nat rothschild british financer reuters
When Nat Rothschild, the co-founder of troubled miner ARMS, took to Twitter to insult his former investment partner last week, he demonstrated the power of social media for business leaders seeking publicity — but Also demonstrates the danger of saying the wrong thing.

“While your father is an evil genius,” the scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty tweeted to Aga Bakrie, “the word on the street is that you are extremely stupid .”

The tweet made the front pages of media outlets around the world as reporters, accustomed to the measured language of corporate press releases, seized on a seemingly unguarded remark that showed how even powerful businessmen can be reduced to playground taunting .

For Rothschild, the publicity is a good opportunity to revive interest in his long-running campaign against Indonesia’s influential Bakrie family, whom he blames for the plunge in the value of ARMS’s predecessor company. Within 24 hours, his Twitter followers jumped from 200 to 1,700.

But not all business leaders were so lucky for their apparently off-the-cuff remarks on social media.

Last year, the boss of budget airline Ryanair, Michael O’Leary, was denounced as a “sexist pig” by Twitter user after he tweeted: “Nice photo. Phwoaaarr!” A The woman, whose image was featured in a live Q&A session.

Meanwhile, the former chief executive of UK Cooperative Group opened up about divisions within the company in March when he took to Facebook to accuse or more board members of being “determined to destroy me personally” after his pay package was leaked to the media. . He resigned after a few days.

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Even Twitter boss Dick Costolo got in trouble on the social media site, comparing academic Vivek Wadwha to bombastic American comedian Carrot Top, The professor has previously said Twitter’s board lacks diversity.

It’s no surprise that a study last year by and Domo found that 68 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs don’t use any social networks. Company bosses on Twitter are on the rise, more than halving from 2012 to 2013, but the number remains small, with just 28 of the site’s top 500 CEOs.

For many CEOs, the stakes are simply too high.

“Unless you’re happy that something is on the front page of a newspaper or on a newswire, you shouldn’t really be tweeting,” said Mary Whenman, managing director of corporate, financial and public affairs at Weber Shandwick, a PR agency.

activist investor
Social media, a dangerous platform for outspoken chief executives, has been used more effectively by activist investors seeking to drum up support for campaigns.

For example, the tech conglomerate finally proposed a $14 billion stock in February after billionaire investor Carl Icahn tweeted for months urging Apple to buy back more stock. buyback program.

Nat Rothschild himself, while insisting his outburst with Aga Bakrie was “instinctive,” admits he joined Twitter a few weeks ago for “strategic reasons.”

“I’m interested in Indonesia and my investments, of which involves serious litigation, and in that regard I want to make sure that people continue to focus on the situation,” he told Reuters.

While announcing market-moving news via Twitter has been allowed since last year in the US, it has been banned in the UK, where it must first go through regulated channels.

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But Twitter allows businesses to jump into an emotional news story and immediately respond to an event.

“You could see how slow it was to use the traditional email and press release distribution system,” said Rory Goldson, founder of communications agency Powerscourt, who suggested to Rothschild that he should join Twitter.

“It’s definitely not for everyone…but in this case, for Nat, it allows him to react very quickly and it also allows him to build global support.”

know when to stop
Some business leaders do.

Rupert Murdoch and Richard Branson are both regarded within the communications industry as master minds of 140 characters or fewer, despite being almost Invulnerable post protection. Murdoch has about 500,000 followers on Twitter, Branson has 4 million.

Jeff Joerres, chief executive of human resources group Manpower, who has more than 7,000 Twitter followers, told Reuters the social network is an important way to give big business a human face, although knowing boundaries is crucial.

“You have to put some personality and imagination into it, but don’t overdo it,” he said. “It’s my personal account, but at the same time it’s not — I’m speaking on behalf of the company.”

executive who has won plaudits for using Twitter is Paul Pester, the boss of Britain’s TSB bank, who jumped onto the social network in January to respond to complaints after thousands of cash machines malfunctioned. His personal tone in apologizing and advice helped navigate the crisis.

For Weber Shandwick’s Whenman, social media must now be considered part of being a CEO. “Just like the CEO of any FTSE 100 company needs to be interviewed by the media, attend analyst briefings, now need to have a social media profile. It’s a normal part of business life,” she said.

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Manpower’s Joerres says Twitter is like drinking, just knowing your limits.

“People only need to worry if they’re doing something stupid,” he said. “I go to the bar, don’t worry. You only go to the bar to worry if you think you’re going to do something stupid while you’re drinking.”

© Thomson Reuters 2014

By Rebecca French

Rebecca French writes books about Technology and smartwatches. Her books have received starred reviews in Technology Shout, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist. She is a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller...