Rory Capern, head of Twitter Canada, published a column in The Globe and Mail’s Leadership Lab entitled “CEOs need to get aboard the digital train.” He’s right. I made a similar argument in July, 2014 in the same Globe and Mail series. I’ve since updated my piece to reflect current events, which I’m sharing with you here. I hope you’ll enjoy.
Calling All CEOs: It’s time to join Twitter REDUX
Twitter, for all of its unique attributes, is the most powerful global communications tool in existence for business, government, and opinion leaders worldwide. In spite of this reality, many of Canada’s business leaders are still shunning Twitter. This needs to change.
We’re living in the time of Donald Trump as President of the United States, tweeting daily, calling out CEOs, among others, on various issues that he finds egregious. Like it or not, it’s a communications phenomenon to ponder, and respond to accordingly. Right now, Donald Trump’s opponents are playing a game of defense.
Twitter is a partner to breaking news and world events unfolding in real time. It is the network of choice for consumer feedback. Twitter is everywhere, except it seems, in the consciousness of the CEO. When I first wrote this column, I argued that there was a lack of awareness of the extent to which communications tools had changed since their creation, and that the opportunities on Twitter needed greater clarification. That’s simply not true today. Twitter’s value proposition, as discussed across media channels of every type and form, has by now been thoroughly documented and is nothing short of obvious.
So what’s the excuse? If you’re a Canadian business leader abstaining from Twitter, read on.
Twitter is the ultimate executive communications tool.
While Twitter took time to establish itself as a strategic business communications partner, I would argue today that the power of the platform has fully come to light. For this, Twitter owes Donald Trump a debt of gratitude. Anyone not using Twitter even to access content and conversations directly from their source, let alone to tweet, has failed to recognize, and adapt to, the communications tactics necessary for success in the digital economy. Twitter is not the fringe app of its early years. Although Twitter has fewer active daily users than other social networks, it’s still very much a mainstream platform, and, I would argue, more effective than most.
Continue to avoid it and you risk being deemed to be in hiding, out of touch, disinterested, or afraid of transparency and tough conversations.
Join Twitter in spite of its imperfections.
By now, we all should be fully aware of Twitter’s bullying-versus-free-speech problem. I’ve been fortunate, thus far, for not having been trolled on Twitter. Yet every day I witness nameless, faceless profiles — operated by people — who delight in unspeakable harassment towards journalists, feminists, politicians, and other leaders publicly speaking up for social justice. Block early, block often is, for now, one of the few strategies available. It’s an unfortunate price of entry, but not high enough to abstain from participating.
In spite of the network’s shortcomings, Twitter still offers tremendous value. It helps me understand with near perfect clarity the content of the character of my network. As Amy Schumer wrote in her book The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, “Social Media is a great tool because it speeds up the time between thinking someone is great and realizing they’re the worst.”
Forget about being able to communicate to a global audience. Twitter has given me new eyes and ears, and for that I am very grateful.
Communications have changed.
If this wasn’t abundantly clear in 2014, I’m going to state it again: Mobile technology and the widespread use of social media applications have changed the way in which we consume, and convey, information. CEOs are not yet equating the need for a change in leadership communications with changes in technology. Twitter represents a large part of the communications shift that we are experiencing as a society. It has been a democratizing and mobilizing force as a provider of global and open access to instant information.
Consumers have changed.
Consumers are still in control of many of the conversations taking place on Twitter. They are demanding greater corporate transparency, higher levels of accountability, and better customer service. Nothing changes the speed of problem-solving at a customer service call center faster than the simple questions “What is your name, and what is your company’s Twitter handle?”
The business community needs to catch up, respond openly to consumer needs, and work diligently in order to transform consumers into brand advocates. The conversation needs to be customer-centric, forward-thinking, and supplemented by a leadership vision. CEOs who interact with consumers on social channels are demonstrating game-changing levels of transparency.
Corporate narratives include CEO tweets.
Storytelling, content marketing, and consumer engagement are quickly becoming the communications norm. This represents a dramatic shift away from a tradition of public relations and advertising campaigns for the exclusive purpose of promoting products and services. Corporate messages have become more conversational, interactive, and values-driven.
Of all the voices that ought to convey a high-level corporate narrative, one would expect this voice to belong to the CEO. Does it not make sense, given the extent of employee advocacy on social media, that the most important employee advocate of all be the CEO?
This is not to say that executives should manage their company’s Twitter account or social media strategy. We know how that’s going south of the 49th parallel. Rather, effective leadership communications that are restrained, thoughtful, transparent, and authentic can help in the establishment of trust because they give brands a human and personal voice.
Supplementing a company’s social media activity with an authoritative leadership presence on Twitter is very much the objective, one that can, and should, distinguish itself by a values-driven narrative from the CEO.
Specifically, that narrative should capture the essence of the leadership attributes that others seek to follow. Participation on Twitter is an opportunity for leaders to define and share the essence of their human capital, acumen, and integrity, and link those attributes to the success of their organizations, all of which builds and strengthens corporate and professional brands.
More and more CEOs are embracing Twitter. It’s easy to tell when a CEO has been dragged kicking and screaming to the platform. They may have set up an account but they are not tweeting and certainly not engaging. It’s also plain to see when another leader hits the ground running. There’s nowhere to hide in the digital age.
Leadership has become digital.
There are leaders who are naturally suited to Twitter because of their openness, their natural curiosity, their ability and willingness to collaborate, and their genuine interest in leadership communications. They stand out in stark contrast to those who are required to be there by higher ups in corporate governance. I’ve always maintained that anything worth doing is worth doing well.
The most effective CEOs on Twitter clearly love their companies and they are telling the world about them each and every day. They have no more hours in their day than any other CEO, but they have made the decision to join Twitter and to lead with it.
My favourite CEO on Twitter today is Tim Hockey, a Canadian, now CEO of TD Ameritrade. He’s an avid cyclist, unafraid to share the successes of his team or give a window into the personal sadness he has experienced in his lifetime. He’s got a sense of humor when it comes to seagulls and he is entirely the real deal when it comes to authentic leadership.
It’s not too late to start.
Canadian business leaders are indeed creative, innovative, and above all, successful. If they need help using Twitter, the time has come for them to get it. Leadership communications should be a top strategic priority for 2017.
To those CEOs already on Twitter, I’ll once again say ‘bravo’. Continue to praise your employees and share the insights that attract top talent to your organization. Continue to amplify your successes and publicly address your failures. Continue to engage with your customers to the best of your ability, and recognize that at the end of the day, they are the ones paying your salary. In doing so, you’ll inspire the future leaders of tomorrow.
Yours in digital,