so on, whilst just 1% will produce new content.
The Stanford research found that executives follow a similar pattern when using social media. By far the most common usage was passive, be that watching a video, reading a blog or following a discussion. Of course, as with the 90% of passive users of any community, executives still revealed that they get value from reading and consuming content online. 67% said they read discussion forums for professional purposes, whilst 65% said they regularly read work related blogs.
The Twitter exception
The exception to this was on Twitter. The research found that executives were much more likely to produce content on Twitter than on any other social media. Only 20% of executives actually followed people on Twitter, whilst 31% said they tweeted regularly. Suffice to say, with many executive Twitter accounts being run by marketing or press teams one has to take these results with a pinch of salt, but it is a worthwhile reminder that even those members of your community who are passive, may still be getting value from it by quietly reading the content produced by others.
It also of course provides some valuable insights to any social business professionals that are hoping to get their senior executives actively using the communities they build, whether internal or external. The takeaway message seems to be that content of substance is likely to lead a busy executive to participate than the flightier stuff that can often litter a Twitter feed.