Does a CEO need a public persona?

I'm writing this anonymously, which may be a tell.

I've been thinking a lot about my own relationship with personal branding and being a public persona as of late, so I figured I would bring my question here. Does the CEO [particularly of a consumer brand] need to out there in the world?

A bit about me:

  • CEO of a early stage consumer company
  • Mixed relationship with social media, but generally am a private person
  • Private Insta, no TikTok, ~2k followers on Twitter and LinkedIn
  • Will create content, but posting it can feel hard

I guess I never got into startup building to be / feel famous, but I see opportunities that others create for themselves by posting, sharing, making videos. Sometimes I feel like my reluctance to engage is holding my company back.

What do you think?

I'm probably a bad person to respond :D because I hate social media, and one of the reasons I hate it is because it engenders this weird fakey "relationship" between people and corporations. That said, off the top of my head, I can only name the CEO of one company I buy things from, and that's only because Apple was in the news a lot last week. I might notice if someone gets in the news for something heinous, but not otherwise. So I would say no, you don't need to worry about it. But I suspect I am in a minority here. :)
I appreciate this perspective. I'd say in general I don't know much about the teams of the products I use either, but I get the sense that early users care. Does your opinion change when you are an early adopter?
Not that I can ever recall. I'm just not in a position to know usually, and if I do know I don't really care.
The only time I ever care about who the CEO is, is when I’m looking at the website for the first time to see if they have an all-white/male team. After that? Don’t care. I do think a lot of companies lack a personal presence on their websites and make it all about the product, which is weird to me. I’m far more likely to go with a brand/product that shows some personality and gives me a story about their people. But I don’t need social media for that. I’d love to be better at the social media thing but only to build the brand, and anyone who is good at that stuff can do it. Doesn’t have to be the CEO.
This is a super helpful insight. At one point I wanted to remove our team page because I wasn't sure if it mattered. I thought it might be better for the product to speak for itself. This is compelling.
Great! Yeah I think attaching a story to the brand is really important. Especially if you’re breaking the traditional mold in terms of who your team consists of! I immediately boost diverse companies to the top of my list to support 😊
Ok, so I am replying anonymously for the same reason you likely posted anonymously... I am the founder of a FinTech in London and things are going well. I have built payment companies and a business bank but always stood behind everyone because anonymity was important. When it came to raising for my latest company, recruiting the right people or even being considered for 'Women in FinTech' award was very difficult, I was an unknown - it has taken many months to build a reputation amongst investors, vendors and potential hires. Here is what I have learned.As a CEO (especially a consumer brand), you need a public persona. Those who raise the largest amounts, who find it easiest to get into the right rooms and onto the right lists all have public personas. I think it is less about infamy and more about recognition and reputation and most importantly owning your own narrative and the narrative of your company. And remember it is for a very specific audience. It's not for everyone, it is for the community you're building. I think Seth Godin said it best, "You're either remarkable or invisible. Make a choice". Wishing you only the best!!!
Remarkable or invisible: profound. Thanks for sharing this perspective!
I believe Seth was referring to the product, not the individual, when he said this. There are a lot of people who have done remarkable things with their companies while remaining in the shadows personally. Networking is about more than just social media and there are many ways to approach it.
True. I've found, however (in my experience) that the founder and the product is intrinsically linked especially in the early stages, so it applies here. I agree that social media isn't the only way to approach it, but that's what we were discussing here. As with everything, a plan of action based on personal preference is important.
A public CEO persona is one strategy but it's not the only way to grow your company. But like @Judi124 said, it can help you get in more rooms. In my first company, I stay relatively anonymous because we wanted to sell it and I didn't want the company to be about me. However, in future companies, I gained more recognition through blogging and social media and that led to speaking engagements within my industry. This was a strategy to make contacts that eventually helped me to sell other companies.
I struggle with EXACTLY the same thing, and unfortunately don't have an answer. I especially feel like DTC product brands are sort of founder-personality led? (I say, as the founder of an apparel startup I was reminded of these two articles from 2020 that you may find interesting: The Unpaid Labour of Female Founders: All These Female-Founder Takedowns Fair? : absolutely be open to chatting and supporting each other in navigating this, send me a DM if you want to connect.
I agree with Judi person down there; You probably should have one, but it can be ....insincere I suppose? Look at the higher ups at Cisco. Their Twitter accounts don't fool anyone for a moment that they're a part of their real selves, just palatable to shareholders.It depends on what kind of company you're representing.
I feel this pressure too! It’s tough to have on product hat, fundraising hat, and somehow be witty and thoughtful on social. I do think it gives you an advantage particularly in fundraising, but only time will tell if it helps with community (we are B2B)
I'm going to offer a suggestion: can you outsource this? Either find someone to create and post content on your behalf or someone to create a strategy for you that you can easily manage authentically? I like the previous suggestions to know your audience so you can cater to them. If your audience is the end user, your brand identity doesn't need to be super-personal, just consistent.
IMHO, I don't think so. Those who are naturally comfortable posting on social must be the ones to post. Designation/roles make no difference. If you are comfy, then don't do it. Else, don't worry. Have your brand on social though and focus on your audience and create content that is relevant to them.
I'm in a similar situation — founder of consumer fintech startup (so already not a product that is easy to market to consumers), exactly the same Instagram/TikTok/LinkedIn situation personally, and don't enjoy creating most content.I don't have the answer, but want to build on your question. Let's say I want to work with an influencer or someone who DOES create engaging content for my target customer. I feel like I need some minimum social media presence to even seem legitimate enough to approach the influencer for a partnership. Have you had any success doing this? (If so, I'd love to know how you've done it.)
As a public speaking / media training coach I get this question a lot. I agree with many of the comments above saying this role can be shouldered by someone else in your company. They can also 'feature' you when you want to show some BTS material or share a milestone under your leadership. That will enable you to be selective with how much of you is featured, give you ample time to prepare, and still put your company on the social media stage. That said, as the CEO of a consumer brand, it's pretty important that every time you *do* make a public appearance and have the floor (whether it's at an internal meeting or an external event), that you are 'on brand' with your leadership identity. If that's something you want to talk further about, please don't hesitate to message me privately. My virtual door is always open. :)
Nope, you don’t need a public persona. Nothing wrong with staying committed to the work. Social media can be distracting.