When Bill Gates published and copyrighted his bestseller Business @ the Speed of Thought, readers did not protest upon thumbing a few pages in to see that the book was authored “with Collins Hemingway.” Likewise, for Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (with Nell Scovell) or Howard Schultz’s Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul (with Joanne Gordon). But what about Gates’s tweets, Sandberg’s Facebook posts, or Schultz’s online messages posted for Starbucks employees? The authors of the current study explored standards of authenticity for CEO social media posting and how they influence employee perceptions and relational outcomes. Specifically, the study tested a conceptual model that linked CEO ghost posting on social media and CEO voice (i.e., communicating with a human voice and communicating commitment) to perceived CEO authentic leadership, organizational transparency, and employee-organizational relationships.

This study, which conducted an online survey of a national sample of 549 employees of mid- to large-size organizations in the U.S., found that disclosure of ghost posting is important to respondents. Interestingly, the study showed mixed findings regarding the impact of CEO ghost posting. On the one hand, CEO ghost posting cast a negative effect on perceived CEO authentic leadership. On the other hand, unexpectedly, CEO ghost posting practice showed no significant effect on employee perceptions of organizational transparency.  Consistent with previous research, CEO authentic leadership showed a positive effect on employee perceptions of organizational transparency. The authors’ findings provided evidence for the effectiveness of CEO voice in the digital sphere. Specifically, when CEO communication on social media was perceived as natural, engaging, personal, conversational, and relationship-oriented, employees tended to perceive the CEO as more authentic, truthful, and genuine and the organization as more transparent. Further, CEOs’ communication of commitment with a conversational voice on social media directly contributed to relational outcomes of employee trust, satisfaction, commitment, and sense of shared control.

Implications for Practice

Organizations should (1) ensure that staff-produced social media posts on behalf of the CEO are consistent with the CEO’s voice and communicated commitment in other channels, and (2) be aware that CEO voice not only shapes the CEO’s authentic image but also leads to employees’ perceptions of organizational transparency and deepens employee relationships with the organization.

Author(s), Title and Publication

Kelleher, T., Men, R. L., & Thelen, P. D. (2019). Employee perceptions of CEO ghost posting and voice: Effects on perceived authentic leadership, organizational transparency, and employee-organization relationships. Public Relations Journal, 12(4), 1-23.

Location of Article

This article is available online here. 

Tom Kelleher is a professor in the Department of Advertising and serves as  Associate Dean of Graduate Studies and Research at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. Kelleher joined the UF faculty in 2014. He had been a member of the faculty at the University of Hawaii and served as chairman of the School of Communications there from 2010-2013. He also served on the faculty at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2004-2006.

Rita Men is an associate professor of public relations at the University of Florida. Her research interests include employee engagement, leadership communication, relationship/reputation management, startup public relations, and social media. Men has published over 30 articles in leading referred journals. She is the lead author of the book, Excellence in Internal Communication Management published by Business Expert Press. She has received numerous research awards from national or international communication associations. As a Page Up member of the Arthur W. Page Society, Men’s professional experience includes corporate communication, marketing, and management communication consulting. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication in 2012 from the University of Miami. 

Patrick Thelen, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at San Diego State University. His research interests include reputation/relationship management, employee engagement and public relations ethics. He began his professional career as a reporter and later transitioned to corporate communications where he provided communications consultancy and worked for the multinational PR firm Hill+Knowlton Strategies. 

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
Follow on Twitter

Leave a Reply