Bill Clinton has just become the latest serving or former politician to join the ranks of Twitter. In just a few weeks, the former US President has racked up over half a million followers and seems to have caught the bug.
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) April 25, 2013
Twitter-love is far from an American phenomenon. A recent study found that 75% of politicians are on Twitter worldwide. In the UK, 62% of MPs are actively using Twitter, including the Chancellor @George_Osborne who started tweeting on Budget Day.
For our elected officials, Twitter provides them with the opportunity to gain a ‘voice’, demonstrate a willingness to engage and the agility to maintain conversations. By building engagement, they also build loyalty, explain positions more clearly and, crucially, shorten the gap between them and the electorate.
So, why do so few bosses of our leading companies currently share this approach?
Portland’s research has discovered that only 28 Chief Executives of companies listed on FTSE 350 Index have Twitter profiles. What’s more, 22 of those have never tweeted, making a grand total of 1.7% of the index who are actively taking part in the conversations on Twitter.
That picture is reflected in the US, where just 19 CEOs from FORTUNE 500 companies (3.8%) have accounts.
There are some notable exceptions. News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch has earned following of 400,000 with a Twitter feed that blends business insights with a stream of consciousness.
Trying to learn transcendental meditation.Everyone recommends, not that easy to get started, but said to improve everything!
— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) April 21, 2013
Virgin’s Richard Branson has led the way and put social media at the heart of his company’s communications. Sir Richard uses social media company-wide to tap into conversations that its customers and stakeholders are having and find out what they’re doing right and wrong. He is also not afraid to open himself up to questioning.
— richardbranson (@richardbranson) May 17, 2012
O2’s Ronan Dunne is another CEO who’s taken to Twitter in a big way. Initially dismissive, he embraced the platform once he saw how customers and staff were using it. He recently admitted to searching Twitter for the term “02” every night before he goes to bed!
Of the CEOs in the FTSE350 who do actively tweet, the platform serves a variety of functions.
Hossein Yassaie of Imagination Technologies (@hy42) uses Twitter socially and to comment on current events, Richard Steeves of Synergy, Oliver Cooper of Perform Group, Ruby McGregor-Smith of MITIE Group & Samir Brikho of AMEC are focussed on promoting their businesses and CSR activities, while Sebastian James of Dixons Retail (@dixonsseb) uses twitter to communicate directly with employees.
Twitter is now so ubiquitous and mainstream that I believe more business leader should get on board.
Not only is it a brilliant tool for listening, but it gives you an opportunity to build an audience and use your followers to amplify, monitor and engage on topics quickly.
Naturally, there will be issues and there will be some pain, but there are mechanisms available to minimise the risks and systems of engagement to push out messages more thoroughly.
Many of us at Portland have had experience in setting up engagement projects in unhelpful atmospheres – I ran digital communications at No10, for example – and there are ways to take part without opening yourself up to the aggressive and inane.
By fully embracing social media, CEOs can get their messages across whilst demonstrating an open mindset and human face.
Mark Flanagan is partner for digital at Portland and tweets @markflanagan_