According to a recent report by (registration required), 70% of Fortune 500 CEOs don’t use social media at all. This is an interesting – and shocking – statistic. The numbers get even more interesting when you pick into the detail of the report.

Of those which do use social media, the majority use LinkedIn (25%) – and that, really, for networking amongst those they already know; only 10 of these have more than 500 connections, though (another survey, by IBM, showed that only 16% of CEOs use social media to connect to customers).

Only 7.6% of them use Facebook (compared to the 50.5% of the US population) and only two of the 7.6% have more than 500 friends.

Only 4% use Google+ – and only 19 of the CEOs from the world’s top 500 companies have a Twitter account (only 9 of these accounts are actually active).Only 6 CEOs contribute to blogs – and just 183 of them have entries on Wikipedia.

So, what can we take away from this? The bottom line: a lot of CEOs, and their companies, are likely to get left behind, while others forge relationships in a way that wasn’t possible half a decade ago.

So why the lag?

Well, perhaps the CEOs believe that social media isn’t worth the effort – that people aren’t interested in what they say, or that the commitment isn’t worth the effort. If so, that’s not actually what the public thinks – since other recent studies show that 94% of people believe that social CEOs enhance their brand, and 50% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company after following their tweets. Indeed, those CEOs which embrace social media do well – for example, Rupert Murdoch has 237,000 followers and HP’s Meg Whitman has 243,000.

I think it’s true that many unfamiliar with social media (CEOs included) feel a little overwhelmed by it, perhaps don’t understand how to use it and don’t see what they can get back from it. But in these respects, they are not barometers of the population – they’re sorely out of touch with what is now the mainstream.

What about their companies?

Behind every scaremongering statistic is a different statistic – and of course the above numbers relate to the CEOs as a person, not to their organisation. Chances are, nearly all of their organisations will be using social media to some extent – their marketing people will be driving this forward.

But let’s stop and think about that. If the CEOs don’t understand it, how much sponsorship and budget are they giving to the marketing people? Perhaps they are providing budget just to keep someone quiet, fairly confident that, down the line, social media will be shown to be the Emperor’s new clothes and that they’ll be able to triumphantly say, “I told you so!”

CEOs need to use social media because they need to understand it. It’s that simple. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, whatever – these things are no longer leading edge. They aremainstream. Competitors are already using them – and while 70% of CEOs remain befuddled, they’re using them without much active competition.

You don’t have to believe me. Believe the people using social media. According to a survey by BRANDfog:

  • 94% of people believe that a social CEO enhances a brand.
  • 93% believe that a social CEO will help crisis management.
  • 82% believe that a social CEO makes a company more trustworthy.
  • 81% believe that a social CEO is a better leader.
  • 78% believe that having a social CEO leads to better communication.
  • 78% believe that having a social CEO makes it easier to recruit.
  • 75% believe that a social CEO’s company will have increased purchases.

The people responding to this survey aren’t nerds; feckless idiots unable to go outside. They are shareholders, employers, employees – and customers.

And they’re telling CEOs one thing: you need to be on social media, because I am.