Beyond Marketing: Leveraging the Online Presence of Your CEO
May 24, 2022
⌚ 10 min read
→ Your growth practice
Increase your SaaS company’s visibility by helping your CEO build a strong online presence. Or, if you’re the CEO, make sure you’re actively putting yourself out there and building an online audience around your persona.
→ Quick explanation
We’re transitioning from traditional business models to audience-driven brands. As entrepreneur Arvid Kahl notes:
“In a globally connected world full of creators, it’s not enough to talk at people anymore. Today, successful entrepreneurs talk with their audience: they engage with them on a level that the business world has never seen before. Today, everyone is on stage. Founders understand that an audience is not a mere distribution channel but a fundamental component of their business’s success.”
Most SaaS CEOs have LinkedIn and/or Twitter accounts, but only a few are leveraging them. Even fewer SaaS CEOs have blogs, YouTube channels, or podcasts centered on their personal stories or personality.
Building an online persona won’t necessarily impact your sales or revenue. However, being present and active will help you gain recognition and increase visibility. Your online persona may become the first touchpoint with the product you’ve built. Also, if stakeholders know your name, it will be easier to reach out to people and have them engage with you.
SaaS CEOs can use different channels to express their media persona and build parasocial relationships with their audiences. They can choose between:
📓 Online persona: A character (alter ego) someone embodies when creating and sharing content. Since authenticity is key to building an online audience, most SaaS CEOs aren’t necessarily using alter egos. However, they’re displaying a polished, edited image of themselves, creating a media identity or persona.
📓 Personality-infused content: Personal experiences, opinions, and social, economic, cultural, or political views.
📓 Parasocial Interactions (PSI) / Parasocial Relationships (PSR): Historically, these terms referred to one-sided, unreciprocated relationships members of an audience form with characters or personas from television or other media.
“The speed of information exchange and the advent of online communities have provided a much greater ability for distant strangers to communicate. Frequently, celebrities, media figures, and influencers now interact online in real-time with those who follow them.”
Also, as Jarzyna highlights:
“Online communities like Instagram and Twitter muddle issues of the “realness” of parasocialization targets and degree of personal interaction even more. After all, a “friend” in your online Instagram community might be a celebrity, a regular person who achieved celebrity through that community, or an actual friend or family member.”
In other words, the merge of real-life and social media identities changed the meaning of PSI and PSR, adding an increased level of socialization between the persona and the audience members.
→ Quick facts
✅According to Sprout Social Index, 38% of people are more likely to research a product or service when the CEO posts about it.
Public builders: Many CEOs choose to build their SaaS companies in public. They usually share their journey, business numbers, failures, and lessons. However, this trend is most popular among the CEOs building micro-SaaS companies. Also, some CEOs may stop building in public once they’ve gained enough attention and their MRR grew beyond several figures.
Industry gatekeepers: Some SaaS CEOs may be absent from social media yet active in building a media brand, such as podcasts. David Abrams, the co-founder and ex-CEO at Demio, created an audience by launching the SaaS Breakthrough Podcast. He would invite key SaaS players as podcast guests, generating connections with the industry stakeholders (aka potential clients) and growing his audience. Note: Since Abrams sold Demio, The SaaS Breakthrough Podcast has a new host, Ashley Levesque, VP of Marketing at Banzai.
Industry experts: Some SaaS CEOs decide to share and talk about product-related topics. If, for example, a CEO is building a productivity tool, they may share productivity-related content, positioning themselves as thought leaders.
Generalists: Usually, these SaaS CEOs will gain visibility thanks to their prior activity (raising funds, selling a company, publishing a successful book, and more). As a result, they built upon this foundation and became generalists engaging in various topics.
→ Your growth opportunities
Nudging your CEO to build an online presence, or, as a SaaS CEO having an online persona, you’ll access multiple growth opportunities, such as:
Build trust with your audience. When ensuring a consistent online presence, CEOs aren’t building thought leadership only, but they’re also showing that they care about their industry and want to positively impact their audience. As a result, they can build trust and show themselves are reliable experts interested in sharing knowledge and helping others (as opposed to just selling/pitching their product).
