CEOs: Put Down The Mouse And Step Away From The Twitter

In a recent blog post on the WCG Common Sense site, Aaron Strout wrote:

“We found that 5 % of all Fortune 500 CEOs were on Twitter. While it’s true that getting on Twitter can be scary as a CEO, there are some compelling reasons for these leaders to be on a social platform with over 200 million users. Some of the advantages that I can see them deriving: 1) Realtime feedback – Michael (Dell of Dell) and Brian (Dunn of Best Buy) are closer to their customers and thus know what customers like and dislike about their company firsthand; 2) New product ideas – Because these CEOs can interface with their customers AND employees directly, they have an open line of communication to get new ideas in a digestible format. Even better, they can ask more questions publicly or privately if they want to know more; 3) Brand building – Having a CEO that tweets or blogs shows that they are working hard to stay in touch with new trends; and 4) Discovery – CEOs that are on Twitter are naturally going to be more inclined to see more news, updates and points of view than if they weren’t actively engaging on Twitter.”

This view that CEOs should tweet is not uncommon. At the Finextra Social Media Day event in New York a few weeks ago, one of the keynote speakers advocated that CEOs should be personally involved with their firms’ social media efforts, primarily by blogging. 

My take: There are few — very few — Fortune 500 CEOs for whom tweeting is a worthwhile effort.

Let me counter some of Aaron’s claims regarding:

1. Getting closer to customers. Michael Dell follows 524 people. A quick glance of those followers shows that many are the twitter accounts of companies, not people. Brian Dunn follows a few more (1,140) — and with those followers including Drudge Report, Harvard Biz, USA Today, etc., there’s no evidence that he’s systematically following Best Buy customers. The reality is that we really have no proof that any of the Fortune 500 CEOs on Twitter are actually connected to their customers, let alone listening to them.

2. Gaining realtime feedback. The 200 million user stat that Aaron cites is Twitter’s global user base. While Fortune 500 companies are quite large, and may very well serve a global base of customers, there’s no indication that Twitter users are a representative sample of a Fortune 500 company’s customers. As a result, relying on feedback from a bunch of lunatic fanatics (oops… sorry, I meant to say “potentially, a bunch of lunatic fanatics”) is simply not good market research, nor is it reliable feedback.

3. Discovery. Strout says that tweeting CEOs are “going to be more inclined to see more news, updates and points of view.” Why would that be the case? Why does a CEO have to be on Twitter to see more news and points of view? Even more troubling here (potentially), is that we really can’t even be sure that the CEO him/herself is doing the actual tweeting. At Citibank, a Facebook page for the CEO is run the PR group. And I’m not sure about this, but I’ve heard that Guy Kawasaki (who Strout holds out as a good example of a tweeting CEO) has a team of people that tweet for him. Tell me again, exactly what are these CEOs discovering?

Bottom line: The purported benefits of a tweeting Fortune 500 CEO are way overstated.

Being a CEO is like playing Where’s Waldo. Remember those books?

The real Waldo was hidden somewhere in the picture. To throw off readers, many characters might have been the real Waldo, but weren’t. There was just one Waldo.

For a CEO, there are many possible things he or she could do during the day. But very very few are truly worthwhile doing. Twitter is not one of Fortune 500 CEOs’ Waldos.

In addition, not all Fortune 500 CEOs have the right personality for Twitter (or interacting frequently with consumers in any channel for that matter). If you think they should, you’re wrong. Not every Fortune 500 CEO has to be Mr. or Ms. Personable.

Frank Eliason, currently with Citibank, did a great job of creating Comcast’s Twitter presence with @Comcastcares, and he wasn’t the CEO. Ironically, at the Finextra conference, Frank agreed that not all CEOs should be personally involved with their firms SM efforts if the personality fit wasn’t there.

The overwhelming majority of Fortune 500 CEOs should put down the mouse, and step away from the Twitter.

However, this doesn’t mean that those CEOs can’t use Twitter at all. A scheduled TweetJam could be a great way for a company’s customers to interact with a Fortune 500 CEO at some scheduled time. But this is very different from being an “active” Twitter user.

p.s. I have to say that I was somewhat dismayed that not one of the comments on Strout’s blog post called any of the claimed benefits of CEO tweeting into question. They were mostly of the “great post, great research” ilk. Wow. Sad.

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