Tell Me Again Why CEOs Should Tweet

Social media matters, but that doesn't mean it's every CEO's job to participate.

Chris Murphy, Editor, InformationWeek

December 12, 2012

4 Min Read

8 CEOs Speak: IT Projects That Matter Most

8 CEOs Speak: IT Projects That Matter Most

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Help me with this one: Which CEOs you follow on Twitter regularly serve up must-read tweets?

I follow a handful of big-name CEOs, and I don't get much out of their tweets. And it makes me wonder if tweeting is a waste of time for most CEOs.

That's heresy to some. I'm sure it is to one CEO -- Josh James, of business intelligence software startup Domo (whom I also follow). Domo recently published a study with that showed how little time Fortune 500 CEOs spend on social media. The study showed that CEOs at high-growth Inc. 500 companies tweeted far more often, had more Facebook friends and more LinkedIn ties.

[ Read Fortune 500 CEOs Shy Away From Social. ]

Among the findings of the study:

-- 3.8% of Fortune 500 CEOs are on Twitter, while 29.1% of Inc. 500 CEOs are on it.

-- Inc. 500 CEOs have been on Twitter 56.1% longer on average than Fortune 500 CEOs (about 1.2 years longer).

-- Fortune 500 CEOs have on average of 133.45 friends on Facebook, while Inc. 500 CEOs have an average of 561 friends.

-- 25.9% of Fortune 500 CEOs have LinkedIn profiles, while 77.6% of the Inc. 500 do.

Domo's James calls the scant social media presence by Fortune 500 CEOs "mind blowing" and a "massive disservice." (You might not know Domo yet, but James founded Omniture and sold it to Adobe for $1.8 billion.) Writes James:

Social media isn't a passing fad. The primary reason you have to be social is because that is where your customer lives. Even if you are not leveraging it to close business and interact with your customers, you have to spend enough time online to at least understand the shift in the world. This lack of engagement would be similar to 50% of the world using email with F500 CEOs holding out; or 50% of your customers shopping online but no CEOs trying it.

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There's no denying that sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are now part of the daily fabric of most people's lives. And CEOs have a responsibility to their shareholders to be visible. CEOs who shun social media risk losing touch with some of their most lucrative customers, prospects and influencers. I agree CEOs need to understand social media, and that understanding it takes a certain level of immersion and use.

But I don't buy that every CEO needs to be a tweeter or be a visible and active presence on social media. To me, it's like the CEO starring in the company's commercials: It's the rare bird who does that well.

Who are the terrific big company CEO tweeters I'm missing? I'm one of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's 34,281 devoted followers, and like them, I got his first-ever tweet on June 6. I can't wait to read his second one. I'm also one of the 44,447 followers of CEO Marc Benioff, who has sent 1,840 tweets, including one today taking a pot shot at Windows 8. I can't say either executive's Twitter presence has had a discernable impact on my opinion or understanding of his company.

I'm open minded; I think it's possible for a CEO to add value by tweeting. Look at Domo CEO James. He had something thought-provoking to say on Twitter, and it got my attention. But as companies get larger, specialization takes over, and the same holds true of social media. If a CEO has a passion for tweeting, maybe there's a role for it. But building a Twitter presence takes a fair amount of time, time that most CEOs would spend better elsewhere.

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About the Author(s)

Chris Murphy

Editor, InformationWeek

Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and co-chair of the InformationWeek Conference. He has been covering technology leadership and CIO strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; and a daily newspaper reporter in Michigan, where he covered everything from crime to the car industry. Murphy studied economics and journalism at Michigan State University, has an M.B.A. from the University of Virginia, and has passed the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exams.

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