Jason Calacanis, Chief Executive, Mahalo.com says he can use Twitter to release new features and ideas to Mahalo’s “superfans” ahead of time and get their input. “Many of the bloggers and press watch my Twitter stream as well, so if I want to leak something to the press, I can do it by just saying ‘what do you think about this...?’ and if it’s notable, it will be on ten blogs in a day. So for me it’s part focus group, part press release system, and a lot of fun to interact with users and fans.”
For Jonathan Schwartz, Chief Executive of Sun Microsystems, it is all about leadership: “As CEO, I need to engage the market, inside and outside Sun, with whatever technology affords me the greatest possible reach. Through blogs, online news, social networking sites, or Twitter, the internet has fundamentally changed how we communicate with one another. Today, we have thousands of employees participating, engaging customers and developers across the world, 24 hours a day. And whether it’s via a half-hour streaming video or a 140-character tweet, we need to reach everyone in the forum and format they choose – not what we choose.”
What can go wrong? Besides challenges inherent in all online media, the main criticism of Twitter is the blandness of the content, exemplified by CEOs who tweet about their personal lives. Richard Branson of Virgin can get away with “Another day in the office” when referring (and linking to) his latest ad campaign – but hourly descriptions of what business leaders are physically doing have not attracted universal praise. Mainstream press commentators will expose frailty. “Most executives are making a complete hash of using it [Twitter]”, wrote Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times. Either they provide mundane personal detail, or they fill it with mundane professional detail – which she thought is possibly worse. “The first scores higher on embarrassment; the second on tedium.” Sathnam Sanghera told Times of London readers that “despite his reputation for never uttering a dull word” the actor and celebrity Stephen Fry “is capable of jaw-slackening blandness” on his Twitter feed.
CEOs who want to write about their company may want a lawyer to cast an eye over any comments. Media “followers” will inevitably respond with questions. The same applies to analysts.
Saying nothing, though, or saying it blandly is also risky. As with blogs, an empty or inconsistent Twitter feed looks bad. One danger is that a CEO sets off enthusiastically only to find that the response is poor and uninterested.