Tweeter-in-Chief: When CEOs Start Twittering, Look Out

CEO are under pressure these days to appear “authentic,” reports The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Kwoh and Melissa Korn, but using social media—with its demands for quick, unscripted messages—poses risks for the unsuspecting boss.

Jeff Immelt, GE’s Chief Executive recently debuted a microblogging site which makes him a rarity among bosses who ordinarily avoid social media even as their companies embrace it. CEOs are gradually seeing social media as a way of communicating with customers and wooing new business. But blogging or twittering while being the boss can have an ugly downside. Simple updates can go viral. Sensitive information can leak inadvertently. Trade secrets can leach out beyond the company. Then there is regulation FD which is anything not generally shared can lead to lawsuits or angry constituents.

The WSJ’s Kwoh and Korn report that most CEOs say they are too busy running their companies to spend time posting a 140-character message to Twitter, let along retweeting posts from others. “What’s more, for some companies the business case for using the cite can seem unclear, with no direct correlation between Twitter followers and sales,” according to the Journal writers.

Former Medtronic CEO Bill George, now teaching management at the Harvard Business School, disagrees, saying people want to know who the CEO is.

In addition to GE’s Immelt, Ocean Spray Cranberries CEO Randy Papadellis, also recently started to Tweet. But almost immediately his director communications nixed his initial tweets about drinking cranberry juice before eating sushi to prevent food poisoning. The communications director was concerned because the claim hadn’t been clinically proven. According to the Journal authors, seven in 10 Fortune 500 CEO have no presence on social media networks. Among those who do, they say, 4 % have Twitter accounts and 8 percent use Facebook under their own names.

“When she was tapped to head the struggling Internet company, Melissa Mayer, who is pregnant with her first child rallied her troops and investors by posting photos of Yahoo-themed baby clothes. But cautionary tales abound. In May, fashion retailer Francesca’s Holdings Corp. fired its chief financial officer, Gene Morphis, after he took to Facebook and Twitter with posts about earnings calls, snide remarks about short sellers and self-congratulatory comments after the company completed a secondary share offering.”

Fortune 500 CEOs who have Twitter accounts have an average of 33,250 followers, according to and Domo. A business celebrity like Jack Welch has 1.3 million followers, add the Journal. Kwoh and Korn also report that many CEOs get a helping hand, either in the forms of edits or wholly ghostwriiten Tweets. “GE’s Immelt, for instance, has a team that works to ‘execute his vision’ on Twitter. The Tweets are a result of a discussion between Immelt and Deirdre Latour, GE’ senior director of communications.”

“Zappos founder CEO Tony Hsieh, an early adopter, hasn’t posted for many months. He reckons the network is good for making announcements, but has lost its intimate , chatty feel.”




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