I have to admit that I was skeptical about social media in the beginning. I could see there was potential connecting directly with customers, partners and other business leaders, but many of my colleagues and customers had not yet made the plunge. So rather than investing heavily into social media, I kept a “watching brief” on its progress. I dabbled and read. And I arranged meetings with experts who were actively experimenting with social media as a business tool to learn first hand what value they were finding.

Many years down the track, social media has become a powerful way for businesses and business leaders to communicate, share information, make announcements and build communities. Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group has actively cultivated a powerful online following that includes his LinkedIn blog posts, Facebook page likes and over 6.5 million followers on Twitter. It is a direct line of communication between one of the world’s leading innovators and his most engaged advocates. Do you think this impacts on the Virgin brand? Does it promote trust and connection?

In a recent study, Forbes investigated the social media habits of CEOs from the Fortune 500, and found that while social media is a growing trend among CEOs, it is not pervasive. Of the 160 CEOs from the Fortune 500 with social media profiles, 79% only use LinkedIn. And only 8.3% use Twitter.

Given that Twitter is fast becoming the “pulse of the planet”, I fully expect to see some shift here. Especially from leaders who are setting an innovation agenda. Leaders like Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors are generating amazing results via their social media profiles. Earlier this year, with a single tweet, Elon Musk added $900 million to his company’s market capitalization. There was no press conference. No glitzy announcement. Just 115 characters of market dynamite:

Major new Tesla product line — not a car — will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2015

While not every CEO will find the time or value in social media, many will. My recommendations for those interested in social media are:

  • Keep a watching brief: Follow the lead of others who are more comfortable with social and digital media.
  • Get advice: Leaders have complex challenges, legal and compliance needs and responsibilities that don’t apply to the average Twitter user. Be sure to get advice from a trusted advisor.
  • Keep a level head: Social media can move quickly but it is still a form of communication. Use your judgement, trust your experience and re-read before posting.
  • Connect with me on Twitter: If you’d like to continue the conversation, be sure to follow me on Twitter as well.

Nina Nets It Out: Getting closer to our customers can deliver an essential competitive advantage. Social media offers a direct, unvarnished opportunity for leaders to close the gap. By all means, test it out, but do so with your eyes wide open.