CEOs in Twitter: Should You Tweet from the C Suite? [INTERVIEW]

The jury is still out on whether it’s passé for a CEO to stay off Twitter and other social media outlets. For CEOs in some industries, stepping onto the social media field might not make sense. But for others — and particularly for Internet marketers — it’s a no-brainer: Play or go home.

I recently had a conversation with Jeremy Dearringer, one of the founders of Relevance,  about his guiding principles for the Twittersphere as well as how it can be used as a viable and valuable business tool.

Expand Your Reach (and Influence!)

According to the theory of Dunbar’s Number, one can effectively maintain relationships with only around 150 people. Dearringer believes that Twitter acts as a tool that enables us to increase this number significantly.

It allows us to keep a touch point with people for longer. It helps shape the perception that they know you on some level of familiarity, even though they may only be loose associates.

Facebook is great for keeping up with family and close friends, but Dearringer believes Twitter (as well as LinkedIn and Google Plus) can help you achieve the same social impact within a professional context.

For me, favoriting, retweeting or interacting with somebody on a regular basis is an engagement that only takes me moments (usually from my cell phone, wherever I’m at), as opposed to thinking, “Man! I gotta go get lunch with this person,” or “I’ve gotta go have a coffee with them to keep up the relationship.” or “I’ve gotta go to this networking event and see them in person.” You can do those time-consuming things less frequently and still maintain the relationships.

Dearringer isn’t suggesting you stop having meaningful in-person appointments altogether; he’s just implying that when you reserve such meetings for the highest of high priorities in your life, you have more time to nurture nascent relationships in your extended network via Twitter. And at 140 characters per tweet, it’s pretty convenient to keep in touch.

In addition to engagement, Dearringer also views his Twitter account as a platform to inform and educate.

I think especially in our line of work there is an expectation of being a curator of content to help people sift through all the noise.

What he’s reading, what he’s paying attention to, what conclusions he’s drawing, what’s educating him on something new, what his organization is saying about industry news, what and who is influencing him — all of these things can be inferred from a quick scan of his Twitter timeline. By sharing the foundations of his thought leadership, Dearringer offers curated content that’s not only constructive for his network and community but gives them the opportunity to build upon his ideas and contribute to the conversation.

I feel like there’s a sense of obligation to curate that kind of content for people. It also keeps me and the organization top of mind. So even if my audience isn’t reading everything that we’re doing — if I favorite or retweet something or comment on something that they’re doing — it’s a constant reminder that Jeremy and his organization are still very active. Next time they’re in a conversation about Internet marketing, my name or DigitalRelevance are likely to come up.

Personal vs. Professional: Where to Draw the Line?

When pressed for his thoughts on the line between professional and personal sharing on Twitter — especially from the C-Suite — Dearringer acknowledges that he’s different than most.

I want to be myself all the time, wherever I’m at, even if it’s risky. I do feel like you should probably have some boundaries on certain platforms, though. You have to understand why other people are there to use them. So, I’m not on Google Plus and Twitter sharing baby pictures. Once in a great while if my son does something really freaking hilarious, I’ll share it. But I’m not gonna do what Marissa [Mayer, CEO of Yahoo] is doing, probably.

Dearringer points out, however, that sharing your personality outside of your area of expertise is a worthwhile practice if you wish to be memorable. And Twitter is precisely the place to do that.

I used to have a system in my Xterra — 12-inch subs in the trunk; I used to love that kind of stuff, just the feeling of the bass. One day on a Friday I’m cruising through the neighborhood and I’m just disturbing the peace with some Ice Cube. And I freely tweeted that kind of information out to my followers. It’s not a professional thing. And somebody else that’s reading my Twitter stream is probably in a neighborhood incredibly annoyed by somebody else rolling through their neighborhood just like me. So I’m unashamed, unabashedly myself from that perspective.

The Ultimate CEO Dilemma: To Tweet or Not to Tweet?

Interestingly, Dearringer doesn’t think being absent from Twitter means a CEO is leaving something on the table.

I think it’s okay for some industries. There are even really sophisticated, big-brand marketers that don’t have Twitter handles, which is a little crazy to me, but I feel like it’s an obligation in our space. I can’t imagine not working at Twitter. But there are definitely industries where I think that it would be completely irrelevant and not even of any value.

Dearringer clarifies that most brands should have a Twitter account to use as a broadcasting platform at minimum. Sharing content and engaging with customers can and should be promoted or complemented by a CEO on Twitter, but it’s not necessary in every scenario.

He adds,

That also doesn’t mean that I don’t expect them to be social and share the softer side. So they should have a presence on Facebook or LinkedIn or on a different social platform that makes sense. Or they’re active on the company intranet (e.g., Yammer) so that their employees can get to know them on a more personal level. But I don’t think that they have to specifically be on Twitter as a channel to maintain respect and relevance to their industry.

Advice from a Pro

Are you a CEO thinking about making the leap into the Twittersphere? Consider Dearringer’s advice for beginners:

Be aware of it. Be engaged. Don’t just outsource it and let somebody else completely control your voice all the time. There will be very real people that will pay attention to your Twitter account and form their perceptions about who you are, how you behave, and how you manage your organization based off of what shows up on your Twitter feed and how you react to certain situations.

If you just use it as a broadcast channel and don’t engage at all, people will take notice. They’ll begin to think, “Oh, I must be irrelevant.” or “He’s too good for me.” I think that it needs to be something that you make a habit out of checking it on a regular basis. It needs to be a core part of what you think you need to do every day. I check mine when I get out of bed in the morning, a couple of times throughout the day, and maybe before I go to bed at night.

Dearringer recognizes that the average CEO isn’t going to dive into a bunch of elaborate tools to maximize their Twitter game, but he does suggest dipping your toe into something simple, like using Buffer to queue tweets — anything to help stay consistent throughout the day. And don’t forget to engage by replying to notifications, lest your audience thinks you’re ignoring them.

Ending on a Good Note

Twitter is a good channel to let people know publically that you think highly of them. It’s a very simple gesture that takes mere seconds, but the impact can be far-reaching and long-lasting.

Whether it’s a retweet with a comment, a comment directed at them, or just to mention their name in a positive way, say what you really think and make it personal. People are very self-conscious and tend to overanalyze, particularly after face-to-face meetings. Am I on his good side or his bad side? Are we neutral? Does he know I exist? Does he remember me? Showing that you not only remember them, but that you think highly of them and freely sharing that perception with your audience — I think that’s a huge thing.

In what ways have you seen CEOs use their Twitter accounts for the good of the business?

Image Source: Flickr