Richard Branson’s Social Media “Secrets”

Richard Branson Rock Star

Recently I finished the excellent book ‘A World Gone Social’ by Ted Coine and Mark Babbitt. One of their best examples of a “social CEO” is Richard Branson, the rock star businessman that founded the Virgin Group. With around 7 million followers on LinkedIn and 4.5 million on Twitter, Richard Branson is one of the most active and successful entrepreneurs on social media.

Coine and Babbitt say this about Branson and his role as a social CEO:

“All you have to do is look at the impact Richard Branson, Arianna Huffington and other social CEOs have had on their industries to see the direction in which social leadership is going. By maintaining a consistent social presence, being an engaging communicator and showing a little of their personality – their ambition, drive and Social Age business style – these social CEOs have had a significant impact on their brands’ digital presence.”

In other words, Richard Branson “gets” social media engagement. The Virgin brand has benefited from Branson’s personal reputation, open communication on social networks and achievements as a social leader.

When I was preparing to write this post, I tried to imagine that I didn’t know who Richard Branson was. I tried to take a fresh perspective on his social presence, as if I was attempting to decide whether I was interested in approaching him for business or just to expand my network of interesting people.

This blog explores what I think are Branson’s “secrets” to success with social media. I say secrets because they may not be obvious at first glance, and you have to read between the lines. The good news is that anybody can learn and apply them – not just the rich and famous. You don’t even have to have great hair and an electric smile. 🙂

Secret #1: Less is More

My first stop was my favorite source for professional networking: LinkedIn. So many people make the rookie mistake of essentially copying their resume and pasting it into their LinkedIn profile. They include their entire job history in gory detail. They pack their Summary section with industry jargon and buzzwords so they can be found on LinkedIn search or rank higher in Google.

Richard Branson LinkedIn Profile 1

Richard Branson’s LinkedIn profile is completely different. I’m not a particularly fast reader and I have a notoriously short attention span, but I knew in about 15 seconds flat why I would want to do business with Richard Branson. Here’s what I found in his concise, powerful LinkedIn profile.

  1. At the top of the page there is a short description of his current job: “Founder at Virgin Group”. There’s no title or description of what he does in the job. There’s no business jargon or padding of search terms for SEO. He simply states where he lives (British Virgin Islands, lucky son-of-a-gun) and what industry the Virgin Group is in: Aviation & Aerospace. Short and sweet.
  2. Branson is a LinkedIn Influencer, which means people can “Follow” him and subscribe to his LinkedIn posts. For grins, I looked up how to become a LinkedIn Influencer on Google. It turns out you can’t apply – you have to be invited by LinkedIn. Apparently these are the people that the social network itself thinks are important.
  3. At the time of this writing, Branson had almost 7 million followers! These folks are either in his network or they clicked the Follow button. They get an automatic notification in their LinkedIn Pulse feed every time he publishes a blog post. That means he has huge, engaged audience that has already “opted in” to hear what he has to say.
  4. Branson is a LinkedIn blogger, and his most recent posts are shown underneath his profile picture. If you click “See More” then you’ll see he has done around 20 posts since 2012. Just based on the engaging pictures and the catchy titles, plus the fact that it’s Richard Branson who wrote the posts, you’d probably be tempted to read any one of them.
  5. He lists only one skill: Entrepreneurship. In truth, of course, he has hundreds. I imagine he just doesn’t care whether he gets “endorsed” by people on LinkedIn. He also doesn’t mind if he doesn’t show up in LinkedIn profile searches for other skills. Almost 7 Million people are in his LinkedIn network; so lots of people know what he’s good at already!
  6. The Experience section of his Background has one entry: Virgin Group Founder, January 1968 to Present (46 years 10 months). He’s basically had only one job in his career, or at least only one that he thinks is important.
  7. His Job Description at Virgin reads as follows:

“Tie-loathing adventurer and thrill seeker, who believes in turning ideas into reality. Otherwise known as Dr Yes at Virgin!”

