Tom-Buchheim

Tom Buchheim at American Family Insurance shared his work supporting their CEO on social media — and the difference it made across the company

We want to make sure our leaders are out front and have their own voice in social media. Tom Buchheim
Tom Buchheim, Executive Social Media Advisor at American Family Insurance, has been working with CEO Jack Salzwedel to build out his presence on Twitter for the past eight years.

And according to Tom, he was fortunate enough to have the catalyst for that project be Jack himself. “He was interested in getting more involved on Twitter and asked for our help supporting him on the platform,” said Tom. “So we started with some audits and reverse mentoring to start getting him comfortable in the space, and it’s really grown from there.”

Now, Tom said, it’s normal for leadership at American Family Insurance to use Twitter as their primary channel to engage with their audiences and advance the company goals.

Tom said the primary draw Jack saw with Twitter — and they still see today — is that it is a particularly dynamic platform, and everything happens in real time.

“We were also doing social media listening, and we try to pass on some of what we’re hearing to help our executives engage on a personal level,” said Tom.

He emphasized that he and his team have to dedicate some time to content suggestions, monitoring, and administration — but don’t have any outside costs associated with the project.

He said a large part of that setup is because their executives are all still in control of their own accounts.

“They post everything they want to share,” Tom explained. “Jack gets content suggestions — which has grown out of conversations we’ve had with him for eight years — but he always tailors his posts to his own thoughts and passions.”

We were also doing social media listening, and we try to pass on some of what we’re hearing to help our executives engage on a personal level. Tom Buchheim
Because of how active Jack has become over the years, Tom and his team have been able to incorporate him into their marketing mix and leverage him in their communications and media relations approach.

“We want to make sure our leaders are out front and have their own voice in social media,” he said. “But on our end, there’s a concerted effort to make sure their content is part of what we do from a corporate communications standpoint.”

He said they’re always trying to walk that line.

Because their strategy maintains executives’ personal control on their channels, they haven’t had to dedicate many resources to training.

Tom said they haven’t designed any formal training sessions with the leadership team, as social media fluency has been a soft skill that their executive team has developed over the years — particularly because they use Twitter more as a public watercooler.

But, when big things happen to the platforms, they make sure to let the leaders know.

“For example, when Twitter went from 140 to 280 characters, that was something that I wanted to make sure that our leaders knew about and understood reasoning behind that,” said Tom.

They also work closely with their corporate security team and care centers to handle their monitoring and response strategy on executive channels.

“We don’t ask our executives to respond to customer inquiries about claims or anything that might have to do with policy information,” explained Tom. “We want to make sure those are handled at the appropriate level.”

They’ve focused their listening process on executive channels to make sure any customer questions or concerns can be redirected to the right team.

Although the preferred social media platform for American Family Insurance and its executives is Twitter, they’ve branched out to extend Jack’s reach.

“We’ve developed a LinkedIn strategy for Jack over the past five years, and it became a spot for him to share thought leadership posts and blogs,” said Tom. “With a built-in audience of 11,000, that’s been a powerful tool for us.”

I’m looking for things Jack wants to talk about, like company culture, technology growth, and talent development. As well as the importance of being a leader and what that means for him. Tom Buchheim
They have also used LinkedIn to supplement content experiments they’ve done with Jack, like a video for their Brother’s Day campaign — which centered around a brother driving around the country ticking items off a bucket list as his sister was battling cancer.

“We wanted to get Jack involved in that campaign because he had donated an organ to his own brother,” said Tom. “So Jack told that story in a video and we shared that on his Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.”

The video saw a lot of success on LinkedIn, so Tom and his team saw it as an eye-opener for the opportunities they could take advantage of with LinkedIn and future video content.

Tom sends Jack a daily email with content suggestions of things he could post to supplement his activity.

This email includes ideas for what he can share with a linked article and copy that he can pull from and adjust as needed. And, according to Tom, he always wants to make sure those suggestions are aligned with Jack’s interests and priorities.

“I’m looking for things Jack wants to talk about, like company culture, technology growth, and talent development,” he explained. “As well as the importance of being a leader and what that means for him.”

Then, from their social listening efforts, Tom also calls attention to opportunities for Jack to engage with relevant tweets.

Though he said Jack naturally engages with a lot of content on Twitter, he often includes specific tweets that would be good for him to engage with.

“It’s important to provide executives with easy opportunities to engage, because even if they want to be active, they don’t always have the bandwidth to see everything that’s coming through in real time,” explained Tom. “And with a platform like Twitter, you can’t wait three or four days to get back to something. That’s why I always try to give that daily update.”

For Tom and his team, having such an active CEO has led to positive outcomes for their brand’s reach.

“From a social media perspective, Jack extended our reach by 20,000 people across LinkedIn and Twitter,” said Tom. “And the organic engagement there is often higher quality than we have at the brand level.”

Having such a social CEO definitely leads to better employee engagement. Tom Buchheim
Tom and his team work to measure that engagement on the content they ask him to share and take advantage of the earned media he gets because of his reputation and presence on social media.

“It’s always nice to see those opportunities for them and positive reactions to his social media presence because they really shine a light on our overall social media program,” said Tom.

Internally, Tom said he’s also seen positive changes come out of his work with Jack.

“Having such a social CEO definitely leads to better employee engagement,” explained Tom. “And it increases transparency within our organization — if you want to talk to our CEO, all you have to do is tweet at him.”

According to Tom, he’s really proud of how much his work with Jack on his social channels has funneled into American Family Insurance’s ability to be more of a social business.

“That change has been exciting to see, and it’s something I’ve had a big hand in,” said Tom. “I think it’s helped our brand overall.”

Moving forward, they’re looking for more opportunities to develop and expand their platform strategies through their executives.

It’s important to provide executives with easy opportunities to engage, because even if they want to be active, they don’t always have the bandwidth to see everything that’s coming through in real time. Tom Buchheim
“We’ve started developing position papers for Jack and our executives on what their strategies could look like on Instagram and Facebook,” said Tom. “For now, we’re still primarily focused on Twitter, because it’s still such a great place to learn about American Family Insurance, but we’re keeping Jack up to speed on where we stand with the other platforms.”

He also said they are planning to do more innovation around their content — regardless of individual platforms. He hopes to continue experimenting with video in the future after the success they saw with the Brother’s Day video.

For anyone looking to develop a more social culture at their executive level, Tom emphasized doing good research first.

“There’s a lot of info out there to help you make the case and understand how to do this work,” said Tom. “And it’s important to do your due diligence with that, because it’s not the same as doing your own social media or doing social media for a brand.”

He advised looking to your peers in the industry and being aware of what they’re doing as you start planning your own strategy.

Tom also said understanding your CEO’s voice and where they want to make a difference is crucial.

“They should talk about stuff that isn’t just about their company, it’s important to also help them amplify their passion points,” he explained. “There are plenty of easy wins out there when it comes to supporting a leader in social media, so finding out what those are, then getting a success story and learning from that, is a good first step.”

Tom Buchheim has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2009 (a whopping 10 years!). You can connect with him on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter.