• John Cavender

First Impressions Count: Business Insider’s Megan Hernbroth on CEOs’ Online Presence


If you’re an executive, updated headshots, daily tweets, and accessible digital press kits may be the least of your worries right now. But all of these elements factor into whether a reporter will find, interview, and cover you. Driving media interest can’t be thought of as a one-and-done effort. Rather, an online presence is a long-term plan to connect you with the media. Reporters look for CEOs and industry leaders who have developed a professional online presence and cadence of sharing strong, regular insights.


We spoke with Megan Hernbroth, Business Insider’s Senior Finance Reporter, about the importance of CEOs’ online profiles. She currently covers startup and VC news for the leading business publication. Megan also started out her career in communications as a PR practitioner, an experience that informs her insights on the relationship between public relations and journalism.

During our conversation, Megan brought up key recommendations for CEOs when it comes to maintaining an optimal online presence for driving media interest. We discussed her process for finding sources, then researching them once an interview is set up. In addition to a collection of key learnings, we’re sharing a cheat sheet to guide CEOs when posting on every platform.


Strong Opinions Make a Difference

“My inbox is full of CEO insights,” Megan told us, “but they are all the same.” For example, a pitch that explains “consumer behaviors will change after COVID-19” is very generic. Instead, she looks for bold opinions that divert from broad, existing thoughts.

“What makes a good story is when an industry leader takes a firm stance. A CEO doesn’t need to be an expert on labor movements, for example. Strong, specific insights on what they see as a leader in their industry are very useful.”


Additionally, Megan said that CEOs with lots of divergent opinions are the most interesting to her. Working for a digital-first publication, there is a constant demand for new articles and insights. So, if a single interview with a source can yield insights for multiple stories, that’s when she’s getting the best bang for her buck.


How to Get Discovered

When it comes to finding an opinionated source, Megan let us know that she tends to rely on her very well-curated Twitter lists. If you’re not familiar, lists are a feature on Twitter allowing users to manually group different accounts into subjects of interest, like: healthcare sources, AI sources, Silicon Valley start-up sources. By bucketing them together privately, users can see all Twitter posts from a specific group in an isolated feed, separate from the main timeline.


On her lists, Megan adds CEOs and thought leaders when she sees them in the news, or when someone else she follows likes or retweets one of their posts. This method of finding sources highlights the need for CEOs to develop a strong following of reporters and influencers that will expand the reach of their posts. If Megan writes an article on challenger banks, she might check a fintech list looking for someone with “swing-for-the-fences” opinions. Big predictions and more personal take increase the likelihood that she’ll reach out.


In one instance, Megan was working on a story about the future of funding after COVID-19. She found a great VC partner source in one of her Twitter lists. “He was not afraid to be wrong and made very outlandish statements and opinions. That made him more interesting to me. I wanted to know how he’d arrived at those predictions.”



Stay Straightforward

There’s no reason to make things complicated for a reporter. Your social media accounts and company website help reporters confirm your reputability and the status of your role at a business.

Megan recommended always making your username your first and last name. Additionally, she noted that if you have an unusual handle that is not your name, it may make an editor think twice about tagging you in the publication’s social posts.

She particularly likes handles that include first names since she finds it easier to pull those profiles using Twitter’s search algorithm.


Current = Credible

“If a CEO doesn’t have a photo on their LinkedIn,” Megan told us, “it makes me wonder if any of the information on the profile is up to date.” She regularly uses LinkedIn to check a source’s career history and experience.


She also relies on CEOs’ bio pages on their company website to confirm she has the right person and to put a face to a name. The less amount of time a reporter needs to spend researching you, the easier it is for them to use you as a source.


While we all want the best-looking photos in our online profiles, it’s even more important to keep pictures recent. Different prescription glasses or a new beard might make identifying you more difficult. To allow for reporter discoverability, avoid hats or sunglasses that obscure your face.


Consistency Is Key

Unsurprisingly, the easiest way for a reporter to review all of your online information is if your photo is the same across platforms. When your headshot on LinkedIn, Twitter, and company website profile are all the same, then reporters spend less time searching for you. This is helpful to journalists when you have an in-person meeting, too.


When it comes to posting consistency, Megan said that it’s important for CEOs to have a regular cadence, especially on Twitter. Sharing opinions regularly indicates that a leader is more open and ready to speak with the media.

Based on Megan’s insights, we put together a quick outline of items to remember when setting up or refreshing your social media accounts:


The Social Media Cheat Sheet for Executives


All Platforms:

  • Straightforward username and bio that links back to your company

  • Consistent and clear photos across platforms

  • Up-to-date information and imagery

Twitter:

  • Remember, this is the meat of your online presence

  • Reporters see your thinking, opinions, and POVs on Twitter, so make sure to post often and post boldly

  • Adding some personality (your favorite sports teams, your pets) to your profile is welcome, but don’t go overboard

  • For reference, an account Megan particularly likes is that of Box CEO Aaron Levie: @levie

LinkedIn:

  • Naturally, think of this as the resume for your online presence

  • Reporters use this to research historical context, industry expertise, and leadership experience, so make this profile as professional as you can

Company Website Bio:

  • Your bio on a company website is used as a fact-checking tool and as a source for imagery

  • Make sure your photo is high-quality, easy to find, and easy to download

  • A press kit with downloadable photos is often the best method

  • Reporters don’t like spending too much time searching for these assets

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