CEOs should tweet - if they know how to

Lucy Kellaway writes one of her usual engaging columns in the FT today. In case you can't read it (it's for subscribers, though there is limited free access),  I'll summarise what she says. She starts by referring to an Insead ranking of the CEOs who use Twitter most effectively, combining a score for quality and quantity. Insead runs a piece on this that claims that '82 per cent of consumers are more likely to trust a company whose CEO engages on social media' and '78 per cent of professionals prefer working for a company who leadership is active on social media channels'. I wonder where those percentages come from?

Anyway, Ms Kellaway concentrates on the leaders in the #Twitterinfluence list, and has fun with them. Tim Cook of Apple writes the blandest tweets and still manages thousands of 'likes'. Why, she asks? She points out that he tweets only rarely - 40 times this year: which makes me wonder what the 'quantity' part of Insead's research consists of. Richard Branson manages to outbland Mr Cook: 'Talk less - smile more', while Rupert Murdoch ('who used to make the elementary mistake of tweeting his opinions about things') got married and stopped tweeting. 

These, Ms Kellaway says, 'are rotten role models for regular executives', because others are not as they are. The only 'regular' CEO in the top 10 is Microsoft's Satya Nadella, who tweets in tedious marketing speak. Marissa Mayer of Yahoo tweeted the company results along with a picture of her baby girls, and got lots of likes for that. From all these examples Ms Kellaway concludes that for all but business superstars, 'there's no point in tweeting unless you are prepared to pimp your kids'.

Although this is all good fun, I think she is wrong - and an example she gives that I haven't mentioned says why. Elon Musk tweets and 'is rather good at it'. She is right: he posts pictures of rockets taking off with 'Woohoo!' as the only comment, and links to bits and pieces he finds intriguing. Ms Kellaway says he can do this because he does exciting things like launch rockets. I disagree - he can do it because he knows what will get people's attention. You don't need rockets to do that.

Bob Lutz used to be vice chairman of General Motors. He's retired now, but used to write on GM's Fastlane blog. A fond obituary for the blog quotes some of his pith: 'I guess it depends whether your have your own personality or whether you are a lemming-like follower of current trends'. 'People will exercise the freedom to buy the vehicle they want, V8 engine and all'. 'Do the best product you can do, and it if it looks better and drives better than the other guy's, you win'.

You don't have to count the characters to see that Mr Lutz was born for Twitter, just born a bit too early. He was boss at a thoroughly mainstream company, so he wasn't Rupert Murdoch, yet like Mr Murdoch he said what he thought. Punchy language, strong views and being prepared to broadcast them to the world would have made him a tweeter as powerful as Mr Musk or Mr Murdoch. There must, surely, be other bosses who can do the same. 

David Bowen