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Remember these names: News Corporation’s Rupert Murdoch, Wesfarmers’ Richard Goyder, Atlas Iron’s Ken Brinsden, and Bank of Queensland’s Stuart Grimshaw.
Those four are the only CEOs of ASX 100 companies on Twitter.
Their number might seem small, but in all honesty, it’s more than LeadingCompany expected to find.
We’ve read dozens of reports (and written one or two) about how CEOs are missing out on a huge opportunity to connect with customers, staff, suppliers and investors and, in the process, humanise their image through social media.
But we also understand why high-profile CEOs are reluctant to engage.
For one, the CEOs of large companies have more choices for communicating with the public than the leaders of smaller ones. Social media is great if you’re unknown, or in a disruptive industry. But if you’re regularly quoted in The Australian Financial Review and appearing on Sky Business, as the ASX 100 CEOs typically are, how much more do you need to boost your profile, or that of your company?
And social media, aside from the time commitment, is not without risks. For example, last Friday, former General Electric CEO Jack Welch used Twitter to express his scepticism about the latest jobs figures coming out of the US Labour Department, which were higher than economists expected.
“Unbelievable job numbers,” he tweeted. “These Chicago guys will do anything… [they] can’t debate so [they] change numbers.” His message spread around the Twittersphere. It wasn’t long before he was fronting American cable network MSNBC’s Hardball program. Host Chris Matthews did not take kindly to the suggestion that the Obama administration (the aforementioned “Chicago guys” who “can’t debate”) had tweaked the job numbers.
“It must be pretty embarrassing for you to do a tweet now, after the power that you used to have,” Matthews dug in. “What evidence do you have?”
“I have no evidence to prove that. I just raised the question,” Welch said, refusing to back down. “These numbers defy logic."
When it comes to social media, it was a nightmare scenario. What would have been an edgy, biting comment among friends came off terribly when broadcast to millions.
Australia’s CEOs have taken to Twitter more cautiously. The four who have signed up have avoided any such scandal. But then again, of those four, three had fewer than 100 followers.
Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are frequently grouped together under the ‘social media’ umbrella, but they are fundamentally different. Our analysis focused on Twitter because it’s the most open of the social networks. Twitter is aimed at the outsider, while to follow someone on LinkedIn or Facebook, you generally need them to accept your request.
It’s possible that some of the CEOs mentioned have accounts under pseudonyms on Twitter, or have private, locked-up accounts on other social networks. But if it’s not clear it’s them, or it’s hard to connect, they’re not using social media to engage with the thousands who work for, invest with, and use their products, and thus aren’t using the uniquely ‘social’ aspects of new media.
Atlas Iron’s Ken Brinsden (@kenbatlas) joined Twitter shortly before becoming managing director of the entrepreneurial miner earlier this year. He’s tweeted about running late to the airport without his passport, and about Atlas Iron’s community development day. Of the four CEOs he’s displayed the most sophisticated use of the network, using retweets and tagging other users in his tweets. This suggests he’s reading his Twitter feed, as opposed to just using it as a broadcast medium. However, so far, he has only 13 followers. Atlas Iron’s chair, David Flanagan (@DavidFlanagan), signed up to Twitter about a month before Brinsden.
Bank of Queensland CEO Stuart Grimshaw (@grimshawstuart) used his first tweet in June to poke fun at the bank’s rivals: “How good to be a ‘small’ bank when we can make a quick decision on interest rates and put customers first,” he tweeted. He’s also used Twitter to congratulate the Wallabies and All Blacks on a good game, and to express dismay at the lack of sun in Brisbane (a rare occurrence for Queensland, we assume).
Wesfarmers’ MD Richard Goyder (@RGoyder) – who posted tweets for two days in August –appeared to tailor his posts to his employees and shareholders. “I would like to sincerely thank everyone at Wesfarmers for helping us achieve our result for the year,” he tweeted on August 16. He seemed pretty chuffed with the group’s result, posting six tweets on the same day about it. The following day, he tweeted about a sports game – his last known appearance on the network.
NewsCorp’s Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch) shows age is no barrier to using the Twitter network effectively. Of the ASX 100 CEOs, he’s the most prolific user of the network, using it to broadcast his opinions on politics, popular culture and his competitors to 333,759 followers. He rarely engages with others on the platform, but his posts are interesting and lively, and have attracted a steady readership. Today he tweeted twice about the latest American election poll, which found Romney has four points on Obama when likely voters are considered. “Who knows which polls are right? But they certainly point to real contest of visions for America,” he tweeted. “Like to hear more about education.”
We found accounts in the names of several other CEOs that could potentially have at one stage belonged to those atop the ASX 100. But as they hadn’t ever tweeted or followed anyone, it’s hard to gauge whether or not they were legitimate. @IanNarevCBA has 32 followers, among them several bankers and journalists, but the account holder has yet to tweet or upload a profile picture. The @MagnusNicolin account appears to belong to Ansell CEO Magnus Nicolin, but its owner has yet to tweet or follow anyone, so it’s hard to tell for sure. And the mysterious @davidthodey is a locked account with a Telstra profile picture, with a description directing people to Telstra customer service. It has no followers and is not following anyone. In April, CEO Thodey said Telstra had 60 people monitoring social media for mentions of the telecommunications company, so the company may just have registered his name to prevent someone else from doing so.
Several high-profile CEOs had spoof accounts named for them, but these were clearly not associated with the real executive.