How To Help Your CEO Rewire Their Brain for Social Media Engagement

social business habits


My first version of this post first appeared on the ElementThree blog. Based in Indianapolis, ElementThree was named as Hubspot’s 2012 agency of the year.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Dan Kim?

With over 150 locations across the country and a rapidly growing domestic and international franchise network, his Frozen Yogurt chain, Red Mango, recently made the Zagat’s list for the first time as the leader in the “Best Smoothie/Frozen Yogurt” category.

I know what you’re probably thinking.

“Wait a minute, Nate? Only 150 locations and growing? As national chains go, that’s really all that impressive compared to the numbers that franchises like Dairy Queen put on the board.”

So why then would I make a guess that you’ve heard of Dan?

Well, if you’re a regular social media user, my guess is that you might have already seen one of his famous Instagram product photos or maybe you’ve even read some of his playful prose in tweets.

I’m even willing to be that if you’ve visited a Red Mango recently and snapped an Instagram of your frozen delight, Dan may have already retweeted you.

You see, Dan Kim onf of the few and forward-thinking executives who has chosen to adopt social media as a mainstay customer communication tool.

The result?  He’s been able to scale his attention and connect with thousands of customers in a direct, personalized and meaningful way, and in turn help his brand to build and maintain a strong base of advocates.

Say Hello to the Social CEO

According to a recent study conducted by public relations firm Weber Shandwick that surveyed 600 global executives in companies with revenues above $500 million, attitudes towards the use of social media as a business communication tool are dramatically improving.

  • 89% of respondents surveyed use a personal social media account.
  • 60% of respondents say that they do indeed use social media as part of their job.  
  • 76% of respondents surveyed also believe that it’s a good idea for top executives to participate on Twitter.

Similar results are echoed in another annual study conducted by niche social media firm BRANDfog. In this survey, responses were collected from 800 US and UK employees across a variety of companies ranging from startups to Fortune 1000 companies. The results among mid-level management employees appear to mirror that of the Weber Shandwick survey.

  • Over 80% of respondents felt that it was important for CEOs to engage with customers on social media channels.
  • More than half of respondents believe social media engagement makes CEOs more effective leaders.
  • Over 87% of respondents believe that the presence of social executives raises the profile of the corporate brand.
  • Nearly 84% believe that CEO social media engagement is an effective in increasing brand loyalty.

All these attitudinal stats look promising and even exciting, right?

And yet, getting from general attitudes towards actual adoption and use of social media among executive teams executive is still presents a significant challenge in most companies.

Shifting from Executive Functions to Habits

One reason that might explain the challenges companies are facing in terms of getting executives to use social media is that these senior leaders tend to expend a lot of mental energy by constantly using a region of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex.

This small yet powerful region sits right behind the forehead and commands what neuroscientists like call David Rock call ‘executive functions’ of a brain.

In his 2009 book Your Brain at WorkRock uses the metaphor of a stage to describe how the prefrontal cortex actually works. The stage has limited space and can only accommodate so many actors at one time. Likewise, the stage lights require a lot of power to run and can burn out quickly until they are recharged.

Some examples of executive functions include our ability to focus our attention and organize thoughts, problem solve, keep our emotions in check and sort through complex streams of information.  All of these functions to the extreme fit neatly into the everyday routine and rigor of a typically CEO. It’s logical to assume that their ‘stage’ is constantly overcrowded.

social business habits

Basal Ganglia: Lymbic System

So how do successfully adopted executives make room on their stage for social media interaction?

The answer is simple — they don’t.

Successful social executives like Dan Kim have discovered that the key to staying engaged and consistent on social media lies in a completely different and much older region of the brain known as called the Basal Ganglia where habits or what Rock refers to as ‘maps’ are stored for recall.

The Basal Ganglia act like a switchboard that, when instructed by the prefrontal cortex as well as other parts of the brain, calls stored maps of repetitive complex tasks into action.  This brain function requires significantly less mental energy to operate and in turn, allows the human to do things like drive a car, make a morning cup of coffee and even check their LinkedIn group feeds from their iPhone.

Case in point:  In order to help your executive team successfully adopt and consistently use, you will need to help them rewire their brain so that these interactions become a habitual cognitive behavior.

Start Coaching Your Executive Team on Using Social Media

As it usually is in business, innovation comes from the front and middle lines.  As a director or manager who lives in the trenches, you hold the keys to stewarding social media adoption among your exectuev team.

