CEO to CEO Podcast: Sue Serna

February 16, 2021 Kevin Campbell

The CEO to CEO podcast is hosted by Kevin Campbell, CEO of Syniti.

This week's guest is Sue Serna, is the founder and CEO of Serna Social, a social media consultancy agency focused on social media strategy, governance, risk, and security. She's one of the nation's top experts in social media safety and spent nearly nine years leading the global social media program for Cargill, the largest private company in the United States.




Subscribe Here:  Listen to all the episodes in the Syniti Podcast Series



Kevin Campbell (01:23):

Welcome to this week's CEO to CEO Podcast, and today I'm fortunate to have on with me Sue Serna. And Sue is the CEO of Serna Social and an expert in social media, all the good things that can happen and all the bad things that can happen. We're going to have an interesting conversation that I think will be valuable to everybody today. Sue, welcome to the show.


Sue Serna (01:49):

Thank you. Thank you for having me.


Kevin Campbell (01:52):

Why don't you give us a little bit about your background and how you got to this point?


Sue Serna (01:59):

I am a proud alum of University of Delaware Fightin' Blue Hens, and I'm from Philadelphia originally. I started my professional career as a reporter. I was a journalist for 10 years. I covered business and specifically retail for all 10 years, so really looking at consumer trends, the economy, consumer behavior, that kind of thing. And then after 10 years of doing that, I transitioned into this new and exciting field of social media.


And for the last eight and a half years, I was the head of social media at Cargill, which is the largest private company in the United States, where I helped build kind of social media from the ground up. I left Cargill last year and started my own company, Serna Social, and and now I'm consulting with companies about how to do social smartly and safely.


Kevin Campbell (02:50):

Why don't you tell us a little bit about your company?


Sue Serna (02:53):

Okay. Serna Social is a social media consulting agency. But unlike a lot of agencies, we aren’t a do everything under the sun for you social media agency. I really focus on three key areas, strategy assistance for folks, training, if people need social media training, I'm a well-versed trainer in all sorts of social media, and then really my core focus is the safety and governance of social media. I personally believe that big companies and even smaller companies are about to find out that they are not prepared for the intersection of social media management and cybersecurity.


I really truly believe that most companies are not managing social media in a safe way, partially because they don't know how and partially because the risk kind of flies under the radar at most companies. I am trying to position myself to take my expertise from Cargill, where we had almost 400 social media channels, to helping companies understand how to do that well and safely, so that they and their brand are not the ones in the news for getting their Twitter account hacked or for the employee that accidentally tweeted something on the company account that was supposed to be on their personal account.


All of those things can be avoided with good social media governance. That's the third pillar.


Kevin Campbell (04:15):

How did you become so passionate about this social media and in particular safety and governance as you call it?


Sue Serna (04:26):

Yeah. My first inclination, not an answer to that, is to just admit I'm a control freak. Very type A. Very OCD. As the global head of social media for a company with so many social media accounts around the world, it really became important to me to understand just the basics, right? How many accounts do we have? Where are they located? Who is in charge of each one? Who's responsible for each one? Most companies don't even know that.


A lot of companies will tell you like, "Oh yeah, there's this Twitter account here and nobody knows who started it, and we don't have control of it, but it's supposedly about our company." A lot of that is governance work. Just figuring out what's out there and having your house in order, right? Then you add the depth of complexity. Take a company that has 400 social media accounts. You have 400 accounts. Most companies say that you need at least two people in charge of that account for redundancy’s sake.


If somebody is on vacation or somebody's on maternity leave, you need at least two owners per account. Then you have agency partners that you're dealing with and their teams, and then you add the paid side of the house. You might have two or 300 paid social media accounts that also are managed, that also have people that need to be associated with them. And there's all the record keeping and all of the keeping things up to date and blah, blah, blah, right?


That's kind of the universe that you're managing when you do social at that scale, plus regulatory issues, GDPR in Europe, CCPA in California, the FTC has rules about social media. It's really becoming a field that you need some deep expertise in to just simply keep your company above board and safe and be able to survive something like an audit or a lawsuit or a claim that you violated some regulatory policy, right? And a lot of companies just simply have not realized that the risk is even there yet, and they certainly don't do a good job or managing it.


Kevin Campbell (06:33):

What risks do I have? I basically say, "Oh, that's with the teenagers and the other people that are out there. What's the worst that can happen?"


