Why Real Leaders Don’t Tweet


According to a joint Social CEO study from CEO.com and Domo, a venture-backed business intelligence software company, more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 CEOs still have absolutely no social media or social network presence whatsoever.

But there is some good news. According to the news release, “One extremely positive trend, however, is that a progressive, social-savvy breed of Fortune 500 CEO is emerging. This group is represented by the likes of Satya Nadella of Microsoft and Jonas Prising of ManpowerGroup …”

While those two executives have apparently been on Twitter the longest, they’re not nearly the progressive users they’re made out to be.

Nadella has actually tweeted all of 218 times over the past five years. He follows 45 people and has 15 favorites. With 311 tweets, Prising hasn’t done much better. He follows 133 people and has just one lonely favorite. That, of course, assumes they’re even managing their own accounts. You never know.

The release also highlights the Twitter use of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who it says, “spends most of his time on Twitter communicating back and forth with his audience …”

In reality, Zuckerberg hasn’t tweeted in over three years. All told, he’s sent 19 tweets – all but one within a one-month stretch back in 2009.

So much for the good news about that progressive, social-savvy breed of CEOs.

As of 2014, 8.3% of Fortune 500 CEOs actually have Twitter accounts. Meanwhile, the report says, “many are not actively using the service, which means they are missing important opportunities to engage with customers, partners, employees and other stakeholders.”

But is that really true? Are they really missing out on opportunities to engage with those stakeholders? And even if they are, is that really the key metric that social media marketers and consultants make it out to be? 

Call me old school, but when it comes to how CEOs spend their precious time, if it doesn’t in some material way drive revenues, profits, shareholder value, or some metric that’s critical to business, they’re not going to do it. They’re simply too smart for that.

Besides, executives have better things to do. You know, like running their companies, hiring and retaining talented executives, keeping the cash flowing, and coming up with innovative strategies to produce great products that customers love and kill the competition.

One thing’s for sure. Time is something that executives and business leaders never have enough of.

A recent Harvard Business Review article asks, “Is Social Media Actually Helping Your Company’s Bottom Line?” The answer, according to the accompanying graphic, is “#NOPE.” And the article provides an impressive data-driven argument to back up that conclusion. You can read it here or I can just boil it down for you this way: the ROI is simply not there.

Social media is about as valuable to your business as the half billion tweets sent every day that nobody has time to read because everybody’s too busy tweeting and retweeting, posting and sharing, linking and liking, messaging and emailing, playing games and watching videos to pay any attention.

Frankly, it’s hard to believe that anyone smart, capable and experienced enough to climb to the very top of the corporate ladder would for a second think their little droplets of personal posts can make anything more than tiny ripples in an endless sea of user-generated content. It just doesn’t pass the smell test.

It’s almost laughable, when you think about it. Opportunity cost is the silent killer of businesses. That’s why we all learned to focus on doing only what we do best. And everything we do, we do with distinct purpose.

We have zero-based budgeting to ensure we only invest in opportunities with the best potential returns. We have product and capital pipelines with detailed milestones and schedules to maintain operating efficiency. And if we’re smart, we devise clear goals and strategies that we follow religiously.

And yet, we’ve somehow managed to talk ourselves into generating terabytes of content and endlessly pursuing clicks and followers without considering if that’s the most effective way to engage people or even connecting the dots to see where all that effort leads.

Well, I’ll tell you where it doesn’t lead. It doesn’t lead to business. And it doesn’t lead to effective stakeholder engagement, at least not nearly as efficiently as old school techniques such as in-person meetings, one-on-ones or simply picking up the phone. Even socializing over dinner, drinks or a golf game is far better.

The other day I got a new Twitter follower. He follows 137,000 people. If he spent all of fifteen seconds choosing whom to follow, the guy would have to spend a half hour of every day over five years to follow that many people. Clearly, that’s not what he’s doing. He’s just clicking away and chasing numbers, like a hamster running on a wheel.

As a columnist, posting online is part of my job. But in the seven or eight years I’ve been doing this, I can count the social media connections that made a real difference to my business on the fingers of one hand. And if I were still a senior executive, I’d be wasting about as much time on social media as most of the top executives out there, meaning not a whole lot.

Maybe there are exceptions, but don’t take it for granted and just blindly follow the popular crowd. After all, that’s not what leaders do. Leaders lead and leave the following to the crowd.