Make your SaaS a relatable brand. Sharing personality-infused content as a CEO will help you become more relatable. What does this mean? Relatability is when your content validates someone’s thoughts, opinions, or experiences. This experience happens when a person consumes your content and says, “Yes, that’s so true!” To have this impact, you can’t be impersonal thought. You have to display your human side and infuse your content with emotions, opinions, and vulnerability. Subsequently, this relatability will spark a greater number of meaningful connections with your audience.
Become antifragile (for CEOs). As Arvid Khal highlights, “You create a personal brand that transcends the business you’re currently working on: even if your startup fails, you continue to be a domain expert in that field.”
Get quick validation. Whether you’re launching a new product or feature, you can ask your audience for feedback.
Build a community. Once you’ve built an audience, you’ll have greater leverage to build a community. Take, for example, Guillaume Moubeche, co-founder and CEO at Lemlist. Over the years, he built a strong personal brand. Whether you’re on Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, or Instagram, you can find Guillaume creating authentic content and connecting with his audience. Now, Guillaume is building a community for bootstrapping entrepreneurs.
→ Case examples
>>Guillaume Moubeche, co-founder and CEO at Lemlist
Guillaume Moubeche used pod engagement to gain visibility on LinkedIn. Moreover, he started Lempod, a Chrome extension that allows individuals and companies to choose the pod they want the most engagement from.
Guillaume later sold Lempod and focused on growing Lemlist, a cold outreach automation platform. Although bootstrapped, Lemlist went from $0 to $150M valuation in 3.5 years.
Apart from Lemlist, Guillaume also launched Lemverse.
Guillaume is celebrated for his ambition and focus on building Lempire, an umbrella for his multiple SaaS and non-SaaS projects. As Guillaume states in one of his articles, he plans to build a billion-dollar company in the next four years. And having a strong online presence is part of his strategy.
Here’s the list of the online identity assets Guillaume built until now:
What’s my expertise? What value can I generate for my audience?
How do I want to be known? Do I want to be known as someone who builds in public? Or do I want to be seen as an expert in my industry?
What’s my communication style? Will I add some humor to my content?
What type of audience do I want to attract?
Answering these questions will bring you clarity and help you build an online persona. Also, it will provide you with the core framework for designing a consistent and coherent communication strategy. Remember that you can’t build a persona that is dissociated from your identity. If you do so, it will come across as unrelatable and unnatural. For example, if you have a good sense of humor, don’t exclude it from your content.
There are no special requirements for building an online persona as a SaaS CEO. You just need help (maybe someone from your marketing team), consistency, and willingness to make an impact beyond your company.
→ Your action framework
📒 You don’t have to build audiences on all existing platforms. That’s overwhelming and unsustainable, especially if you don’t have an online presence yet. Be mindful and choose ONE platform. The only thing you need to consider is choosing the platform where your desired audience hangs out.
📒 Go beyond the vanity numbers. You may have many followers or subscribers but discover that they don’t care much about what you’re doing. Or, you may have a small yet engaged number of people following you. By creating engagement opportunities, you’ll see beyond the vanity numbers.
📒 Ask for support. For example, if you’re releasing a new product or feature, don’t be shy away and ask your audience to support you on Product Hunt. You can offer special discounts to anyone who commented or upvoted your product in exchange.
📒 Share the “obvious.” Certain insights may seem obvious to you. However, these same insights may be highly valuable to someone else.
📒 Become antifragile. Move your audience from third-party media platforms to owned media platforms. For example, you can ask your audience to subscribe to your newsletter or become members of your branded community.
💥 To remember: Buyers’ habits will evolve, and people may demand total transparency from SaaS companies. CEOs with an online presence will earn people’s trust, gaining a big part of the market. Moreover, along with comments on Glassdoor, professionals may start assessing the online presence of SaaS leaders before deciding whether to join or not a company.