Social Media and CEO Reputation: An Implied Commitment

Matched only by a dire financial situation, nothing tests a CEOs leadership, and his lieutenants, more than a crisis.

In the pre-social media days, the first decision was whether to address this passively or aggressively in the media.  However, in the age of instantaneous news cycles largely driven by social media, that decision point may no longer exist. Especially for CEOs who have chosen to exploit social media platforms as a course of doing business or to build their personal brands.

Headlining this significant discussion is Micky Arison, the CEO of the parent company of Carnival Cruise Lines, whose ship ran aground off the Italian Coast on Jan. 13, resulting in at least 16 deaths and many more missing and unaccounted for.  Mr. Arison has purposefully kept a low profile, according to numerous insiders, as that is his style.

Yet, contrary to that approach, Mr. Arison has an active Twitter account and is not unfamiliar with expressing his viewpoints publicly.  This previously established platform cancels out his desire to be silent as the expectation has been set. It becomes impossible to choose to be a public figure only when it’s convenient.

With a legion of constituents, investors and followers demanding transparency and accountability by today’s corporate CEOs (see Occupy Wall Street, etc.), Mr. Arison has lost his ability to avoid facing the music at times of crisis, and his leadership and communications traits have been called into question in a recent Wall Street Journal story. In addition, by virtue of Mr. Arison not being publicly accountable for this tragedy, the reputation of Carnival, twice as large as its next competitor in terms of annual revenues and stock market capitalization, as well as being a leader in the cruise industry, will suffer.

Mr. Arison needs to pick his poison: either be fully engaged or stay muted.  And if the latter, be prepared to pay the price for this silence from a huge, restless collage of watchers.  With no legal obligation for Mr. Arison or other CEOs in similar situations to come forward, the public jury has already meted its verdict:  if you offer and provide access into your house, you will surely receive visit from these audiences – and many will be carrying pitchforks.

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