Business bosses on Twitter: When a whimsical warble turns to feeling not so chirpy

By Susie Dullard

10th October 2018

Last year, the Washington Post ran with a headline, ‘Trump goes where most Fortune 500 CEOs won’t: Twitter’. His irrepressible tendency to sound off about, well, almost anything he wants, with a generous helping of grammatical glitches, exclamation points and ALL CAPS continues to garner attention, and rarely for the right reasons.

But if the devil makes work for idle thumbs, consider the alternative. Elon Musk certainly must be, after his recent tweet proclaiming he was considering taking Tesla private (while stock markets remained open), cost him a $20 million fine for misleading investors and his resignation as chairman. Just one in a succession of tweetstorms which has culminated in the suggestion by a group of analysts in the US that Musk delete his account altogether to mitigate any further reputational damage to the business.

And this case isn’t the only recent one which exemplifies the impact and implications some poorly chosen characters sent around the world in seconds can have on business leaders and brands alike.

Business mogul Lord Sugar, with in excess of 5 million followers, recently drew fierce criticism when he compared the Senegalese football team at the World Cup to Africans selling sunglasses and handbags on European beaches; a move closely followed by deletion of the tweet and an apology following public backlash and accusations of racism.

But ultimately, people do business with people, not brands. And let’s be honest, it’s human nature that we find ourselves curious about the internal workings of some of the world’s most prominent celebrities and world leaders.

No surprise, then, that a growing number of CEOs are finding their social footing and recognising the benefits of Twitter in providing an unfiltered and vivid platform through which to convey more personality-led and values-driven communications. It seems there are business advantages in doing so.

A 2016 study from Brandfog, a social media and digital reputation consulting firm for CEOs, revealed that executive engagement on social media strengthens three key pillars that support brand reputation; brand trust, effective leadership and effective communications with stakeholders. In fact, 75% of respondents in the study agreed that C-Suite engagement on social media makes a brand more trustworthy. This becomes all the more powerful when you consider the engagement opportunities afforded by the approximately 4.1 billion active internet users globally.

The truth is that in today’s digitally dominated landscape, people like (and expect) to hear from the top, and CEO communications is an increasing area of focus within communications strategies. But, where general announcements have historically been issued by a PR representative or team, there is a requirement for CEO statements to be authentic if they are going to withstand public scrutiny.

One thing’s for sure, the social CEO is here to stay. CEO communications, when embraced and done right, can help to galvanise an organisation around a shared vision, help to add a face to a brand or business, drive competition and advocacy through relatability, and prove invaluable in the event of a crisis.

Just be sure to let the legal team know.