Column: Should CEOs tweet?

Why is it so tough to find CEOs on Twitter? This question popped to mind when a client recently asked our Strategic Objectives Toronto PR team to provide a list of Canadian CEOs on Twitter. It didn’t take long to discover there are very few Canadian CEOs, nevermind CEOs anywhere in the world, who tweet. […]

Why is it so tough to find CEOs on Twitter? This question popped to mind when a client recently asked our Strategic Objectives Toronto PR team to provide a list of Canadian CEOs on Twitter. It didn’t take long to discover there are very few Canadian CEOs, nevermind CEOs anywhere in the world, who tweet.

Sure there are a few high profile international showmen, like Sir Richard Branson @richardbranson, a CEO who’s the living embodiment of his Virgin brand; numerous techies, including @dickC CEO of Twitter; a slew of marketing pros; and Canada’s own Paul Alofs, @alofs, who’s actively promoting his excellent new book Passion Capital.

But the fact remains, CEOs on Twitter are few and far between; and, there is no definitive list of Social CEOs. We know, we looked!

Listaholics that we are, our Strategic Objectives team immediately set out to develop a comprehensive list of Social CEOs, and to discover who, when, where, why and how they’re tweeting, and what’s on their minds.

Our initial research found that 70% of corporate CEOs have absolutely no presence on any online platform; and that only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs have Twitter accounts, according to a recent study by Domo. This prompted us to ask several important questions:

• Why are there so few CEOs on Twitter?
• Who’s tweeting?
• What are they talking about?
• And equally important, should CEOs be tweeting at all? Because, let’s face it, not everyone’s a communicator, especially in 140 characters or less

Our research shows there are definitely some big name CEOs on Twitter, but they’re in a distinct minority. The vast majority of socially-active CEOs are either in tech, run marketing agencies, or sell services. This should come as no surprise since it’s in the nature of those businesses to get ahead of the curve and lead, rather than follow, when it comes to social engagement.

CEO Rewards: Why is being social SO rewarding for brands?
Social brands can reap measurable rewards from community-building – a primary function of being social. CEOs, by embracing social tools like Twitter, can connect directly with their employees, consumers, shareholders and stakeholders, not to mention the traditional and social media, through reciprocal, two-way, P2P (person to person) communication.

Twitter also gives CEOs the power to humanize and give personality to their brands. They are the face of their company, and tweeting allows them to engage with many important audiences on a remote, yet visceral, playing field. This all contributes to credibility and trust-building. A recent consumer survey by BrandFog supports this and indicates, “more than 82% of respondents are likely, or much more likely, to trust a company whose CEO and team engage in social media,”

CEO Risks: So why are there SO few CEOs on Twitter?
As with all things business, there are risks that accompany rewards when it comes to being social, and they, quite simply, must not be ignored. We live in an age of instant news, where everything we do and say can be broadcast to the world in a matter of seconds; and it only takes one misstep, one ridiculous negative incident to taint your brand.

Remember Kenneth Cole? @kennethcole

A well known CEO, social activist and do-er of social good, fashion designer/retailer Kenneth Cole serves as a textbook example of Social CEO blunders. In February 2011, Mr. Cole newsjacked/made-light-of the violent protests that we now call Arab Spring, then underway in Cairo, Egypt, with this memorable tweet:

Mr. Cole’s opportunistic tweet triggered world-wide criticism for his brand and unleashed a torrent of negative feedback – including calls for a boycott.

This cautionary tale clearly shows how one poorly conceived CEO tweet can lead to expensive, negative repercussions for a brand, business or organization.

Time, and the lack of it, is another reason CEOs don’t tweet. But business blogger Maddie Grant believes this shouldn’t be an issue since one tweet from a CEO is equivalent to 100 tweets from an ordinary person.

Nimesh Shah, CEO and founder of India’s Windchimes Communications concurs:

We asked Nimesh to expand on his reasons for why CEOs should tweet:

“In this ever increasing social world, where reputation can be made or broken with just one incident going viral, it will help companies to have their senior management spend time in this media. Especially the CEO.

“The company CEO can bring in a sense of personalization immediately and advocacy over time by using social media. However not many CEOs are on the social space, citing time as a constraining factor. True, they have to run the business and a significant amount of their time and mind share must go there, but social media doesn’t demand much time. If a CEO decides to give out 15 minutes in the morning and evening, he or she would build a formidable presence and following in the social space.

“One has to realize that the effectiveness of one CEO tweet will equal 100 from ordinary folks. It’s the position that lends credence, and users will understand if all their tweets and comments aren’t replied to! The CEO adds credence, star power, empathy and most importantly, creates a differentiation for that brand or company”

Who needs a list of social CEOs anyway?

We all do! CEOs have valuable experience wielding influence; and have much to share, as well as learn, online. Their decisions impact local, regional, national and global economies; and they have the power to affect and effect change, and change minds. We should make it our business to know what they are saying, doing, and thinking.

Tuning-in to chief executives on Twitter can shed light on who they are as people, who they interact with, and gives us a chance to exchange ideas and engage/converse with them. Social CEOs give access to corporate insights, without mediation, which was never possible before the social revolution, and they are definitely a news-source worth reading.

Deborah Weinstein is partner and president at Strategic Objectives.

The unedited original version of this column originally appeared on StrategicObjectives.com.

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