Why media execs should tweet: advice from 4 CEOs
Social media's impact on media is undeniable, as evidenced by the presence of "retweet" and "share" buttons on almost every news and media site. So, why is it that so few media CEOs tweet?
Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, generated an an avalanche of responses after his #TwitterMakesYouStupid post, demonstrating the frustration of "innovators" with "traditional media" executives. While Keller said he didn't actually mean what his hashtag said, it highlighted his lack of Twitter credibility, as many found it incredible that an executive of his stature didn't engage with his audience on Twitter.
Rather than pour fuel on the slam-anyone-not-on-the-social-media-bandwagon fire, I thought it would be interesting to pose the question, "why should media executives use Twitter?" I asked four media CEOs who are active tweeters to share some tips as well as their experiences, and, interestingly enough, I observed that they all saw three key benefits to participating in the Twittersphere.
1. Twitter fosters relationships and unique conversations
While many media companies fail to see that Twitter is more than a news ticker, three of the four CEOs shared a non-PR benefit without any prompting. These execs focused on the relationships and conversations generated by their daily use of the microblogging service.
"I tweet because I enjoy the dialogue," wrote Dan McCarthy, former CEO of NCI (@danielrmccarthy, 1,446 followers, 3,250 tweets), in an email to eMedia Vitals. "Twitter is largely a tool to engage and discover. I like seeing what the people who I respect are thinking about and sharing." The experience led him to shift NCI's business toward a social sharing model, which he detailed in 2009 at the Niche Digital Conference.
David Nussbaum, CEO of F+W Media (@Dnussbaum, 680 followers, 3,194 tweets), said via email that he uses Twitter for idea generation and exploration. "Twitter has taught me about the importance of community, has helped interactions with really smart people, expanded my knowledge base through the various links I received and has encouraged fascinating dialogue with really smart, sophisticated people," he said. "I get to follow the best and brightest in media, tech, sports and the like — all passions of mine!"
While it is assumed that networking with those outside your company is a key benefit of Twitter, Jeff DeBalko, President and Chief Internet Officer of Reed Business Information-US (@jeffdebalko, 350 followers, 1,086 tweets), pointed out in a Tumblr post (more on Tumblr) that the opposite can also be true.
"Almost immediately once I began using Twitter and started following my employees, I began developing relationships deep in the organization that simply, despite my best efforts, would not have happened without Twitter," DeBalko wrote. "Most importantly, the Twitter exchanges led to face-to-face meetings, cups of coffee, a beer after work, etc., that gave me much greater insight into the challenges my staff was facing and the great ideas that many of them had for growing the business."
One of the biggest concerns that executives cite when asked why they don't tweet is that transparency can backfire, especially with employees. Many fail to see the potential for improved communication and understanding of employee morale.
2. Twitter is a powerful PR and marketing tool that can strengthen credibility
Twenty years ago, getting the Wall Street Journal to turn your glossy PR picture into a headcut for a story on the front page was the dominant means of generating exposure for your ideas, communicating to potential investors and cultivating credibility in the financial and media markets. Today, Twitter can do the same — but more frequently and consistently.
DeBalko added that there is PR risk in not tweeting. "In almost every article I read that quotes a CEO leading the 'transformation' of a legacy media company, they talk about the importance of embracing digital," he said. "Yet, very few of them actually use social media to engage with their employees, partners, and customers. As a business leader, you have to walk the walk or you have no credibility."
The issue of credibility is shared by both the executive and the company. While some media companies like Hearst let the corporate account do the heavy lifting on Twitter, more and more companies are leveraging their CEO's Twitter presence as well. "Tweeting is a great way to build brands, whether it be @fwmedia or @dnussbaum. It is a way to market ideas, services or products," said Nussbaum.
While maintaining your relationships on social networks requires effort, Alan Meckler, CEO of Web Media Brands (@alanmeckler, 2,345 followers, 2,313 tweets), noted in his email that it's a lot easier than blogging. "I blogged from 2003 until a few years ago and found tweeting less demanding," Meckler said. "So I dropped blogging for tweeting, which I found it to be terrific as a PR vehicle for our company and our evolving product line ... Overall, the PR value for the company is immense."
3. Relationships made virtually can lead to business deals in the real world
eMedia Vitals has landed advertising commitments, connected with new sources for stories and developed business alliances — all from engaging on Twitter. We're not alone in that regard. Nussbaum shared a success that generated profit while also supporting a charity: "We launched a campaign to donate 50 percent of the profits from our eStores to the Red Cross (for Japanese relief) to help those in need due to the tsunami. We aggressively used Twitter to promote the fundraiser (F+W has over 100 Twitter accounts), and we raised over $10k in one day for a very good and important cause."
If Sun Tzu tweeted, he might read a lot like Meckler, who says that he sees benefit in managing vendors and customers. "I have also used Twitter effectively to get certain vendors to pay us on time by stating that I would tweet the truth about their current situation, etc.," he said. "So, it also gives me real leverage if used correctly and fairly."
Advice for media executives
Media executives don't have to start off by being the company's figurehead on Twitter. Many B2B tweeters set up two accounts, one for personal interests outside of the industry and one to serve as their industry persona. McCarthy recommended this approach. "To get a sense of the possibilities, tweet around a personal interest or passion," he said. "You'll connect with a lot of different people. I maintain a separate Twitter account that I use to interact with writers, artists and other creatives. I've made valuable relationships and discovered new and interesting people." Having a second account is a great way to learn how to connect and engage, instead of trying to generate clicks or views.
DeBalko's Tumblr post, written after posting his 1,000th tweet, is absolutely worth a read. In it he shares some great insight on leadership as well as Twitter usage: "As a business leader, you have to be careful in how you engage, especially with your employees. Some employees use Twitter as a way to vent about their job and that is fine. There are times when you should jump in and try and solve a problem or make things better, and there are times when you just need to let them vent and not be intrusive. It’s a fine line that took me time to learn."
How do media executives managing large companies with countless pressing issues make time for Twitter? Measure it. Most execs have a bit of competitive fire, and measuring your influence versus competitors, colleagues and industry friends is a great way to stay committed. For comparison purposes, I am @pshibles and have 244 followers and 995 tweets, but these two metrics are only part of the overall social media picure. While their are many services that give a more comprehensive look at Twitter statistics, many find Klout to be both fun and easy to use. Here's how the CEOs in this story stack up: