I’m a CEO, and I use Twitter. I started “tweeting,” or using Twitter, as a test a few months ago. When I told one of my board members, he was skeptical, and wondered about my focus. So as I experimented with Twitter, I kept a list of the pros and cons. At first, Twitter seemed like a waste of time - but slowly, my list of pros grew, and my list of cons shrunk. Now, I’m convinced that Twitter is an essential business tool.
I looked, but I couldn't find a list of guidelines for CEOs from other CEOs. So, even though I was loath to spend time writing Yet-Another-Article-About-Twitter, I thought my list might be helpful for someone else. And best of all, it was essentially done. So here's my list of Twitter lessons for CEOs:
Since my companies started using social networking a few years ago, (blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, and so on), we've reduced marketing spend by over 50% and roughly tripled marketing effectiveness (measured by lead generation volume, cost per lead, press coverage, and other quantitative metrics) - at the same time. We showed the chart at the right at my last board meeting. Marketing spend is the green area chart in back, and leads are in the bar chart.
Although these numbers don't lie, they only tell part of the story. Twitter's great, but not if you don't use it right. The rest of these Twitter lessons are about using Twitter effectively.
2. Do use Twitter to transmit values, standards, and ethics. Peter Drucker said an essential job of the CEO is “to set the values, the standards, and the ethics of an organization.” Social networking helps me communicate my values, standards, and ethics to hundreds of people at once. It’s like having hundreds of water cooler chats in real-time, from wherever I am - while I’m visiting a customer, speaking at a conference, or meeting with my board.
For example, when I tweet about the exciting things I see on the road, you can feel our enthusiasm for our customers. When our CTO tweets, we reveal how we think about innovation. Recently I tweeted while I ran the Boston Marathon (video on www.notallceosarejerks.com) for Dana Farber and cancer research, which shows that we care about charity.
Twitter and blogging are unique in that they are intensely personal. With care and attention, it's the perfect medium for transmitting our ethics.
3. Do use Twitter for press relations – As I wrote in press releases: dead or reborn?, I think the old ways of communicating are forever changed. Traditional PR agencies have role, but need to evolve. Recently I evaluated almost 20 press agencies. They all paid lip service to social media, but in my view only two had it deeply engrained in their culture. PR firms must evolve, or they will die (I didn't hire any of them and brought it in house).
4. Do make the mundane funny and constructive. Great tweets can be about mundane moments. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (@zappos) is a master at it - here are three bad tweets I recently received, and 3 tweets from Tony about the same topics:
- BAD TWEET: “Having coffee”
- GOOD TWEET: “Had coffee w/ my mom, told her I gave a presentation @ Tony Robbins conference. She was really excited. In her words: "Wow! Robin Williams!"
- BAD TWEET: “Going into a meeting now”
- GOOD TWEET: “Visited meetup.com office, met w/ CEO. Thankfully the meetup at meetup did not cause a rift in the space-time continuum”
- BAD TWEET: “My allergies are killing me!”
- GOOD TWEET: “Taking allergy pills is like having Snow White multiple personality disorder. You go from Sneezy/Grumpy to Sleepy/Dopey/Happy.”
6. Do use Twitter for employee communication – Social networking is like a virtual water cooler, creating a steady, informal stream of communication about market events, customer stories, and the day-to-day developments in the company.
7. Do use Twitter to augment investor and analyst relations. Industry and financial analysts like getting a view direct from the CEO. Blogging is especially good for this kind of communication, and Twitter alerts them that you've got something new to say.
8. Do use Twitter for peer CEO learning. I follow other CEOs to see their observations - the good ones help shine a light on my own day. I made a Twitter list of the top 50 CEOs here: @mrkwpalmer/top50twitterCEOs, as ranked by Twellow.
9. Do use Twitter to promote rising stars. We recently promoted one of our founders, Richard Tibbetts (@tibbetts) to CTO. He’s an amazing technologist, and getting him out and speaking is great for us, and great for the industry. Matt Fowles, one of our top engineers, has written some great technical blog entries. Twitter helps raise their visibility, and educate the market.
10. Define your Twitter goals carefully. Signing up for Twitter is easy. Writing tweets is easy. But figuring out your goals for tweeting is hard. I already blog, write magazine articles, and speak at conferences, so it took me a while to figure out my list of goals for Twitter. My main goal, of course, was lesson #2 - to transmit StreamBase's values, standards, and ethics.
11. Do use Twitter to make you a better communicator. Strunk and White's rule: “omit meaningless words” is a great one, and Twitter forces you to omit meaningless words by its very structure - the discipline imposed by 140 characters is a good discipline.
12. Don’t use Twitter for traditional marketing. Some companies seem to think Twitter’s just another vehicle for traditional marketing. H&R Block’s Stacey Gratz, marketing manager, explained: "[On Twitter,] we soon realized that we needed to listen and share, rather than pushing out marketing messages." Read about the H&R Block Twitter case study here.
