Despite the explosion of Twitter into mainstream awareness, many senior executives are unsure whether this new social mechanism is valuable or a waste of time. For CIOs, the issue particularly hits home because social channels, such as Twitter and Facebook, are attractive to enterprise users but also pose a potential risk for information leakages.
Some CIO's such as Oliver Bussmann from SAP, Seton Hill University's Phil Komarny, and the General Services Administration's CIO, Casey Coleman, have embraced the new medium. Many other CIOs have made tentative steps but are uncertain how to proceed.
One of India's leading industrialists, Anand Mahindra, recently described how he uses Twitter. His comments are insightful and reflect an accurate understanding of Twitter dynamics (emphasis added):
To summarise, when people ask me, “why are you on this (twitter)”, I say, “It helps build my company and the brand. How does it help you build the brand? You can use it as a broadcast channel and it is enormously useful as the numbers multiply. Say, if you have half a million followers, there are very few English language newspapers that can boast that kind of circulation. So, there is a broadcast value to get your message out.
But you learn very early on twitter that you will have no one following you if it is a one-way channel and it’s purely broadcasting and only brand-building. Followers will ALLOW you to get your message out, they will PERMIT you to broadcast your messages, they will PERMIT you to build your corporate brand and identity PROVIDED you are of interest to them. They don’t follow you simply because they like your brand. They follow you if you say things that are of value to them, if you share something of yourself with them, because curiosity and voyeurism is part of everybody. We all would love to know what Michael Jackson was thinking or what Bill Gates is thinking or Madonna is thinking. If they don’t share their thinking, I don’t think anyone would be interested – the real live following wont be there.
These reflections lead to five important lessons for CIOs who want to tweet:
- Twitter magnifies your voice. Who follows you is more important than their numbers. When customers, staff members, and your CEO follow your tweets it means you are doing something right.
- Don't be a shill. Your brand is important but one-way advertising broadcasts will bore your followers and cause them to lose interest.
- Say something interesting. You cannot force anyone to follow you so be insightful, engaging, slightly provocative, and fun. Just like in real life.
- Share yourself and honest. The value of Twitter rises as you expose your real interests, concerns, and goals. Don't hide behind admins and assistants - make yourself accessible.
- Never forget, followers are the boss. This is most important of all: followers control whether or not your message gets out. Always respect and value your followers.
Success with Twitter depends on getting out there and experimenting. Follow these guidelines and your tweeting experience will be useful and valuable.
Thanks to JP Rangaswami for bringing the Mahindra article to my attention on Twitter. JP is currently an executive at salesforce.com and is a former CIO; his brother wrote the excellent article.