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3 social media lessons from Donald Trump for CEOs who want to win

If Donald Trump goes down in flames on Election Day it won't just be the GOP that has learned a valuable lesson as it searches for a winning public message to take with it into an uncertain future.

The New York Times cataloged on Tuesday the 282 times that the paper claims Trump has used Twitter as a launch pad for insult comedy and offensive behavior, but Fortune 500 companies should come away from this election year with a different take on Trump and tweeting.

So far, most corporations only have one thing in common with Trump on social: They're smart enough to know to be on it. The vast majority of companies are on social, but "in terms of using it optimally, [it's] probably a minority," said Clara Shih, founder and CEO of Hearsay Social — which counsels corporations on their social media strategy. She was speaking to CNBC at the Net/Net event in New York City on Tuesday.

There are three valuable lessons from Trump on designing an effective corporate social media strategy. They relate — no surprise — to Trump's predilection for speaking his mind. But two of the three lessons are more positive than many people give Trump credit for these days.

1. Don't deny it: You've probably got some Trumps lurking — and tweeting — in office cubes.

Shih said that one lesson for the C-suite from the election is to remember that "you may have Donald Trumps among your employees."

"What happens when they tweet and represent views that might not align with the company brand," Shih said. It gets trickier: Those corporate concerns then need to be managed against an employee's right to privacy.

2. Sounding real makes a real difference in messaging.

A second lesson is that even voters who disagree with Trump's policy — even those who really don't like him — note that he seems to speak authentically. In short: no matter how often the fact checkers point out how the inaccuracies Trump espouses, much of America still thinks he sounds like a regular person and not a politician, and they think that is a good thing. And that's something many brands fail to pull off in social media messaging, Shih said. "We've found that authenticity has been the key to social media engagement."


Hearsay Social founder and CEO Clara Shih
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Hearsay Social founder and CEO Clara Shih
"We've found that authenticity has been the key to social media engagement."

3. Social media strategy needs to be run by the CEO.

Many political pundits have remarked on the Trump campaign's lack of advertising spend, but Trump has been running his campaign from Day One as a social media and free-media phenomenon. Any CEO who doesn't think social media strategy should emanate from their desk is making a mistake, Shih said.

"The companies doing it well, the social strategy and broader digital strategy, are being owned and driven by the CEO and the management team. ... It's not some siloed, tactical project ... it's not the innovation team," Shih said. "It's everyone's job, starting with the CEO."

As an example of a company and CEO that has done it right, she pointed to New York Life and its CEO Ted Mathas.

"Mathas is an innovator. He owns a strategy and of course he works with a broader team to execute on it," Shih said.