There you have it. Instead of a recycled resume where you have to sift through pages of job history and look for keywords, Branson tells you everything you need to know about his professional life in a few sentences! Less is more.

Secret #2: Show Your Personality

In these few sentences, I was able to get a good sense of his personality. Maybe I’m reading a bit too much into it, but through the words and images I also got a mental picture of what he’s probably like in person. Richard Branson’s no-frills LinkedIn profile resonates with me because it tells me:

  1. He’s a rebel and doesn’t like to conform (tie-loathing).
  2. He enjoys pushing boundaries and living life to the fullest (adventurer).
  3. He likes taking risks (thrill seeker), which in my opinion as an entrepreneur is the only way to succeed.
  4. He knows how to live life to the fullest; regardless of what his job description is. Even beyond his billionaire playboy image, Branson is truly a “rock star” in a businessman’s body.
  5. He is a man of action who turns ideas into reality. Rather than just dream about ideas that might work, he lives those dreams and proves they can work. That’s why Branson has created wildly successful businesses like Virgin Airways with legendary style and panache.
  6. He is waiting to say YES to other people’s ideas. As former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki said in his Enchantment book, Richard Branson “defaults to YES”. He listens to his employees, is kind to them and values their input. Not only is he turning his own ideas into reality, but he’s helping others reach their dreams too!

If I was looking to join Virgin or to connect with him for business, this would be a big deal for me that his personality shines through on all his social profiles.

Secret #3: Give Back

Even more than his business accomplishments, I think Branson’s LinkedIn posts tell the story of a man who is truly changing the world. He has a personal mission and purpose to make a difference that’s far bigger than profits or shareholder value.

Richard Branson “walks the talk” with initiatives like a program to give ex-cons a second chance and a business called inhabit.com which promotes “sustainable” and green design. In fact he has created entire businesses in the Virgin Group, such as Virgin Social, that are devoted to social causes and entrepreneurship.

Branson has also has joined Warren Buffett and Bill Gates in taking the “Giving Pledge” where he donates 99% of his wealth to charity. Imagine that! As Coine and Babbitt say, Branson truly practices social leadership. He uses his wealth and power every day to give back.

Secret #4: Be Humble

Even though Branson is extraordinarily successful and wealthy, he’s also down to earth. Branson lets his actions to help others speak for him. His humility has energized his “tribe” of friends and employees at Virgin to carry his messages for him. He doesn’t need to beat his own chest.

Below is a picture of Richard Branson massaging Guy Kawasaki’s feet to convince him to switch from United’s Million Miler program to Virgin Airways. Now that’s humble…and enchanting.

Richard Branson washing Guy Kawasaki's feet

Granted, Richard Branson doesn’t need more exposure in his social profiles because most everyone already knows who he is. To some extent, we ordinary folks have to show more detail about what we’ve done to be known to our business prospects or potential contacts. We need to show up in search results to be found.

The point is that we can do all that and still remain humble and transparent. We can be listening and learning. We can be ready to say YES when the moment comes to engage. Our profiles on social media should reflect our humility and openness to new opportunities.

Secret #5: Take Advantage of Twitter

Studies show that only around 8 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are on Twitter, and only about 2 percent are actively engaged. What a wasted opportunity! Richard Branson has going on 5 million Twitter followers. From his thousands of tweets, at least some of which are his, he obviously understands the value of Twitter for sharing and engagement.

Here is Branson’s Twitter profile. Notice anything familiar?

Richard Branson Twitter

There are several things of note here:

  1. Even though he’s not in Hollywood, Branson has 54 million followers and is following less than 4 thousand. These are not Kim Kardashian or Katy Perry numbers, but that’s a pretty darned good ratio. It’s a measure of Branson’s “Klout” and influence on the Web.
  2. He has tweeted well over 6 thousand times, which means he (or more likely his minion) likes to share a lot.
  3. His tweets are mostly not about himself or how great Virgin is. In the words of the Geico commercials, “Everybody knows that”. Instead the tweets are about how Virgin and the wonderful employees that are “turning ideas into reality”. He is not only trying to #changetheworld – he’s actually doing it.
  4. He has links to his other social media profiles, so you can find him easily on other social networks if you care to.