Sue Serna (06:40):

Right. My answer to that when I'm talking to an executive level person is one slide that has a big pile of money on it and the words $50 million, right? These are regulations that are coming down for data privacy and social media specifically. Some of them carry extremely hefty fines, especially honestly, if you're a big name company. If you're a company that's going to get a headline and the regulators want people to understand that they're serious, they'll go out and slap a really big fine on a really big company, because they're trying to make a point.


And in Europe, specific to GDPR, some of these fines have been as high as $50 million. I always tell people, "Hey, unless you and I go explain to your CEO why you just cost the company $50 million, it's something you really do need to pay attention to."


Kevin Campbell (07:28):

I'm sure you've got a five point plan that everybody that you could do... Do you do audits or assessments for people?


Sue Serna (07:37):

Yup. That's actually usually the first step that I recommend, right? Because the other thing people have to understand is the social media landscape has gotten extremely complicated, right? You used to just have LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. You used to have an account for each, but now the platforms have... You can have a private group. You can have a location page. You can have a business page. There's all these different types of pages, some of which are actually auto-generated by the platforms.


It's not that someone in your company went rogue and started something, which is an issue, but it's literally that someone checked into your business location in Topeka and Facebook auto-generated a location page, right? And so then nobody owns that page. Do you need to claim that page? What if somebody posts something bad on that page or your employee posts a picture of something that shouldn't be public, right? All of those things happen. And without a proper governance model, there's no protocols for how to handle it, right?


And there's also no one to go to to handle it. So it ends up in this weird kind of vortex of corporate swirl, right? Big companies doing social at that scale really need to have standard operating procedures for, how do we handle auto-generated pages? When do claim them? How are they managed? Who's responsible for them, right? And how are they monitored? Then you have the issue of people just starting things that they're not authorized to, which is a different issue. But it's become extremely complicated to the point that you actually kind of need an expert.


I wrote a blog post about it. This morning, Boston Scientific posted a job for basically a digital data governance lead to work with compliance, to work with legal, to be their brand safety ambassador to other parts of the organization. I thought it was a brilliant job position, and I think we're going to see more big companies hiring roles like that, because it's becoming a real true need.


Kevin Campbell (09:39):

And do you suggest that somebody in the company monitor all the channels?


Sue Serna (09:44):

You can buy tools that are called social media management systems. SMMS for short. The two big players in the space are called Sprinklr and Khoros, and they are tools that you use to actually manage your social media accounts. You do the posting and the responding to comments and stuff all through the tool. But the other thing that the tool does is it archives everything that happens on your channels, which is really important from both a legal standpoint, if you end up in a lawsuit, but also from an accountability standpoint, right?


If you have one of those incidents where somebody posts something that they shouldn't being able to go into your records and say conclusively, "These three people are the three people who have access to that channel or had access at that given time, and we can see through our tool that it was this individual who posted it." Right? That kind of accountability and record keeping becomes really, really important. Because otherwise, you end up in a position where you can't tell who was responsible and that's really dangerous.


Kevin Campbell (10:47):

And if somebody makes a mistake in what they posted, they just fat-fingered it or did something else, what do you suggest the company does?


Sue Serna (10:57):

I mean, typos happen, right? I mean, I don't think a typo is a thing that gets escalated necessarily, right? If somebody legitimately posts something they should not, like something that violates another company policy or something that shows unsafe behavior at a facility that the company owns, for instance, those are things that do get escalated. It's related to social listening, which is a whole other part of the social media atmosphere. But most big companies now monitor social media mentions of their brand.


Some companies literally look at every single mention. Other companies do kind of roundup reporting, right? Different companies have different belief systems about how rigorous they want to be with their social listening. But at the very least, most big companies do/should have a system that actually ingests all of that and, again, keeps a record of it. Because as we all know, people will delete tweets if they suddenly find themselves under fire. Those types of tools that actually give you a record of something, even if it's later deleted, which is important.


Kevin Campbell (12:01):

I've heard stories of people that were stranded at an airport and tweeted something and got a call from something. I honestly say, I do use Twitter to complain when I get really upset, like most other people do. I've never gotten a call. I don't know whether I'm just not complaining to savvy companies. I could understand if DoorDash is down, I'm probably not the only tweet they got, right?


