With a few taps of his iPhone’s keyboard – 140 to be exact – US president Barack Obama burst on to Twitter, attracting 5 million followers in five hours.
But the world’s most powerful man isn’t the only leader to harness the power of the social media platform.
Company chief executives have started using Twitter in droves, despite the service being launched almost a decade ago.
Late bloomers include ANZ’s Mike Smith, who joined Twitter last month, and Westpac’s Brian Hartzer, who created an account while still serving his apprenticeship as Gail Kelly’s deputy in 2012.
The proportion of chief executives from Fortune’s top 50 global companies has risen to 10 per cent in 2014 from 2 per cent the previous year, according to analysis from Australian PR agency Weber Shandwick. Good question, @billclinton. The handle comes with the house. Know anyone interested in @FLOTUS?— President Obama (@POTUS) May 18, 2015
This compares with the number of chief executives using Facebook crashing from 10 per cent to nil over the same period.
It is difficult to determine if chief executives are deserting Facebook in favour of Twitter because of the fluid nature of the Fortune list. But social media and PR expert Catriona Pollard says Twitter is regarded as a more professional platform that delivers a greater audience than Facebook.
“Facebook has never really moved out of that very personal realm. We mostly use Facebook to connect and share with our personal contacts,” Ms Pollard said.
“But Twitter has always been one those platforms where your contacts from your friends right through to your colleagues.”
At the same time, Ms Pollard said Twitter can been personally engaging, citing an exchange between Mr Obama and former US president Bill Clinton as an example.
Mr Clinton welcomed Mr Obama to Twitter, tweeting: “One question: Does that username stay with the office? #askingforafriend”, referring to the @POTUS (President of the United States) handle.
Mr Obama replied: “Good question @billclinton. The handle comes with the house. Know anyone interesting in @FLOTUS”, referring to First Lady of the United States.
“That was the perfect example of two leaders who have used social media effectively,” said Ms Pollard.
“Those two tweets highlight their personal brands and show their human intelligence and the strong leaders that they are.”
So how can company chief executives emulate the past and present leaders of the free world.
Ms Pollard gives the following advice:
Know your personal brand and voice
Ms Pollard said social media works best for chief executives, who have adopted a specific strategy and embraced the platform.
“I’ve had concerns when there isn’t any strategy in place or they haven’t really thought about what their personal brand stands for and are not actually thinking about the impact that their tweets have on their readers,” she said.
“What made [Mr Obama and Mr Clinton’s tweets] this morning so powerful was that it was very personal, very funny and witty. The more you can nurture it and use social media with your own voice, the more powerful it is going to be.”
Leave out emotion when responding to criticism
Leaders who use social media can develop emotional connections with their followers, Ms Pollard said. But it can also attract criticism and chief executives need to think carefully about how they respond to fiery tweets, she said.
“There are lots of examples of business owners that have responded in an emotional way.
“Bullying does occur on social media and criticism does occur. Whether that’s to a leader or to a business owner or an everyday person, you do need to remove the emotion when responding on social media.
“If you are getting criticism, it’s becoming a place where it’s not appropriate, then there is always the option of not responding or closing down your Twitter account.”
Know the positives outweigh the negatives
Although revealing more of yourself to the public sounds risky, Ms Pollard said chief executives who use social media effectively can neutralise criticism.
“If you are embracing change and social media, and your strategy is about having a voice, sharing your voice and using it to create two-way dialogue with people who matter to your organisation, then you can absolutely see the difference,” she said.
“You can see that people are engaged. It also stops the criticism.
“If you are a CEO in a crisis, you might choose to stay away from social media. But if you have built up a great brand voice and following on Twitter, you can use the social media platform in those situations very effectively because you have already done the ground work.”
Maintain your social profile
Ms Pollard says in past years chief executives have often told her they didn’t have the time to create a social media account. But consumer and employee needs are changing and are expecting company leaders to be more available on social media.
“They have almost been forced to recognise that they have a place, a very important place, as a leader on social media,” Ms Pollard said.
“But every social media needs to be maintained. It’s like the old fashioned thing of starting a newsletter, doing one or two and then forgetting about it.
“If you are going to do social media, particularly if you are a leader because it’s going to be a reflection on who you are and why people should follow you.
“You need to fully engage with your communications team, social media consultant or whoever is helping you, so you have that personal touch.”
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