Trust me when I tell you that if you start with these four simple steps, you’ll go far in building the momentum you need to help make social media a part of your teams everyday communication tools.

1.  Help them shift their consumption habits from text to media.  According to a survey conducted by, 3 in 4 CEOs aged under 50 say they “mostly consume information online,” and close to 2 in 3 aged over 50 agree that while their information consumption has gone largely digital, it hasn’t migrated to newer forms of interactive content.  

Help foster your CEO’s social business habit formation by getting them to first consume social media on a regular basis. This may mean hijacking their blackberry and trading it out for an iPhone. Work with them to determine the types of news, information and updates they want to see and then help them explore podcasts, live-stream and recorded videos and other online media that gets them the information they’re looking for in less time.

2.   Use push notifications as a queue for social business habits.  I recently had the chance to host a podcast with my friend Santiago Jaramillo. As the founder of two mobile app development companies, Santi believes that push notifications are one of the most underused tactics in the mobile space.

Push notifications are a technique used by apps to alert iPhone owners to content updates, messages, and other events within an app that they may want to be aware of.

Setting up these types of notifications, both audible and visual, can be a quick way to engage the Basal Ganglia and keep your CEO checking their social media feeds.

A word of caution — be very selective with what push notifications your turn on for your CEO. Using too many at one time can create an annoying amount of noise and in turn, render the notifications ineffective as a mental queue to check a social media feed.

3.   Create a public and visual benchmarking system.  My friend James Clear wrote a post earlier this year that detailed the a conversation between comedians Brad Isaac and the iconic Jerry Seinfeld. In the original interview on Lifehacker, Isaac shared what happened when he caught Seinfeld backstage and asked if he had “any tips for a young comic.”

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

This idea of using a ‘public’ benchmarking system hits two different areas.  First, Rock proposes the idea in his book that creating visuals can help move ideas and thoughts off of the prefrontal cortex stage faster, reducing mental energy output.

Second, the idea of making activities public is cited by Dr. Jonah Berger as one of the main tenants that causes ideas to spread across a culture. If it’s true that organizational culture is in large part, influenced by the company leader, then having your CEO publically track progress on social media engagement can have a trickle down effect.

Note: this tactic will likely work best when an entire executive team is involved, as opposed to singling out your CEO.

4.  Help your CEO determine small, personal rewards for their engagement.  In Charles Duhigg’s book, we learn about the concept of the Habit Loop, a simple cycle for building and maintaining habits that involves a queue, a routine and a reward.

It will be important that you help your CEO determine small, yet meaningful rewards for each time they successfully complete their social business habit routine.  In social media, one of the best emotional rewards comes when other followers share our content or even comment back.  Make sure to monitor your chief’s engagement and reward them by your own social media interactions.

Applied Reading on Social Business Habits

Social Business Habits: Reference List
Social Business Habits: Reference List

Nate Riggs Social Business Habits: Reference List

Nate Riggs | 11 items | 745 views

This is a growing list of resources and texts that can help foster social media adoption in among individuals in your company. These tactics can be employed to help anyone from executives down to interns adopt the social business habits that are required for sustainable and effective social media interactions. To learn more about how the human brain builds, stores and recalls social business habits and to get more information on how to apply these tactics, please visit


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  1. 1. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

    The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

    The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change was a groundbreaker published by the late Stehen R. Covey when it was first published in 1990. It continues to be a business bestseller with more than 10 million copies sold and provides a framework for maximizing self awareness which can also be applied to social media adoption and sustainable interaction.

  2. 2. The Power of Habit

    The Power of Habit

    New York Time best-selling book by Charles Duhigg that explores how the human brain forms habits. This book looks at habit formation as it relates to individuals, products and serices, companies and entire industries.

  3. 3. Contagious: Why Things Catch On

    Contagious: Why Things Catch On

    Jonah Berger is a Wharton School researcher who has spent 10 years studying what causes ideas to spread. The STEPPS framework in this book can be applied to social business habit building internally in a department or entire organization or externally across a customer base.

  4. 4. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

    Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long

    David Rock is a neuroscientist and director of the NeuroLeadership Institute. Using both metaphor and narrative, this book digs deep into FMRI research that shows how the brain functions and how we can improve mental performance by learning to work in concert with our natural cognitive functions.