13. Do use Twitter for thought leadership. My company, StreamBase, is a leading visionary in an enterprise software market called event processing. The market is still less than $100M, but it's growing, and controversial. In a new area such as ours, education is important, and social networking provides another vehicle to educate prospects and customers.
14. Do use LinkedIn and Facebook to connect. I have links to my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profiles on my business cards. (If you liked this article, feel free to connect with me: on Facebook, on LinkedIn, or on Twitter)
15. Do use Twitter to transmit your brand's conscience. Habit #1 of Bruce Philip's 5 Habits of successful executives is: “[executives are] their brand’s conscience.” Michael Hyatt (@MichaelHyatt) of Thomas Nelson Publishers and Richard Branson (@sirdickbranson) of Virgin do this well. I think all leaders should establish this direct link to transmit the essence of your corporate brand and culture.
16. Do listen to Twitter for feedback. Great leaders feed on feedback. But a lot of people shy away from saying too much to "the boss." On Twitter, I'm just like everyone else, so I get unfiltered feedback whenever I want.
17. Do use Twitter to respond to rumors quickly. Recently, we had to fire a well-known employee, and our competitor started spreading false rumors that we were downsizing. Twitter helped me stop the rumor mill in real-time.
18. Don’t use Twitter to sell. Tempted to tweet: “Buy my product now for $19.99!” Don't.
19. Don’t say too much. Sometimes basic stuff like where I am is sensitive. For example, I couldn’t tweet for a whole week because if the competition knew I was in Chicago, I would have jeopardized a sales situation.
20. Remember that content is still king on Twitter. Even though Twitter messages are only 140 characters, the quality of those 140 characters is still king. The link between content quality and business value (lesson #1) is direct.
21. Turn your communications approach upside down. If you've gotten this far and any of this stuff shocks you, start reading. The classic, and first place to start, is: Cluetrain Manifesto (about the book, short form, the entire ebook). Cluetrain was published over 10 years ago, and boldly declared that a “powerful global conversation had begun.” And this was before Facebook and Twitter.
22. Don’t compete with SpongeBob. My 8-year-old son, Jack, asked what I was doing one day. I told him I was tweeting, and told him what Twitter is. He asked: “How many people follow you?”
I said: “about 1,200.”
Jack asked: “How many people follow Sponge Bob?”
I looked it up. “28,000.”
Jack said: “Dad - if you tell more jokes, maybe you’ll be more popular.”
I don’t want to compete with SpongeBob. I’m don’t care how many followers I have. Neither should you!
23. Don’t tweet too much; don’t tweet too little. I think it’s important not to tweet too much - I recently saw someone who had tweeted 26,000 times – yikes! My rule of thumb is to only put something on Twitter that I find truly remarkable. That happens between 0-5 times a day.
24. Twitter helps keep me informed in real-time, personally, with less effort, and dynamically. Today one of our engineers asked: “doesn’t Twitter just give you too much information?” My response was that it’s the opposite – it helps me cull the information deluge down to the stream I care about. Currently, I watch Ted Talks, Seth Godin, and David Armano (search on TweetDeck), my favorite industry analysts (@bmichelson), my competitors (you know who you are), my customers (CME Group, and many more), my cousin (@marissapage who’s really, really funny), and my list of other CEOs.
25. Don’t start using Twitter unless you love to communicate, and are willing to stay committed. It’s hard to get in the habit of tweeting, and CEOs are busy! Moreover, tweeting well is an art, and takes some thinking. You have to want to communicate, and be willing to stay committed to creating ideas on your own; you can’t outsource the job, either.
26. Learn how to Twublish. I used to write byline articles for industry journals. Traditional publishing is static, formal, unidirectional, and controlled by an external editor. Then I started to blog, connect via LinkedIn, share photos with FlickR, and message with Twitter. Taken together - and they must be used together - these tools form a new way of publishing - I think of it as "Twublishing."
To publish with Twitter, or Twublish, involves writing to our blog. Then I tweet about points in the article on Twitter. Comments in the blog and direct messages on Twitter help me get feedback on the quality of my thinking. Often, this leads me to new places, and adjacent topics. Or I more fully develop the original idea, and more deeply hyperlink the original to new sources I discover. The feedback deepens the original thought and creates articles that evolve into portals for other information on the same topic. This post, for example, has links to 30 other information sources about the use of Twitter from a CEO's perspective.
Twublishing is dynamic, informal, bi-directional, and unconstrained by an editor. I can mix in video and images. It's hyperlinked so my thoughts can become portals to other people's ideas that were the building blocks of my own. And it's temporal - that is, as information changes over time and others respond, I can update or augment the original to refer to the new information.
Other than the whopping $250 I used to occasionally get for a magazine article, publishing with social networking tools is better in every way.
27. I’m more aware of why I love my job because of Twitter. As I was returning from a sales trip, I tweeted: “Anyone who thinks the capital markets are collapsing should go out and spend a day with the traders – lots of innovation going on out here!” The act of paying attention to the ironic, funny, shocking, and curious things that happen from day to day makes me more aware of why I love my job.