Trust, Transparency and Transformation: Why Michel Van der Bel uses Twitter

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When the UK CEO of the world’s largest software company gets active on Twitter, people sit up and notice. The Social C-Suite certainly noticed! We were curious to find out what bought about this change so we asked Michel Van der Bel if he’d be our Social CEO of the Week. He very kindly obliged.

“We are, as a company, going through a massive transformation, just like our customers, and just like our rivals,” he said in a recent article in Computer World UK. We wanted to find out what place social media places in this transformation, both for him as a leader and for his business.

What really stood out in Michel’s responses was how often he used words like ‘trust’ and ‘transparency’. These are wonderful attributes (or aspirations) for any leader. While they may still send shivers down the spines of ‘old school’ CEOs, they’re becoming increasingly associated with younger CEOs and will soon be expected of all leaders.

Why did you decide to join Twitter?

My number one goal is to be known as a trusted leader by my customers and employees. Twitter is a legitimate, powerful and transparent way for me to communicate my values while also expanding my professional network with thought leaders, industry experts, customers and partners.

“Twitter is a legitimate, powerful and transparent way for me to communicate my values.”

In recent months you seem to have become a lot more active. What prompted that?

Microsoft has a lot of relevance to how our customers think about digital transformation and I’m keen to ensure we’re seen as a trusted leader and transformation partner in cloud services. We’re also on a transformation journey within Microsoft and social media helps me be more transparent and open about my journey as the leader of a transforming business.

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What value do you personally get from using Twitter?

I love learning about what other people are doing and talking about in areas like transformation, leadership, wellbeing and resilience. It provides me with great insights, perspectives and connections to build on and helps me continue to grow. I’ve actually built relationships purely through Twitter and felt connected with people even before meeting them in person. Twitter opens many virtual doors – the first of which is the Social CEO dinner that Rob Legge and I are planning.

“Twitter provides me with great insights, perspectives and connections to build on and helps me continue to grow.”

I see you also have a LinkedIn account. How useful do you find LinkedIn and what do you mainly use it for?

To be honest, at the moment I just use it for making ad hoc connections and networking. I’m looking at how to use it more effectively to build my profile and share my views on digital transformation, leadership and resilience.

Do you use any other social networks (for either business or personal use)?

I use Facebook for personal connections and WhatsApp for active business and family chat.

How important do you think it is for leaders to be on social media – and on Twitter specifically?

I think social channels are an essential part of the new world of work, allowing for a different style of communication and engagement. Overall, having a social profile means better communications, improved brand image, increased transparency, better employee morale and trust. Social is also a great place for conversations with employees, customers and stakeholders more broadly.

“Social channels are an essential part of the new world of work.”

What advice would you give to a CEO thinking of signing up to Twitter?

You have to be very deliberate when you start, with good coaches and people around you that understand the mechanics of how to leverage the platform effectively. My principle is to be 100% authentic online to help build trust in me and Microsoft, so I’ve invested significant time into develop this new ‘muscle’. There’s no silver bullet and it does take time to learn the right behaviours and adapt to a different way of thinking. Being open and transparent on such a public platform is scary but very exciting and rewarding! #TakeThePlunge

“Being open and transparent on such a public platform is scary but very exciting and rewarding. #TakeThePlunge!”

Finally, as the UK CEO of a technology company, how do you see social media (and digital technology more generally) transforming the way businesses operate?

There are many aspects to this. Social scales beyond traditional marketing and is a pervasive differentiator across other areas of the business including HR, sales, engineering, finance and C-level audiences. We look at three core strategies:

1. Exceeding customers’ expectation through every social touchpoint
2. Scaling through our word of mouth army, including employee and customer advocacy
3. Showing Microsoft as an innovating, caring and trusted brand

Michel is a CEO who, while still ‘learning the ropes’ on social media, has a clear strategy. He obviously sees Twitter as a powerful tool for communication, learning, networking and branding. By being a Social CEO he not only sets himself apart as a leader who is trustworthy and transparent – he’s also helping to position Microsoft as a company that is innovative and ready for the transformational journey it is having to navigate to keep itself relevant for the social age.

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Evidence of Michel’s newfound enthusiasm for Twitter can be seen by a Twitter chat he recently hosted. And yes, he has a hashtag: #AskMichel.