Secret #6: Be Consistent

As Coine and Babbitt say, social CEOs like Branson maintain a consistent social presence. I see many Twitter profiles that say things like “Opinions are mine and not of my employer” or they leave a completely different impression than LinkedIn. After all, Twitter is where you let your hair down, right?

Richard Branson’s Twitter profile has the exact same description as his job description on LinkedIn. The truth is that these two sentences don’t describe the “work Richard Branson” or the “off work Richard Branson” – they describe him! In today’s hyper-connected world, there is virtually no way to separate your work and play personas because all of your profiles are on display for the world to see.

Just ask anyone who’s posted an ill-advised Facebook post, a drunken photo on Instagram or a slur on Twitter. It can ruin your reputation and maybe your career with a single click of that innocent “post” button. It’s best to maintain a consistent social persona, both with your social profiles and your activity on social media.

“Remember: As far as the social world is concerned, your social persona is who you are.

Secret #7: Use Personal Branding Pages

Here is Branson’s profile on about.me, a popular spot for savvy social media users.

Richard Branson About.me

Surprise! You might not be able to see in this screenshot, but there’s the familiar profile from LinkedIn and Twitter. With this about.me profile, though, Branson has added some rich visual content. He’s also added some new tidbits of information with this profile:

  1. He’s an English business magnate and investor (as if we didn’t know).
  2. Virgin Group has more than 400 companies in it. WOW – I had no idea. I guess you learn something new about people every day.

To me, what’s most conspicuous about Branson’s social media profiles is not what’s there – it’s what’s not there. His profiles define him personally and professionally in a concise and engaging way. If you want more detail then you can ‘fill in the blanks’ as I have, look him up on Wikipedia or Google his name.

“Branson’s social media “secrets” show that we too can show our personalities, our passions and our purpose in life through our social profiles. Our social persona can showcase the content we’ve created and the value we can provide to prospective customers. It can show who we are.”

Most of all, our on-line presence can help us build trust so that people want to engage with us and – hopefully – want to do business with us. It can help people decide whether they want to have a conversation or connect with you. After all, isn’t that what “personal branding” is all about?

I hope that revealing the “secrets” of Richard Branson’s success on social has encouraged you to revisit your own social media profiles. If you have more “secrets” or tips to share that will help us all succeed with social media, then I hope you will share them in the comments below.

Thank you for reading my post!

Posted by Dan Aldridge

Dan Aldridge is the CEO of Performa Apps, an ERP software consulting firm specializing in Infor LN and Baan. Dan has almost 20 years of ERP implementation experience. He has helped dozens of companies with their ERP software implementations and training including Carrier, Mercedes Benz, Snap-on Tools, Blue Bird, Flextronics and a host of other manufacturing companies. He is a serial entrepreneur and blogger with his new site inforln.com.

You can reach Dan on e-mail at dan(dot)aldridge(at)i-app.com or on his social networks: About.meLinkedInTwitterGoogle+Scoop.itWordPressSlideshare,Pinterest and Facebook. His company is on LinkedInTwitter,Facebook,Google+,YouTubeScoop.it and Slideshare.

Dan Aldridge (Twitter @danaldridge1)

12 posts

I'm an Enterprise Software blogger, ERP enthusiast, CEO of Performa Apps and Founder of InforLN.com. Love the NFL, basketball, manufacturing, ERP software and charities. Movie fanatic. Total nerd and computer geek. Love gadgets, but like some old school things like a good book. Fan of small business. Believer in the power of social media. Washington, DC native that can't stand politics.

Posted in Entrepreneurship and Startups

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Follow Dan Aldridge on Twitter @danaldridge1
Reston, VA
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