5 tips for leaders on Twitter

Five years on social network taught this social media expert that corporate execs need a strong social media wake-up call. Here is her plea.

As I read about the perils of a company being a social media holdout, I was struck by how many business leaders are social media holdouts. Did you know that 68 percent of CEOs have no social media presence ? I understand their hesitancy. Social media has been discussed for so long, if you aren’t online, it feels like you’ve missed the boat. I’ve experimented with social media from Facebook to LinkedIn, and I’ve learned so much from my networks.

In my nearly five years on Twitter, I’ve connected with colleagues, mentors, friends and strangers from all over the world. I’ve learned more about topics that I’m in involved in every day like the intersection of technology and philanthropy and been introduced to new ones like the Quidditch World Cup. I’ve been inspired by creative work within the communications industry and joined in discussions about our future. I’ve seen Twitter’s power working for our clients—driving issues, conversations and results and making an impact on their businesses.

And I’ve watched in fascination as Twitter became a central tool of real-life revolutions. Because I’ve experienced the benefits, for me they outweigh the risks; you can’t afford to be a holdout. So, if you’re starting a business, here are five pieces of advice:

Filter what you say online. We’ve all heard the stories about how a few keystrokes can end a career. To avoid foot-in-mouth on Twitter, I filter all my tweets through this rule: Would I be comfortable if The New York Times attributed what I’m tweeting to me? I never approached Twitter with the idea that it would be an ultra-confessional stream of consciousness. Treating my Twitter stream as if I’m on the record with a journalist gives me a good guide about what is and is not appropriate to share. It’s not to say I don’t have fun and share personal stories, but putting each tweet through that filter helps me assess before hitting the tweet button.

Set aside some time . Let’s be honest: we all are incredibly busy. So how do I find the time? Every day, several times a day, I set aside a few minutes to check on Twitter. Some days it’s three minutes and some days, when big events happen, it can be a lot more, but if Warren Buffett and Bill Gates can find the time that certainly says a lot. With the app on my phone, I can do a quick scan between meetings or respond to a message while waiting in line. When you invest time in Twitter, you quickly start to see the rewards, mostly in real-time conversations happening all over the world. No one expects you to be Nick Kristof or Lady Gaga overnight.

To what end? Know why you are getting on Twitter first. Do you want to be seen as a subject-matter expert? Have a strong voice in your industry? Gain a million followers? Keep up on the latest news and trends? With your goal in mind, cultivate a stream full of people and content you find interesting. Mix and match your passions. Make sure you participate in other conversations to help better understand your audience and the medium. One of my favorite organizations is TED; it has started so many incredible conversations. Link to other people, add value to their conversations with your thoughts and opinions. Read what they talk about, click through to the articles, track the conversations and share with your followers. Having a goal or a reason for being there will help you organize your time.

Ask for help. When I was ramping up, I realized some of the best and the brightest social media minds (many of whom are in universities or are interns) were around me, so I asked them for advice. They gave me great context, questions and dialogue. Even on Twitter, tell your followers that you are still learning; you will get more than a few expert opinions.

Use it as an internal communications tool . Twitter allows me to hear from colleagues all over the world every day. I hear about everything from their challenges and triumphs to their commutes. I get a chance to learn directly from them what they think with no filter. And they know that I’m listening. It’s one of the best internal communication tools that I have.

I value my time on my social networks. Using the tools I have, they keep me in the loop and with the times, and help me understand and get excited for what is coming next. Twitter can seem daunting, but it isn’t going away. So getting involved now is important for leaders. It has truly changed the way many consume news and information. It is a powerful tool for listening and communicating—and good leaders should do both.

Melissa Waggener Zorkin is the founder and CEO of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. Under her direction, Waggener Edstrom has grown from a two-person communications agency in 1983, to become one of the world’s largest independent communications companies with a talented work force of more than 800. A version of this article first appeared on Melissa’s blog.

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