Sue Serna (12:31):

It depends on the company and what their model is for monitoring and responding to those types of comments, right? There are some companies that have giant command centers with screens on the walls where they monitor everything in real time. It looks very like movie-esque. There's others that again don't look at it every day. There's others that have companies that do it for them.


But I think it's really fascinating, the companies that do it well have understood that an angry consumer tweeting at you directly on social media expects an answer usually in minutes to like under an hour. There's companies that really, really, really place an emphasis on doing that and making that happen, and then there's other companies that just decide, "This is not a primary customer service channel. People can complain and we'll record those, but we're not going to try to respond to every single one." Right?


It largely depends on the company. I think we're seeing a shift though. I mean, especially now in the COVID times, we are seeing so many people turn to social media as a customer service channel. They are expecting to be able to interact with companies on social media and get customer service type answers that I think companies that are not thinking about how to make that happen internally have a problem, and usually it's structural.


The customer service team that has access to the consumer's data is over here, and the social media team is over here, and they can't access that data, so they can't help the customer, right? Companies that have not yet figured it out should be thinking about how do we have some crossover between those two teams so that we can provide customer service in a real authentic way via social media. And then of course, from a security standpoint, you have to worry about protecting all that consumer data.


Kevin Campbell (14:26):

If you were going in and you've done the assessment, what are the kinds of things that you suggest after the assessment to follow up? I know it depends on what you find, but what are say a couple of examples that you've done before? What are the typical things you're going to suggest for people? I assume training has got to be near the top of the list.


Sue Serna (14:50):

Usually at the end of an audit, the outcome is a giant list of social media accounts and pages, some of which the company owns and some that they don't, some that they knew about and some that they don't, right? So usually the next step for me is just propose a cleanup, and the cleanup can be a couple of things, right? One, we're going to go through all those channels and make sure they're branded correctly. Are they using the right version of your logo? Does the imagery look good? Have they filled out the about section? Do they link to your website?


Just basics. Table stakes, right? But a lot of companies haven't even gotten that far. First, we're going to clean it up from a brand perspective. Second, we're going to go through the exercise of deleting, shutting down, merging, doing whatever we need to do to really consolidate down to the list of channels that you actually want to maintain going forward. We're going to do a massive kind of get rid of the junk exercise, if you will, right? And then finally, we're going to look at the strategy behind those channels.


Because a lot of times, what I find is that a company went out and started a TikToK because the CEO's daughter is on TikToK and they thought it sounded good. An email went out and said, "Hey, why aren't we on TikToK," without actually asking the right strategy questions. Who's our audience? Are they on TikToK? What type of content can we produce there that's going to be meaningful and interesting and get engagement? What is the purpose of that? Are we trying to get conversions? What are we doing there? What is the end goal?


People don't ask those questions. They just start channels for no good reason, right? Even for the reasons like, "My boss said we need one, or I don't know why we need to be there, but my competitor is there, so I want to be there." People don't think strategically. So once we get the audit done, we can look at your full universe of channels, get rid of stuff that you don't need, and then focus on why you need the ones we're keeping.


Kevin Campbell (16:54):

Well, it's amazing you say that example, because I was driving my car with my son yesterday and he said to me, "Why don't you at Syniti have a TikToK channel?"


Sue Serna (17:04):

And what did you tell him?


Kevin Campbell (17:06):

I said, "Because I don't think our target audience watches TikToK."


Sue Serna (17:09):



Kevin Campbell (17:12):

And I don't think we need any more channels. We're trying to maximize the ones that we've got out there. Another thing we talk about a lot on this show is mergers, right? Because for CEOs, that's a big born. I'm either going to buy something, I'm going to sell something, or I'm going to carve something out. What do you suggest we do? And for CEOs out there, if you're going to go merge with a company or you're going to carve out part of it, how do I put a social plan in place?


Sue Serna (17:44):

So if you do a lot of merger acquisition type activity, you should also have a standard operating procedure for how you do those for social, right? Cargill grew a lot by acquisition in my time there, so we really had it down by the end of it. If you do that more than once every blue moon, you really ought to have thought through, "Here's the way we want to approach that." And I will tell you, one of the tricks to an acquisition when it comes to social is that the acquiring company, the new parent company, is responsible for all of those accounts on day one, right?


