Marc Benioff: flamboyant, generous, larger than life – and a Twitter warrior

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Our Social CEO of the Week, Marc Benioff, is a flamboyant, generous and larger than life character. The founder and CEO of Salesforce, he helped invent a whole new category of tech called ‘software as a service’ (SaaS). He even created a category all of his own known as ‘platform as a service’ (PaaS).

As Julie Bort writes in Business Insider, the SaaS concept almost died at birth. Shortly after Salesforce launched in 1999 the Internet bubble burst and his fledgling business was in danger of going under. Benioff persisted, however, and today he’s a billionaire and every major software company is chasing him.

A noted philanthropist, he also feels very strongly about social issues. He recently took the Georgia state legislature to task for a contentious bill that critics say will let organizations discriminate against gay people. He warned on his Twitter feed in February that Salesforce would move its big tech conference out of Atlanta if the bill was passed.

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That tweet is a reminder of the power of social media – especially Twitter – to make your voice heard and galvanize support for a cause. Twitter followers are tribal and often fiercely loyal. Ask them to share or retweet something and many of them will. Benioff knows that – so does Donald Trump. Though far apart in their politics, both know they can rely on their followers to amplify their voice and help them reach millions of people.

That tweet is a reminder of the power of social media – especially Twitter – to make your voice heard and galvanize support for a cause.

Research by BRANDfog back in 2014 found that customers are more loyal to a brand if it’s leaders are active on social media. That’s not surprising. What is surprising is how few CEOs take advantage of it. You’d think that enhancing the brand in the eyes of customers was pretty high up on the list of CEOs’ priorities. So why do so few actively engage on social media? Fear is one reason. A basic lack of understanding of how social media works is another.

Customers are more loyal to a brand if it’s leaders are active on social media. So why do so few CEOs take advantage of it?

Benioff isn’t afraid. He leverages Twitter to his advantage. The tweet mentioned above isn’t trying to promote Salesforce. It’s simply a CEO – albeit a very influential CEO with 213,000 Twitter followers – telling the Georgia state legislature, his followers, and the wider world, what he thinks. He’s threatening to disinvest because of a strongly held personal conviction. The same goes with his Twitter photo, which he changed to Prince after the singer’s death. How many CEOs would be bold enough to do that?

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By doing this he’s displaying his human side – and that sends a very powerful message to his customers. They know when buying from Salesforce that they’re not simply buying from a faceless enterprise. They’re buying from a business whose CEO has conviction and is trustworthy. The brand by inference is also seen as trustworthy.

That is the power of social media.