One question I continue to hear from some of my larger clients and friends that work with larger companies is, “Should my CEO be on Twitter?”
Typically, the PR/social media person encourages the CEO to create a Twitter profile, but increasingly I’m hearing the opposite scenario—CEOs asking the PR person if they should be on Twitter.
The answer to that question is complicated.
Does your CEO have time for Twitter each day? Does it make strategic sense for the company? Do the risks outweigh the advantages? Does your CEO have enough to say?
I’d like to expound upon that last point, because it might be the most important. Even if your CEO agrees to use Twitter, the biggest challenge is usually determining what to say and how it can help the company.
Not surprisingly, there aren’t a lot of active CEOs on Twitter-especially if you throw out tech and start-up CEOs, which make up the bulk of them. But if you look hard enough, there are a few CEOs who use Twitter well and to the benefit of their companies.
Here are 14 content opportunities for CEOs who are considering using Twitter:
1. Share earnings information.
Omar Ishrak, CEO of Medtronic, tweets earnings calls information quarterly. He’s one of the only CEOs I’ve noticed who does this.
If you think about the ramifications, it’s quite smart. Analysts have direct access to Ishrak, and can get a much fuller picture. And maybe most important, employees can follow along and observe the calls. It’s a nice two-pronged approach.
2. Recognize employee wins.
This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s important. As someone who worked in corporate communications for years, a common refrain I heard from employees was, “I don’t hear from/see our CEO enough.”
If you work for a big company, think about how limited your interactions with the CEO are. With Twitter, Ishrak is breaking down those walls by publicly recognizing the good work going on within Medtronic.
3. Triage customer issues.
Should your CEO serve as a customer service representative on Twitter? No, but he can respond, acknowledge and triage customer concerns.
Look at how Ishrak handles customer questions below. Granted, this was a direct question, but you can see what he’s doing—acknowledging and triaging. Remember, a response and an acknowledgment from the CEO goes a long way.
4. Retweet corporate accounts.
Micky Arison, CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, is very active on Twitter. He regularly retweets Carnival’s corporate accounts. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s an easy content opportunity for CEOs.
5. Tweet about other business interests.
Yes, part of the point of joining Twitter is to help the company you are currently leading. But it’s definitely within bounds to tweet and promote your other business interests. (CEOs do in fact have other business interests.)
Since he’s the owner, Micky Arison tweets a lot about the Miami Heat. That’s a pretty big “other” business interest, but the same holds true for other companies CEOs might invest in or own.
6. Tweet about personal interests.
This is where a lot of CEOs are skittish.
“Should I tweet about my personal passions and interests?” “Should I share this picture from my beach vacation?” “Should I talk about my interest in Golden Gopher basketball?”
Why wouldn’t you talk about those things?
Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, is a perfect example. He’s not shy about sharing pictures from business trips or talking about his favorite NHL club, the Detroit Red Wings.
7. Retweet employees.
I love how American Family Insurance CEO Jack Salzwedel retweeted an employee’s tweet. It might not seem like a big deal, but by retweeting an employee, Salzwedel:
1. Instilled confidence and pride in this particular employee (the CEO retweeted me!).
2. Shared relevant information with his audience.
That sounds like a win-win, right? I would guess Salzwedel has a list in Tweetdeck that he can quickly scan for these opportunities.
8. Talk about the local community.
Salzwedel really shines here. He regularly shares perspectives on local (Madison, Wisc.) community initiatives. He’s not bashful about sharing his opinion on them, either. And why should he be? He’s the CEO of a major business in the area.
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I’m not saying your CEO should politicize issues on Twitter, but she should not be afraid to share her perspectives on issues that matter to her and her company.
9. Tweet from events.
This is an easy opportunity for CEOs, as many regularly attend or speak at industry conferences. A photo can go a long way, so encourage your CEO to snap a picture with her smartphone and share it.
See what Salzwedel does below. It’s perfect.
Also see how Burberry’s Angela Ahrednts talks about speaking at a recent event. A visual would have probably helped.
10. Share quotes.
Quotes have gained a lot of traction on Facebook in the last couple years, but they work well on Twitter, too. Quotes also provide CEOs with a nice way to endorse or support people they either:
1. Look up to (tweeting quotes from Nelson Mandela, for example), or
2. Know personally (CEOs who may have met former or current presidents, for example).
11. Promote yourself and your company.
CEOs are confident people, but many of them probably aren’t the most self-promotional folks on the planet. After all, these people got to where they by hiring smart people and promoting them—not themselves.
But on Twitter, it’s OK to talk about yourself and your accomplishments once in a while; just don’t overdo it. In this case, Burberry’s Ahrendts talks about her involvement with LinkedIn Influencers—something she has every right to be excited about:
Also see how Salzwedel promotes the new American Family Insurance commercial that ran during this year’s Super Bowl:
12. Share news items.
Ask yourself this question every day: “What did I find interesting in the media today?”
Ahrendts shared Oprah’s Winfrey’s Harvard commencement. It doesn’t necessarily mesh with Burberry’s corporate goals or reputation—Ahrendts just found it interesting and inspiring:
It’s a nice way to give employees, vendors, customers and other stakeholders a glimpse into your personality as a CEO.
13. Ask questions.
A simple question will do wonders to engage your audience, which, if you’re a CEO, includes customers, potential customers, employees and vendors. These are all critical stakeholders. Why wouldn’t you want to engage them?
Ask a question a week. Don’t get fancy. Simple and straightforward usually work best.
Look at what ING Direct’s Peter Aceto did:
14. Say thank you.
This isn’t really an idea for a tweet, but a simple thank you and acknowledgment can go a long way on Twitter—especially when you’re the CEO of a large company.
Aceto makes a habit of thanking customers and those who feature him in blog posts:
Arik Hanson is principal of ACH Communications in Minneapolis. He blogs at Communications Conversations, where a version of this article originally appeared.