An open letter to CEOs: Why so Twitter averse?

December 20, 2010

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Dear CEO of [Your Name Here]: Why aren’t you on Twitter?

In retrospect, I have come to understand your relative lack of interest in blogging, when blogging was the thing to do. It’s time consuming. It’s easy to overthink (and underthink). A blog requires readers to find you, and return — embarrassing if they don’t. You always have to feed the beast (darn you, pesky time stamps).

All this changed with the advent of Twitter, a haiku melting pot where you don’t have to be more pithy or verbose than you might be when making polite conversation at a cocktail party that nobody minds you crashed, and the right name or title or station virtually guarantees a large following (even if nobody is actually paying attention to anything you say).

But you don’t seem to be participating in micro-blogging any more than you participated in blogging. Oh sure, lots of companies hire social media marketing experts — you probably signed off on that without even realizing it.

Still, you’re a Type “A” personality — an overachieving, extroverted, super sales-closing Master of the Universe. But you perceive no opportunity in holding court with your customers, critics and — heaven forbid — shareholders. The very people who might take up virtual pitchforks and torches when the going gets rough, and there isn’t enough time to start to seem like a real human being.

Twitter isn’t exactly a CEO-free zone. Every Silicon Valley startup founder/chief simply must have an account. There are a smattering of CEOs not in tech who have proven remarkably adept at the medium, like Martha Stewart and Richard Branson.

There are some (albeit tech) heavyweights in the mix as well, such as Google’s Eric Schmidt. Microsoft’s Bill Gates was not a CEO when he started tweeting, but maybe current CEO Steve Ballmer is, from the shadows. (Notably absent is Apple CEO Steve Jobs, whose random e-mail replies seldom exceed 140 characters —  “Please leave us alone” — and would seem perfect for Twitter.)

But for every 100 Gen Y entrepreneur with Series A Funding there doesn’t seem to be even one Jack Welch, who became something of a Twitter evangelist only after he left the corner office.

What are you afraid of? Is in-house counsel telling you that Tweeting is an SEC minefield? Does the service seem to lack gravitas because nine of the top 10 accounts are are all owned by entertainers? Choose instead to take solace in the fact that the CEO-in Chief, President Obama, is fifth.

Imagine if the biggest baddest wolves of Wall Street had started using Twitter years ago. Would they still have been such convenient pinatas today, as legislators try to affix blame for a near economic death spiral? Is it so terribly naive to think that what amounts to retail politicking — social media style — pays dividends just when you need it most?

When a Jamie Dimon argues with a Henry Blodget on Twitter does anybody lose?

“We’re not saying it’s going to transform humanity — as some of its proponents will tell you — but we certainly get its incipient power,” Welch wrote of Twitter way back in June 2009.

He might not hedge as much now, but given that the Welch endorsement has barely moved the needle in 20 months I have no illusions about my own powers of persuasion.

Still: What gives with the Twitter cold shoulder?

12 comments

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it’s just not that cool. There are an infinite number of better things to do around you in the physical world. Take early season snow in CO for example.

Posted by jstva | Report as abusive

If I earned millions a year in the worse recession in history — even receiving large bonuses based on how deep I can make the company’s losses and how many people I can cut from the payroll — do you honestly think I would be so stupid as to tweet? Suppose I slipped and said something actionable? There goes my 7+ figure direct deposits! (Logging in to Bank of America and snickering in my corner office at the 9 figure balance over a Starbucks brought to me by my admin Trix is too fun a ritual to jeopardize!!)

They say loose lips sink ships, and even worse still, one loose tweet could turn out to be anything but sweet.

Posted by DisgustedReader | Report as abusive

“You’ll shoot your eye out” to quote A Christmas Story, but true non the less. CEOs don’t use Twitter for two reasons. First, it is an informal communication channel in which “tweets” can become actionable statements. Secondly, what a CEO says can impact their company’s stock price and the public perception of the company. No legal counsel is ever going to recommend that the head of a company start sharing information with the world on an impromptu basis.

As fascinating as it is for some to hear about Ashton Kutcher’s latest issue, no one wants to read that the CEO of some company has a nightmare about their 10K filing.

Let’s leave “twitter” to the twits and business to the CEOs.

Posted by system_owner | Report as abusive

How about because Twitter is lame and useless? Unless you’re a lonely 13 year old in the midwest, of course.

Posted by Bitwise | Report as abusive

The problem is that most tweets were made because someone felt the need to post something that day.

Our CEO doesn’t Twitter, but the VP of our division does. And yea, the term “twit” usually comes to mind.

Posted by Tom_in_PA_USA | Report as abusive

Hi
CEO’s don’t want to twitter because most of them think they are above the masses.
They don’t want to hear how lousy their service is or how lousy their products are and how they are a bunch of money meglomainics that don’t appear to really have any concern for the middle class in America.
Sad that they prefer to take these positions. Perhaps they would end up really in touch with the rest of us instead of they exclusive peer group.
Happy Holidays.

Posted by mlknows | Report as abusive

“Why don’t CEOs tweet?”

Because they are usually reasonably intelligent enough to understand loose lips sink ships.

Posted by mynamehear2 | Report as abusive

I did not see one reason why a CEO should on Twitter, except for “others do it too” and Welch’s gospels. I read this article to see some real reasons and potential benefits; unfortunately, I found none.

Posted by Pranix | Report as abusive

That little SEC minefield is not to be taken lightly. Stock prices can go up or down on little things like the mood or health of the CEO (look at Apple in the Jobs was sick era) or can lead to charges of manipulation or insider trading.

But most importantly not everyone wants their daily routine and thoughts going out to who knows how many stockholders, journalist (who need to feed their own beasts) and lawyers waiting to catch you up?

Posted by Eric.Klein | Report as abusive

Anyone who has time or the desire to tweet is a very unsophisticated, lonely person. This is a phase that is being pushed endlessly by the media, another one of their ways of taking advantage of the unsuspecting (still) public but it will be short lived and they will have to come up with something else to make people feel that they “belong.”

Posted by lezah2 | Report as abusive

There may be various other reasons that spring to mind:

- Concerns about personal security – those who might be considered targets don’t want to publicize their travel plans or movements

- Confidentiality – the risk of inadvertently tipping off a competitor about a meeting or a professional connection

- Being misquoted – you don’t have much space to explain yourself fully and there may be concerns over tweets, particularly responses to customers’ tweets, being taken out of context

- Privacy – not all CEOs bask in the limelight, many prefer to work behind the scenes and don’t want to be seen as a ‘real person’

- Accessibility – you have no control over who follows you and what they tweet about using your twitter name. Once someone’s tweet is out there it is searchable and it’s not so easy to ignore (or the ‘why don’t you reply to my tweet?’ messages)

Finally, and most likely, they’re just too busy and don’t get it!

Posted by HRM001 | Report as abusive

I’m a little amused at the comments which are so snarkily dismissive of Twitter. At this point that sort of POV seems very much of the “Grandpa just doesn’t get it and never will” variety.

Social networks (and even the comment section of a story) aren’t for everybody. No sense objecting to something which doesn’t affect you (you may think) if you personally don’t want anything to do with it.

But I do understand the comments which suggest CEOs are gun shy, because of liabilities and the general considersations associated with being a material person of a public company.

My suggestion is that they shouldn’t be nearly as much. CEOs are very disciplined (they ones who are). They have nothing to fear and, I believe, a lot to gain by getting their feet wet.

Posted by johncabell | Report as abusive

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