Rather than waiting for impressions about a company to be driven by others in social media, CEOs can help shape the conversation.

Many companies have embraced Twitter as one of the best ways to communicate with customers and other types of stakeholders. However, many CEOs don’t leverage the power of Twitter to the fullest extent. The number of CEOs of large companies who are active on Twitter continues to be low. As of September 2014, only 42 Fortune 500 CEOs had Twitter accounts. Of those, only about 70% were truly active and tweeting in a meaningful way.1

One high-profile Twitter user is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors Inc. and SpaceX. Musk typically tweets numerous times a month, and his tweets sometimes contain new and exciting information. On March 30, 2015, for example, he tweeted that a new, major Tesla product line would be unveiled the following month and that it was “not a car”:

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla: Major new Tesla product line — not a car — will be unveiled at our Hawthorne Design Studio on Thurs 8pm, April 30.

Musk’s tweet generated a lot of attention; the news wasn’t announced through any other communication outlets. And there was intense speculation about what the new product would be. (It turned out to be a battery for powering homes that charges using electricity generated from solar panels.) Many media outlets joined in the discussion.

Twitter, one of the world’s leading social media platforms,2 has more than 300 million active users. In contrast to Facebook, which skews heavily toward personal communication, Twitter is used more actively for business. As a result, brand managers, customer service agents, and other businesspeople became early adopters so that they could stay abreast of the streams of information they cared about and communicate with current and potential customers. Twitter users check their newsfeeds for real-time information on everything from business news events to sales at their favorite retailers. At a number of companies, “C-level” executives in addition to the CEO have begun tweeting. However, CEOs generally have the most social cachet and are considered the ultimate company spokespeople.

Leveraging the Power of Twitter

By tweeting, CEOs have an opportunity to initiate and influence online conversations.


1. M. Kapko, “Most CEOs Still Don’t Get Social Media,” September 23, 2014, www.cio.com.

2. https://about.twitter.com/company.

3. Until November 2015, “likes” on Twitter were known as “favorites.” See A. Kumar, “Hearts on Twitter,” November 3, 2015, https://blog.twitter.com.

4. “CEO Social Media Survey,” 2012, www.brandfog.com. There have also been reports of hedge funds using tweets to help gauge market sentiment. See J. Jordan, “Hedge Fund Will Track Twitter to Predict Stock Market Movements,” December 22, 2010, www.bloomberg.com; and T. Durden, “World’s Largest Hedge Fund Uses Twitter for Real-Time Economic Modeling,” October 12, 2013, www.zerohedge.com.

5. A. Malhotra, C. Kubowicz Malhotra, and A. See, “How to Get Your Messages Retweeted,” MIT Sloan Management Review 53, no. 2 (winter 2012): 61-66.

6. See Kumar, “Hearts on Twitter.”

7. Malhotra, Malhotra, and See, “How to Get Your Messages Retweeted.”

8. A. Maskin and J. Schlenger, “Social Media: The New Frontier of Legal Risk Management,” www.weil.com/~/media/files/pdfs/Maskin_Scandal_Proofing_Article.pdf.

9. Ibid.

10. A. Harnocz, “Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella Backpedals on Remarks About Women’s Pay: Twitter Users Outraged,” October 10, 2014, www.cleveland.com.

11. O. Waxman, “Mea Culpa! Best Twitter Apologies,” May 25, 2013, www.newsfeed.time.com.

12. R. Meyer, “Social Media, the New Press Release,” The Atlantic, October 1, 2014, www.theatlantic.com.

13. “80 Percent of North American Journalists Check a CEO’s LinkedIn Profile Before an Interview, Says New Survey by Public Relations Global Network,” March 16, 2015, www.buchananpr.com.

14. G. Moran, “The Social CEO: How 15 Top CEOs Started Using Twitter,” April 14, 2014, www.business2community.com.

15. J. Watts, A. Rachman, and E. Curran, “AirAsia Chief Tony Fernandes Takes Lead on Crash Response,” December 31, 2014, www.wsj.com.

3 Comments On: How CEOs Can Leverage Twitter

  • Andrea Learned | December 20, 2015

    Because Twitter can be such a powerful tool for leaders, it is fantastic that there is more academic research on how/why/best ways to use it. Thank you for this! More executives should be encouraged to explore the possibilities of using it.

    On that note – two of the points you make here really strike me, in relation to the things I’ve experienced myself in coaching executives on use of social media. First) – the “business maven” type you say does best with engagement likely does so because the interests and shares of info/links seems to reflect a well-rounded individual (and those are the kind of people who are most engaging in “real-life’ too. Otherwise – do too much “business only” tweeting and followers won’t feel like they are “getting to know” the executive at all. Yet, too much personal sharing (a la a personal Facebook feed), and the business-interested follower will quickly be disappointed too.

    Second) the other point you mention that is SO TRUE is that tweets are not press releases. When traditional PR/communications teams “handle” an executives Twitter feed, it is usually incredibly obvious and stilted or at least incredibly formal sounding. Traditional communications pros have the historic directive to craft copy that is much more formal and safe than any human would casually do otherwise. That’s a hard pattern to break if you then suddenly are trying to tweet like a human.

    Given the recent COP21, I’d suggest Christiana Figueres twitter feed – and maybe Paul Polman’s as well – as examples of a decent balance of prepped messaging and personal messaging – you can tell which tweets are pre-crafted but also see a lot of tweets that clearly come from a place of personal enthusiasm/passion.

    My suggestion is always that if the executive does not feel any interest in learning to tweet or in developing that sort of authentic engagement with a broader stakeholder community, he or she should not have an account at all. It won’t be worth the effort. A lot of this is simply down to whether or not you (the executive) are the type of person who “gets” it.. and, perhaps most importantly… finds it at least somewhat intriguing or enjoyable. There is absolutely no way to fake it. If you are interested enough to give it a go – find someone to help introduce and jumpstart you. You won’t be sorry. Twitter can become an incredible tool in your networking and leadership set.

  • claudia | December 26, 2015

    Andrea, thank you so much for your comment! We agree that the Business Mavens really have the right mix of tweets that showed both their business acumen as well as personal interests. Tweeting is both an art and science. We think some people are better at it – either because it comes naturally to them or they are dedicated to getting it right. Your point about personality type is very intriguing. We only could evaluate the output (the tweets) but it would be interesting to see the input (personality type) to see if there is a correlation with our data. We appreciate your comments about tweets being different than press releases. For many companies, this is a legal issue. It is one we think needs to be overcome – the true power of Twitter will be unleashed when CEOs (and others) can post real-time, sincere, and authentic tweets. Thank you again for your feedback.

  • siswanto.gatot549 | January 20, 2016

    the most important factor is not what we inform, BUT how we inform. social medias are just tools, it needs more strategy and adaptability to targetted audiences

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