Tweeting Leaders

CEOs shape and share the vision of their organization with the world at large–a task traditionally accomplished through controlled communication channels such as mission statements and annual reports. However, a new communication trend has emerged in recent years, which is the seemingly spontaneous disclosure of both professional and personal information from CEOs. Charlene Li terms this general movement ‘open leadership’: a new page in the corporate book, which is marked by more transparency and authenticity than before.

An argument could be made that this movement, at least in part, has been fueled by the rapid changes and adaptations of new communication media such as Twitter. For instance, Twitter not only limits an author’s capacity for lengthy organizational chatter to 140 characters but also prompts for a more casual tone to the template question; ‘what’s happening?’ (Twitter changed their prompt question from ‘what are you doing?’ to the broader ‘what’s happening?’ in 2009).

On the one hand, we know that Fortune 500 CEOs who have adopted Twitter have an average following of 33,250 people (Wall Street Journal, 2012). Furthermore, a survey suggests that customers are 80% more likely to trust a company whose leaders are on Twitter (BRANDFog Survey, 2012). On the other hand, we also know that Twitter remarks can be greeted with scorn and controversy; CFOs such as Gene Morphis have even lost their jobs for tweeting information deemed inappropriate by their companies. Perhaps, it is the possibility of situations like these that explains why there are only four verified and active Twitter accounts for all of the Fortune 500 CEOs.

However, one glaring gap in this picture is the perspective of the CEO–his or her motivations, strategies and reflections. This is data that cannot be captured from the outside in an etic manner, but rather needs to be obtained from the inside in an emic fashion. For that reason, this information is difficult to obtain and often missing from current literature.  Truth be told, we know relatively little about CEOs’ motives for tweeting–or not. We are often presented with ‘how-to’ guides about Twitter, written for CEOs, but rarely do we get a glimpse of the ‘how-do’ analyses or, to put it in other terms, the reflections on actual practices from CEOs. So, what are some questions we’d like to ask?

  •  What are the discrepancies between the suggested uses of Twitter and the actual practices?
  •  Does a change in organizational communication and leadership practice engender a change in companies themselves?
  •  How transparent are CEOs really being? (It is well known that heads of larger companies have whole communication teams dedicated to crafting their social presence–yes, even to writing their tweets.)
  •  How much is too much information? Perhaps, the answer is industry, culture, and individual specific and it is quite possible that our understanding is prone to shift as we become somewhat desensitized to the boundary between the private and the public on social media.

For an exploration into the above questions and more, stay tuned in for the follow up blogs…

- BRANDFog 2012 CEO, Social Media and Leadership Survey. Retrieved Online.

- Kwoh, L., & Korn, M. (2012). 140 Characters of Risk: Some CEOs Fear Twitter. Wall Street Journal, September 26th, 2012. Retrieved Online.

- image from of aba-design.co.uk

Katerina Girginova

Katerina holds a BA in Communication Studies from The George Washington University, in Washington D.C. Upon graduation she immersed herself into the world of work at the National Geographic Channel and is a former MA in the CCT program at Georgetown University. Katerina's academic interests include innovation, intercultural communication, rhetoric and media - she enjoys good ideas and great people.