So if you're in the financial industry, for instance, and you are beholden to FINRA, all of those accounts are your responsibility as of day one. The time to start like figuring out how you're going to manage all these new channels is not on day one. It's well, well, well before day one, right? Usually what would happen is the team involved in the acquisition would let us know that the acquisition was coming. It's really important that they tell you as soon as they legally are allowed, right?


And I understand that sometimes for legal reasons, they can't just tell everybody that they're planning a merger. But as soon as you can loop your social team in, do it because they need some run-up time. On my end, once I understood that, I would clamor to get ahold of the social media team for the other company, and we would start working. And I would ask for an inventory of all their channels and the individuals responsible for each channel. I would ask for a parallel inventory of all their ad accounts and the people responsible for each one.


We would ask them which tools they were using, because sometimes you have to walk through, "We have different tools that do the same thing. So which one are we going to keep?" What does that mean in term of terms of operation? There may be training. There may be onboarding. All of those things kind of have to be in the works or ready to go on day one. Because quite honestly, you as the head of social media of the parent company are responsible for everything on day one. You're responsible for everything that goes out on those channels.


You're responsible for archiving them. You're responsible for knowing who's responsible for each one of them. It really does take I'm going to say 60 days at least to really be ready to go on day one for a big social acquisition, but a lot of people don't realize that. Two days before the event, you'll get somebody in your office going, "Oh, by the way, we're buying something. They have a social media team I think. We'll figure that out." Don't do that to your social team.


They really do need some lead up time to be ready to go and to cover your bases from a risk and legal perspective.


Kevin Campbell (20:33):

Two questions I like to ask every CEO that comes on, so I want to make sure that we ask you here in the time we have remaining is about mentors. Mentors played an important part of my life and played important part on a lot of people's. What mentors have you had along the way?


Sue Serna (20:52):

I mean, I've had great mentors in my life. I've been so fortunate. Going back to high school, my parents were wonderful people, but they weren't great advisors in terms of career advice, right? I had high school teachers that took a great, tremendous interest in me and that I kept in touch with long after I graduated from high school. My first boss at Cargill, Maria, is still a really close mentor to me. She actually is the one that gave me the guidance that led me to name my company Serna Social as opposed to something else that I was thinking of.


I think that mentors are so extremely important to being successful as a working professional. I love to also mentor people, because I feel like you should hold up your end of the bargain, right?


Kevin Campbell (21:46):

Absolutely. I post one of my favorite pictures that I posted on my account back a couple months ago was with Lew Alcindor holding John Wooden's hand walking him across the court, right?


Sue Serna (22:00):



Kevin Campbell (22:01):

And it says, "We never forget the people who put us where we were, and we're always there to help them," which is awesome. What's the best piece of career advice you've ever gotten?


Sue Serna (22:15):

So hard, right? This actually goes back to my reporting days. When I was a cub reporter in my first professional newsroom, I was assigned a news room mentor. This was in Lansing, Michigan. His name was John Schneider. He was the seven day a week columnist, which is such a rare thing at a newspaper. Being a little bit of a control freak, I used to fret over like, "Should I say uh or the or? Which word should I use?" And one day he just looked at me and he said, "Sue, writing is like painting. You just have to decide that you're done."


And I thought that was fantastic, and I still think about that when I'm writing content.


Kevin Campbell (22:58):

That's awesome. Thank you, Sue, for being on today. A lot of great points for people and a lot of great advice in an area that's still new for many of us. If people want to find out more about your company and you, what's the best place to go?


Sue Serna (23:17):

Yup. My website's Please check it out. And my email is I would love to hear from anybody.


Kevin Campbell (23:26):

Awesome! Well, thanks for being on, and the audience, thanks for your time today.

About the Author

Kevin Campbell

CEO, Syniti

More Content by Kevin Campbell
Previous Article
CDO to CDO Podcast: Asha Poulose Johnson - Part 1
CDO to CDO Podcast: Asha Poulose Johnson - Part 1

This week's guest is Asha Poulose Johnson, Vice President and Global CIO of Data and Analytics at GE Health...

Next Article
How CFOs Influence A Culture Of Data Informed Decision Making
How CFOs Influence A Culture Of Data Informed Decision Making

Creating a data-conscious culture is fundamental to securing and profiting from the value of data.