Should CEOs tweet?

Your CEO is the face of your brand, but is he the best person to be speaking when it comes to the realm of social media? Social media faux pas are not new to the marketing and PR arena. One bad tweet or post can cost an organisation its entire image and send C-suite executives packing.

Yet in today’s interconnected world, there is no doubt that social media is the best way to forge a bond with your consumers and sometimes salvage dire situations. Take for example the recent statement made by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella when he commented at a live event that women who didn’t ask for a raise in the work place have “good karma”. This obviously got Nadella significant flak.

However Nadella was quick to address the issue – instantly sending out a tweet rectifying what he meant to say. Damage control wise, the move certainly earned him back some cookie points.

A study by Domo and this year says that even though CEOs at Fortune 500 companies are gradually embracing social media, many are failing to take full advantage of the social tools at their disposal. The 2014 Social CEO Report, an annual survey that investigates the social media habits of business leaders, found that 8.3% of Fortune 500 CEOs now have Twitter accounts, compared to just 5.6%  last year. Yet among all CEOs on Twitter, only 69%  are active users of the service.

The average frequency of CEO tweets has also remained flat. According to the study, this year, CEOs averaged 0.488 tweets per day, compared to 0.493 tweets per day in 2013. The study states that even though more CEOs are on Twitter, many are not actively using the service, which means they are missing important opportunities to engage with customers, partners, employees and other stakeholders.

One leader Marketing spoke to felt that that Twitter is vital in providing the leadership of an organisation with a window into the ground level realities of their businesses.  Anand Mahindra chairman and MD of Mahindra Group is extremely active on the social media sphere.  “A good business leader reflects the values of his company. A great business leader embodies and amplifies them. I’ve always believed that a strong CEO brand can certainly help a company. But then the CEO should be ready to align most aspects of his or her life with the company's required brand persona,” he said. (Mahindra tweets at @anandmahindra.)

Mahindra added that Twitter for him is a useful tool in vastly expanding his reach as a leader and retaining the sense of accessibility and community in a large corporation.

However, Kate Burleigh, MD for Intel A/NZ of Intel was of the view that on Twitter you should keep your personal and professional identities separate.

“I really only engage on Twitter around topics that relate to computers, IT, high tech innovation, education – all areas that are related to my role as a business leader at Intel. My tweets still have a consumer feel to them because I am a consumer IT specialist at heart. So if I see something about IT that fascinates me, then I would tweet about it,” said Burleigh. Otherwise, her primary objective with Twitter remains to simply share news, opinions and observations about Intel, she said. (Burleigh tweets at @kate_burleigh).

This keeps her personal and professional persona apart.

If a crisis hits the organisation, should a CEO then still be tweeting?

Both Mahindra and Burleigh was of the view that they should. Twitter can be a great communication tool and should be leveraged for hearing feedback while making oneself heard,  said Mahindra.

“I can’t think of any situation where this dictum is more applicable than during a crisis,” said Mahindra.

He added that many Asian cultures emphasise the need for control and as a result many Asian corporates tend to be hierarchical organisations where seniority often trumps enthusiasm and creativity on social media. Many Asian brands, “have been laggards in coping with the ‘openness’ of social media platforms like Twitter as traditionally corporations have always followed a top down, translucent management style," said Mahindra.

“However, strong winds of change are finally here and the tides are turning. The digital winter is lending way to an explosive and productive spring as more and more Asian companies embrace social media,” he added.

Burleigh also added that for her, if a crisis were to hit, Twitter would in fact be one of the first go to avenues. She added that a company as large and high-profile as Intel cannot possibly hide when a crisis hits.

“If you want to have a relationship with your customers, it means having to have a relationship in good and bad times both. Otherwise there’s no use trying to put your brand into the consumer consciousness.”