Once hesitant to blog, tweet or post a photo to Facebook, more and more CEOs (and their leadership teams) are embracing social media in an effort to build communities and increase positive sentiment towards their companies. Social media provides a platform for CEOs to be transparent with and accountable to their shareholders, a reputation management strategy that can lead to increased shareholder value.

The most engaged leaders and CEOs have gained massive followings. Virgin Group mogul Richard Branson has 4.4 million followers on LinkedIn, where the British executive blogs about how he started an airline and how he navigated the rocky journey of entrepreneurship. His posts are read and discussed by hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn users.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently live-tweeted his company’s orbital rocket launch to his 636,000 followers on Twitter.

Despite the growing acceptance of social media as a valuable engagement tool for businesses, many leaders still shy away from social. An overwhelming 68% of Fortune 500 CEOs have no social media presence whatsoever, according to a 2013 study from CEO.com and Domo. The same study said 30% of CEOs were active on LinkedIn and six per cent were active on Twitter.

I think these numbers should be much higher, especially when there are so many opportunities for CEOs to engage and motivate employees, inspire communities and drive business using online channels.

Here are five reasons I believe CEOs should champion the use of social media:

1. A social CEO or leader sets the tone for a social business. 
As your company uses Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram in marketing, customer support, internal communications and even HR, you need a leader who not only understands the importance of social media, but also is willing to play a crucial role in engaging their community. Your CEO can set the tone of a truly social organization.

2. Sharing via social channels helps build your CEO’s position as an expert. 
As your CEO’s audience grows, they gain a regular platform from which to share expert opinion or advice directly with followers and communities. Becoming an expert on a specific topic allows your CEO to become an industry champion and trusted thought leader, and generate positive publicity for your company. 

3. A social CEO puts a human face on your brand or company. 
Leaders define the culture of a company and social media presents an unfiltered opportunity for your CEO to communicate the organization’s vision and values. Research suggests CEOs who used social channels were more likely to be seen as respectful, open, honest, friendly and people-focused.

4. Social provides a valuable opportunity for your CEO to listen and learn.  
The steady stream of information exchanged on social media sites gives CEOs the unique opportunity to listen to what their customers and stakeholders are saying about the company at any given time. It’s also good for their career. By listening to the needs of their customers or clients, CEOs and leaders can better engage in the conversation about how to best communicate to and service each important stakeholder group.

5. A social presence opens up a new communication channel in a time of crisis. 
News travels as fast as it takes to send a tweet or post a Facebook update. CEOs who’ve built up a large following can quickly and easily communicate to and serve each important stakeholder group during a developing crisis or emergency, without waiting to write, publish and distribute a press release.

When General Motors faced a massive recall over a serious ignition switch issue, CEO Mary Barra posted a brief statement to Twitter with a link to a video that answered more detailed questions. Barra showed her stakeholders that she was listening, engaged and, most importantly, taking action to fix the problem.

Learning how to navigate and leverage platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn can be a daunting task for some, but social media isn’t going anywhere. It’s time for leaders to capitalize on the opportunity to interact directly with their communities and realize the rewards.

Who’s your favourite social CEO? Which CEO or leader would you love to see on Twitter?