More CEOs Are Using Social Media—but Are They Getting it Right?

Eighty percent of CEOs from the world’s top companies are social now, either through their company website (68%), company YouTube channel (38%) or a social network (28%), according to the latest audit by PR giant Weber Shandwick.

CEO online engagement surged by 122% since the firm’s first study of CEOs’ social-media habits, in 2010, when only 36% of chiefs used social media.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra is one of the latest major business leaders to see the social light. While arguably she spent her first year as chief, 2014, dealing with the company’s safety-recall crisis and other matters, earlier this month she finally launched her own page on Facebook.

Featuring “a mix of news and musings,” as USA Today described it, Barra’s Facebook page identifies her as a “public figure.” She explained there, “After a conversation with Sheryl Sandberg [chief operating officer of Facebook and author of Lean In] at Facebook HQ last week, I decided it was time to create a page. I look forward to sharing photos, updates and stories with you.”

“CEO online engagement surged by 122% since Weber Shandwick’s first study of CEOs’ social-media habits, in 2010, when only 36% of chiefs used social media.”

Barra seems destined for maintaining a social-media presence that is fit for public consumption. But other CEOs are pushing the envelope in different ways.

One of them is T-Mobile CEO John Legere, who has gained a reputation as a nasty wielder of his Twitter account. And lately, competing Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure has gotten right down into the social-media mud pit with him.

You may recall, last year, Legere lashed out at a press conference at telecom-industry titans AT&T and Verizon. More recently, he has been tweeting venomous daggers at rival Sprint, and Claure has been directing similar barbs back at him.

“I give credit to @sprint for swinging the bat when they do—but #allin [Sprint introduced a new All In phone plan] is a swing and a miss, guys!! #sprintlikehell,” Legere tweeted, including a link to an online article that called Sprint’s new plan a miss. Claure responded in kind.

But most recently, Claure initiated an exchange with his social-media arch rival, “poking fun at T-Mobile for a recent industry report on carrier performance, which showed Sprint nipping at AT&T’s heels for the No 2 spot. Claure tweeted using an internet meme pegged to the Straight Outta Compton movie, containing a picture of Legere with the words, “Straight Outta Bullsh*t.” Legere fired back that Claure was “straight outta ideas.”

And so it went—and likely will continue to do so, until either board members or corporate communications chiefs are able to persuade their CEOs that getting down and dirty on Twitter may not be the most becoming—or effective—thing for them to do.

In any event, Weber Shandwick concluded, “The growth in [CEO] sociability suggests that companies and their executives recognize the importance of online engagement in today’s digital world. Communicating online is the norm for today’s CEOs, rather than the practice of a select few.”

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