Your top executives may prefer to express themselves in long, intellectual, stately addresses, but the reality is that the 140-character tweet is today’s version of the boardroom speech. CEOs who do Twitter well (or sometimes, their PR and marketing people behind the scenes) understand that the medium demands short yet engaging posts that don’t duplicate corporate press releases or website copy. Here’s how the best Twittering CEOs keep their followers happy. (As for who makes the “best” list, opinions vary—see a list here for inspiration.)
Post frequently: Tweets, even more so than blog posts, need to show up on a frequent basis if you expect Twitter followers to stick with an executive. That means posting at least a few times a week, but preferably daily. Pete Cashmore, CEO of the Mashable technology news website, tweets several times a day on stories on his own website and elsewhere.
Reply sparingly: People with active Twitter followings like to respond directly to their fans via posts—you can identify replies because they start with the “@” symbol and contain a link to the initial poster’s own Twitter page. The problem with replies is that they’re confusing to read, and usually not that interesting (lots of “thank you” and “you’re welcome” posts). Execs should limit replies to avoid boring the heck out of followers.
Get personal: Just as with blog posts, people often come to CEO Twitter feeds to get a glimpse of life in the office or at home. Execs should share behind-the-scenes anecdotes about goings-on at meetings, or (within reason) thoughts about popular culture, their kids, or anything that’s not about the business. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s Twitter feed is fun to read because he tweets about everything from newly married Zappos employees to partnerships with Amazon.
Shed light on issues: Execs who do nothing but brag about their company or tweet links to press releases quickly lose their audience. Share stories about the industry, and point to other relevant blogs or Twitter feeds. (Use URL-shortening services like bit.ly to keeps links from getting unwieldy.) George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, is good at highlighting fresh ideas on corporate leadership while also promoting his own blog posts.
Skip the shorthand: Yes, it’s tough to express a thought in 140 characters, but don’t revert to teenage texting tactics to get your point across. “C U 2nite @ gr8 conf” isn’t really a post worthy of someone who’s climbed the corporate ladder. If a tweet requires more than 140 characters, use services like TwitLonger or JumboTweet to create and link to longer posts. And don’t let execs get away with sloppy typos just because they’re tweeting from a smartphone. Martha Stewart’s Twitter posts have gained notoriety for the typos (Stewart blames her BlackBerry).