In the social era: leaders behaving badly

The ‘social CEO’ is in vogue. Out is the aloof, unreachable CEO who’s lost touch with the grass roots. In is the warm, neighbourly CEO who’s on Twitter. But with this new wave of CEO comes a crisis of identity — between the individual and the brand they represent. Many are able to balance this tightrope without falling into the social media well of loose cannons. Though others, it seems, aren’t so ‘balanced’. To my mind, there is no better recent example than Elon Musk and his Twitter tirade where he accused the cave diver who helped free a Thai football team from a flooded cave of being a paedophile.
Historically, the ripple effect of CEOs behaving badly has been felt — though not as seismically as right now. In the pre-social era of corporate brand-building, there was little room for freedom of the individual. The common mantra was ‘brand is sacred’, its name to be defended and upheld at whatever cost. It was all relatively ‘Victorian’: no one in the boardroom, or down through the ranks for that matter, should bring the brand name into disrepute through individual folly. Then along the way the veneer would crack, exposing boardroom behaviour that wasn’t so measured or respectable. There would be the CEO who would let their hair down at an industry event or canoodle at a company party, and the PR person would be left frantically running around in an attempt to limit potential damage to the company’s brand and reputation. 
With today’s new wave of social leaders, we’re witnessing individual folly without the PR filter on social platforms. The ripple effect is instant and indeed seismic: the rash comment. The viral share. The apology, posted directly above where the whole mess started…  
In the Musk social media storm we find a cautionary tale, one that’s rooted in old and new world PR. CEOs are, and always will be, fallible. But today when they fall off the tightrope, they fall quicker and deeper, taking with them the brand and anyone associated with it. Sure, we have to respect that behind every brand  are individuals with unique views. And as the dust settles, we can only speculate as to whether Musk’s tirade was intended to mean anything at all. Still, it cost Tesla a 2-billion stock market dip within 24 hours of posting – and I can’t help but wonder: who and what has suffered because of this?
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