BC tip: Virgin Group - Taking a view

A UK CEO’s blog post on Brexit offers lessons for other companies wanting to cut through online noise.

 

The Site

Richard Branson, co-founder of the Virgin Group, the UK investment conglomerate, has a blog on the company’s website, called ‘Richard’.

After the UK voted last week to leave the European Union, he wrote a post, ‘Calling for Parliament to take a second look at the EU referendum’. He criticised the UK’s Leave campaign for misleading the public, said that the vote was based on ‘false promises’, and urged people to sign a petition calling on Parliament to re-run the vote.

The Takeaway

Branson’s post takes a clear position on a controversial political issue, something many companies will be hesitant about. Branson’s forays into social media are not always so interesting, as we have noted here.

However, several companies we know are grappling with the question of how to gain traction for their online content amid all the noise. Addressing issues with a defined ‘point of view’ is one of the ways to do this, and ‘not being boring’ is another, both of which Branson accomplishes with his Brexit piece.

Organizations struggle to take clear-cut opinions for cultural reasons (reticence to stick heads above parapets) and practical reasons (no time to blog, worried about backlash). Your CEO does not have to go as far as having a public view on Brexit to be interesting – a clear-cut and compellingly argued take on, for example, an industry issue can be just as valuable for getting attention online.

https://www.virgin.com/richard-branson/calling-parliament-take-second-look-eu-referendum


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