CEOs have traditionally ignored Twitter with only a mere 5.6% of global CEO using the social networking site (source Pew Internet / Forbes.com). However, there’s now clear evidence that more business leaders are starting to use Twitter. In doing so that are following in the footsteps of presidents, prime ministers, celebrities and leading entrepreneurs who have gained millions of followers on Twitter and made themselves more visible and approachable online.
What is Twitter?
Twitter is a social media service that allows people to connect with others via short messages. The messages, known as Tweets, are limited to a maximum of 140 characters and are posted on a user’s Twitter profile and sent to their followers. Around 28% of the UK and Ireland population have Twitter profiles and use the service for a range of reasons. For many people Twitter is a personalised news service where they can follow a wide range of personalities from celebrities to journalists, footballers to inventors. Twitter is also a two-way social networking tool that allows you to have conversations with friends, stakeholders, colleagues, clients or customers. Fundamentally it’s used as a real-time way to comment live on issues and events. For example some people will use it to voice their opinions to other Twitter users in during a TV show such as The Apprentice.
CEOs on Twitter
Some forward thinking businesses leaders and CEOs have been using Twitter effectively for may years. Richard Branson is a CEO who really gets the value of PR and is not afraid to put himself in the limelight, court publicity and voice strong opinions on business issues. Essentially his use of social media is an extension of his PR activity and he uses his blog and Twitter profile to connect and communicate with people. A lot of what Richard Branson talks about on social media is about issues external to business. Instead he talks about issues such as news stories, environmental campaigns, music and history.
So how does Twitter benefit Richard Branson? The main benefit is the increased visibility. His profile has over 5.3 million followers and every time he tweets his post will appear in the news feeds of millions of Twitter users. Other Twitter users will also ‘re-tweet’ his tweets to their own followers and in turn promote him to an even wider audience. The second main benefit for Richard Branson is that Twitter helps him increase understanding between him and his customers and stakeholders including journalists and politicians.
Social Media and PR
When I’m delivering social media training sessions to business figures, I always advise them to think of social media as an extension of their public relations activity. PR still remains one of the most cost effective forms of marketing and allows businesses and their leaders to influence the media and gain positive coverage and understanding among stakeholders. PR covers a wide range of activities from networking and lobbying, through to media relations and gaining editorial coverage. For me social media marketing can be used by senior business figures to positively influence other business leaders, customers and important stakeholders. So for instance, one of the reasons so many public sector leaders are starting to use Twitter is the opportunity to raise their profile with local politicians and relevant journalists who have traditionally been very active on Twitter.
Using Twitter effectively is also an integral part of networking for business leaders. It’s surprising that so many CEOs and directors invest time in preparing for and attending networking events, but fail to follow up the process of networking online via Twitter and Linkedin. Effective business leaders now use social media as a way to improve their networking. Just as they will regularly attend an industry or networking event, business leaders who are savvy about social media will be actively talking about the event online and discussing some of the issues raised.
They will also use sites such as Twitter to introduce their arrival at an event or talk to attendees, in other words – social networking. They can then grow their social community by following a new contact via Twitter or connecting with them on Linkedin. Indeed, this is how modern networking works. Business leaders can gain visibility, value and recognition from having conversations with their peers and customers online.