How can CEOs find Twitter success?

Over the past several years, Twitter has become one of the most populous and well-known social networks, with approximately 241 million monthly active users as of February 2014. The site – which allows users to post 140-character messages, plus videos and photos – has become a staple of many people’s daily lives, whether they use it to stay in touch with their friends and family, keep tabs on their favorite celebrities or monitor breaking news.

That said, there are still some Twitter holdouts, many of whom hail from the C-suite. According to research released last August and conducted by in partnership with business software company Domo, fewer than one-third (32 percent) of CEOs at the 500 highest-growing companies in the United States had a social media presence – which, for the purposes of the study, was defined as having Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and/or Facebook accounts. In terms of Twitter specifically, just 28 CEOs from the top 500 companies (5.6 percent) were on the social networking site.

“That’s up from 3.6 percent [in 2012], but still a small number,” wrote Forbes contributor Susan Adams.

Moreover, only 19 of those 28 had tweeted in the 100 days prior to the study, qualifying them as active users.

Bursting into the Twittersphere

Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett made arguably the biggest splash among Twitter’s freshman class of 2013 when he sent out his first tweet in May of that year, which said simply, “Warren is in the house.” Despite tweeting a total of a meager four times, he has amassed more than 750,000 followers.

Although not every corporate leader has the pull of that particular iconic magnate, there’s clearly an audience out there that wants to hear what CEOs have to say – or rather, tweet. However, executives interested in venturing onto the platform may not know how to get started, which is where working with media relations, communications and marketing experts may be of use.

Establish authority

Most people follow public figures on Twitter because they’re interested in what they have to say. This rule applies to virtually everyone in the limelight – although, of course, users expect different kinds of tweets from different celebrities.

For instance, superstar Cher uses the medium to chat with fans, post the latest about preparations for her upcoming tour and spread the word about charitable causes near and dear to her heart, reaching an audience of more than 2 million with every tweet – more if you count retweets, which occur when users share content with their own followers. Meanwhile, journalist Anderson Cooper focuses on promoting his latest reporting projects and commenting on current news stories. That said, he also adds a personal touch by sharing candid photos of himself with his 4.8 million followers, as well as posting details of his travels (“In Spartanburg SC tonight on assignment for @60Minutes. Just had a Big Mac..yumm”).

In a September 2013 PR News article, Lauren Gallagher, Manager of Media Relations and Strategic Communications for international engineering and project management company AMEC, outlined how her CEO, Samir Brikho, approached the task of cultivating a robust Twitter presence.

“Samir has set out to establish an authentic voice as a thought leader on Twitter, demonstrating the strength of his values, expertise and knowledge of our industry,” Gallagher wrote. “Through his personality and strong views, Samir has also become a brand ambassador for AMEC.”

Brikho’s tweets encapsulate a mix of business insights, commentary on issues he cares about (leadership, STEM skills development, fostering young engineering talent) and anecdotes from his personal life and experiences. However, the recipe for the perfect blend didn’t come right off the bat.

“Quite naturally, it took some time to arrive at the tone and frequency that best resonated with his followers and strategy,” Gallagher noted. “Quality over quantity and authenticity have been the keys to his success on Twitter.

Connect with your audience

Meanwhile, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) President, CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi uses Twitter chats to build his credibility and engage directly with customers and other stakeholders, wrote Taryn Holowka, Vice President of Marketing & Communications at USGBC, for PR News.

Holowka noted that in order for these Q&A sessions to be successful, CEOs must go into them prepared and unafraid to face tough questions.

“Build out support networks with your customer service team, PR team and subject matter experts in your organization,” she advised. “Make sure they are on-point during the chat to put out fires offline or support your CEO with messaging. This will enable you to turn tough questions into positive PR opportunities and, oftentimes, let an initially disgruntled user walk away with a worthwhile experience.”

Although many CEOs balk at the idea of becoming active on social networking sites such as Twitter, there’s no reason they can’t find success on these platforms.

About Caldwell Partners

Caldwell Partners is a leading international provider of executive search and has been for more than 40 years. As one of the world’s most trusted advisors in executive search, the firm has a sterling reputation built on successful searches for boards, chief and senior executives, and selected functional experts. With offices and partners across North America and in London, the firm takes pride in delivering an unmatched level of service and expertise to its clients.

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