When CEOs tweet: Cautionary tales for execs on Twitter

The micro-blogging site affords terrific opportunities for giving your organization a recognizable face-just make sure it doesn’t become a *facepalm*.

These days if you sneeze funny, it can go viral—and for CEOs, catching a cold may be the least of their worries. The myriad social media tools available to CEOs can be a mixed bag.

Take Twitter, for instance. There are numerous content opportunities if you implement it properly, but there are caveats. As reported by Louis Bedgian in Benzinga, a financial media outlet, CEOs aren’t infallible—and their words can cause financial tremors.

Marlene Morris Towns, a Georgetown University marketing professor, told Bedgian that in many instances, a CEO’s tweets are often distributed in real time without being vetted.

“They’re not run through legal and compliance which allows you a lot of flexibility to jump on things as they happen—it also holds you at risk,” said Towns.

Towns added that CEOs “step in it themselves sometime by letting their personal views be known when they shouldn’t necessarily be known. Sometimes that’s their fault; sometimes it’s not. Somebody asks them a question in an interview, they say something off the cuff, and next thing you know, it’s on social media.”

A few years ago, Micky Arison, the former CEO of Carnival Corp. who owns the Miami Heat basketball team, was fined $500,000 by the NBA for a tweet he posted about negotiations between the league and the player’s union.

Tweeting wisely

Twitter can be a very effective communication tool for CEOs. Arik Hanson, writing in O’Dwyer’s, spelled out examples of how Twitter can be implemented by CEOs to benefit their company.

They include using Twitter to:

  • Share earnings call information
  • Recognize employee wins
  • Triage customer issues
  • Retweet corporate accounts regularly
  • Tweet about other business interests
  • Tweet your interests
  • Retweet other company employees
  • Talk about your community
  • Tweet about events you speak at or attend

Although CEOs are slowly integrating Twitter and other social media platforms into their overall communications strategy, the numbers are still quite low. Investor Wired recently reported that only 30 percent of executive directors within NASDAQ 100 companies are active on social networks.

A 2013 CEO.com/Domo study of social media use by CEOs at America’s 500 highest-growing companies showed that a significant number of CEOs are still invisible on social media. Although Twitter participation for CEOs increased about 56 percent in 2013, the percentage of CEOs from these top 500 companies who actually tweet was only 5.6 percent.

With some companies the business use case for Twitter can be somewhat murky, with no clear correlation between Twitter followers and sales.

A few takeaways are best summed up by Forbes’ Susan Adams: “Given the rise of Twitter and the public’s hunger for instantaneous news, CEOs may want to consider diving into the medium. But they should focus on the quality of their posts in order to attract serious followers.”

Neal Leavitt is the president of Leavitt Communications. A version of this article originally appeared on iMediaConnection.


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