As with so many things Elon Musk, it all boiled down to a few characters on that social network that so many accuse of a lack of character itself – Twitter. He might be a person of amazing intelligence (many would even say “genius”) but Twitter has proved to be a Waterloo of sorts for Elon Musk. Tesla’s CEO has been asked to step down from his post as Chairman following a Tweet about taking the company private – and this is by no means the first time he has been tripped up by his utterances on the social network. Indeed there are some who feel that every tweet by Musk ends up costing his company a fair bit. Whether that is true or not is another issue, but what cannot be denied that every time a CEO starts typing out a tweet, they hold some part of their company’s reputation in their hands. And while we agree that wearing your heart on your sleeve on Twitter can make for great news value, a careless word there can send your company’s fortunes into free fall. A fact to which Elon Musk can testify.
So if you are the CEO of a company and are on Twitter, we would advise some caution before you hit that “Tweet” button. And remember these seven lessons that Elon Musk’s affair with Twitter has taught anyone at the corporate helm:
Stick to business…
Yes, the temptation to add a “personal” touch to your Twitter feed will always be there, but our advice is to resist it. Unless your main claim to fame is something other than your corporate designation, it is best to mainly stick to business matters on your handle. Matters of personal opinion might sound interesting, but make no mistake about it – if your credibility stems from your work, then it is best to speak of it. It need not be as dry as it sounds, because if you love your work, you should be able to communicate what you feel for it through your Tweets, and be believed too! What could be better – both for you and your brand?
…because you will always be a CEO, not a person (forget the terms and conditions)
This follows from the first point about the futility of trying to use the “person, rather than corporate representative” clause on Twitter. Do not even TRY: no matter how many times you state in your profile that “the opinions expressed here are personal and not a reflection of company stance and policy, blah blah…”, you are almost always going to be seen as a CEO rather than a person. So you do not really have the option of saying something and then claiming that it does not affect the company or brand you represent because hey, it was a “personal” opinion. Whether you like it or not, you are always going to be a company spokesperson on Twitter.
Critics have a right to exist too…
Not everyone is going to like your brand or your product. So there will be criticism. Worse, some of the criticism will be sharp and will sting – perhaps because in some cases, it is placed to evoke a sharp response. It is always wise not to rise to the bait, and in most cases, respect the opinion expressed, no matter how adverse it might be to your interests. After all, no one is obliged to like every product or service you offer. Different people have different standards. Yes, it does seem unfair at times when people who do not seem to know the sort of effort you have put into a product, criticise it bitterly. But do remember that you do not question the abilities of people when they praise your product, do you? As a rule of thumb, it is best to register rather than react to criticism. They are not always the most pleasant people around, but critics have as much right to exist – and criticise – as you have.
…and criticising them is not clever
Whatever you do, do not fall into the trap of criticizing someone because they criticized you. The best answer to the barbs of a critic is to either speak with facts on your side or not to react at all – silence can actually be golden in this situation. The WORST answer, however, is to get into a mud slinging situation where instead of answering the issues raised by a critic, you try to malign them. Even if it works, it shows you in very poor light indeed and exposes you as a poor communicator. Urdu poet Ghalib had expressed it beautifully: “After every statement I make, you question who I am (to make this statement), what kind of conversation is this?” Advice worth adhering to.
You are going to be tried…and judged…so watch it!
There is no getting around it – whatever you say is going to be given super detailed attention. Every word, nay, letter, will be put under the microscope. A spelling mistake will be seen as a lapse of reason, gibberish typed accidentally will be seen as evidence of alcoholism and any strongly expressed opinion will be put down to prejudice. Yes, it might sound extreme and unfair but the simple fact is that the higher you ascend the corporate ladder, the less room there is for maneuver out on Twitter – a pun or a joke can be misconstrued, a gentle disagreement can be considered a full-blown declaration of war. So our advice: be tactful, be diplomatic. Do not stick your opinionated head out unless really necessary – there trolls aplenty waiting out there to chop it off!
Get someone to read potentially sensitive tweets before you post them…please!
Yes, we are all for independence and freedom of expression and the like, but ask any writer – it does help to have another person read your copy before you put it out for public consumption. Twitter might be a “casual communication” place for many users, but for a CEO, it is a potential minefield. And a lot of people simply do not realize the interpretations to which their tweets might be subjected – there was a CEO who was once accused of a racist bias by some because he claimed the white variant of a device looked better than a black one. Our advice, therefore, is to let someone view what you plan to tweet, especially if it pertains to a sensitive issue or station. Yes, it would mean a certain loss of private freedom, but it is a very small price to pay to reduce the chances of misinterpretation.
Before you tweet in anger, count to ten…and then don’t tweet