    "Simply put, this intriguing book offers fascinating research about the brain's functions, limitations and capacities, and it teaches us how we can "direct" our own brain chemistry in order to achieve fulfillment and success. Well worth reading and ingesting these skills." -- Stephen R. Covey

  5. 5. The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social

    The NOW Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social

    Today, business moves at the speed of thought. The web enables a perpetual cycle of interaction and feedback, and every status update or tweet that mentions your company or brand either helps or hurts your reputation in real-time. Customers expect a level of attentiveness and responsiveness that most companies can't live up to.

    Written by Amber Naslund and Jay Baer in 2011, The Now Revolution is the first official business book that explores social business design in mid-sized and large organizations.

  6. 6. Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype

    Youtility: Why Smart Marketing Is about Help Not Hype

    "Baer soundly, effectively and skillfully proves that gratitude and good will are powerful incentives to lure new customers and keep them coming back."--SUCCESS Magazine"Trust us, this is interesting stuff, written via personal account, case studies, and other expert opinions in a way that's logical and inspiring."-- 800-CEO-READ"Youtility is a true masterpiece.

  7. 7. Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing...

    Epic Content Marketing: How to Tell a Different Story, Break through the Clutter, and Win More Customers by Marketing...

    "This is a brilliant canter through the rapid and ever changing world of content marketing."-JONATHAN MILDENHALL, VP of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at Coca-Cola"Joe Pulizzi may know more about content marketing than any person alive. He proves it in these pages."-JAY BAER, NYT Best-Selling Author of Youtility"Listen to this guy.

  8. 8. Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing: Andy Crestodina: 9780988336407: Books

    Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing: Andy Crestodina: 9780988336407: Books

    Andy Crestodina is a cofounder and the strategic director of Orbit Media Studios, an award-winning web design company, which has completed more than 900 successful website projects. He has written more than 100 articles on content marketing topics. He lives in Chicago.

  9. 9. A Modern Marketing Strategy - Social Media Marketing & ZMOT from Google

    A Modern Marketing Strategy - Social Media Marketing & ZMOT from Google

    Whether a large or small business, your marketing strategies will be changed by the Zero Moment of Truth. Download this free ebook from Google to get ahead at this critical new marketing moment.

  10. 10. Contagious: Why Things Catch On

    Contagious: Why Things Catch On

    Wharton marketing professor Jonah Berger has spent the last decade answering these questions. He’s studied why New York Times articles make the paper’s own Most E-mailed List, why products get word of mouth, and how social influence shapes everything from the cars we buy to the clothes we wear to the names we give our children. In this book, Berger reveals the secret science behind word-of-mouth and social transmission. Discover how six basic principles drive all sorts of things to become contagious, from consumer products and policy initiatives to workplace rumors and YouTube videos.

    Contagious combines groundbreaking research with powerful stories. Learn how a luxury steakhouse found popularity through the lowly cheese-steak, why anti-drug commercials might have actually increased drug use, and why more than 200 million consumers shared a video about one of the seemingly most boring products there is: a blender. If you’ve wondered why certain stories get shared, e-mails get forwarded, or videos go viral, Contagious explains why, and shows how to leverage these concepts to craft contagious content. This book provides a set of specific, actionable techniques for helping information spread—for designing messages, advertisements, and information that people will share. Whether you’re a manager at a big company, a small business owner trying to boost awareness, a politician running for office, or a health official trying to get the word out, Contagious will show you how to make your product or idea catch on.

  11. 11. Hooked: how to Build Habit Forming Products

    Hooked: how to Build Habit Forming Products

    Why do some products capture our attention, while others flop?
    What makes us engage with certain products out of habit?
    Is there a pattern underlying how technologies hook us?
    This book introduces readers to the "Hook Model," a four steps process companies use to build customer habits. Through consecutive hook cycles, successful products reach their ultimate goal of bringing users back repeatedly -- without depending on costly advertising or aggressive messaging.Hooked is a guide to building products people can't put down.
    Written for product managers, designers, marketers, startup founders, and people eager to learn more about the things that control our behaviors, this book gives readers:
    - Practical insights to create user habits that stick.
    - Actionable steps for building products people love.
    - Behavioral techniques used by Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and other habit-forming products.
    Nir Eyal distilled years of research, consulting and practical experience to write a manual for creating habit-forming products. Nir has taught at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Hasso Plattner Institute of Design. His writing on technology, psychology and business appears in the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, TechCrunch, and Psychology Today.

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