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When Mark Reuss left General Motors in Australia in 2009 to run GM’s operations in North America, the automotive giant had filed for bankruptcy, shed its Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer and Saab brands and was planning to eliminate more than 2,000 U.S. dealerships at year’s end.
His first 100 days as president, Reuss realized, would be difficult. “There was a huge problem with our dealer network,” he says. Reuss found himself using Facebook extensively: “I communicated in that time frame with just about every dealership that wanted to — and I still do, actually — through a ‘get to know you’ messaging part of Facebook. I created a safe environment for them to talk to me, rather than through a corporate e-mail.”
By reaching out on Facebook, Reuss cultivated a network of trust among dealers. His message was perceived as credible because he made himself accessible and was willing to engage others authentically and with a “human face,” even though the substance of what he had to say and hear was often hard to take. As he says:
No matter what happened, they knew that I was listening and that they had an audience and someone to talk to in the company and they could do it instantly. So it was hugely powerful. And if you look at how we got through that period and the dealers that we have and the trust that I have built with a lot of the dealers, it’s because of that conversation on Facebook. And so no one was treated unfairly. It’s hard to put metrics on that, but I can tell you that our brand reputation has risen dramatically, and I think our use of social media is one of the big reasons why.
Traditionally, CEOs communicate through e-mail, memos and Q&As. They walk the halls, attend town hall meetings and issue press releases. They also publish earnings calls, conduct face-to-face meetings and cascade information down through the ranks. Many CEOs even obsess about being quoted in major news and business publications. These activities remain helpful in establishing a new CEO, but as Mark Reuss (on Twitter as @GMdudeinNA) has shown, in this wired age, leadership tools are greatly enriched when social media is added to the mix.
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1. Ken Favaro, Per-Ola Karlsson, and Gary L. Neilson, “CEO Succession 2000-2009: A Decade of Convergence and Compression, Strategy + Business, Summer 2010 / Issue 59, May 25, 2010. See: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/10208?gko=9345d.
2. Strategic Communications practice of FTI Consulting, “Communicating critical events: CEO transitions and the risk to enterprise value, FTI Consulting, 2011. See: http://www.fticonsulting.com/global2/media/collateral/united-states/ceo-transitions-and-the-risk-to-enterprise-value-study.pdf, Accessed February 2, 2013.