Ronan Dunne

An audit from global PR firm Weber Shandwick found just 2 per cent of CEOs from the top 50 companies listed in Fortune Magazine’s 2012 Global 500 rankings have a visible presence on Twitter, compared with 8 per cent in 2010.

The report suggested CEOs have ditched Twitter after witnessing their comments and those from other leaders being criticised and shared on a mass scale online and in the media. Additionally, Weber Shandwick said CEOs feel less comfortable communicating in just 140 characters rather than other platforms which allow more room for explanation.

O2 CEO Ronan Dunne has more than 3,400 Twitter followers and uses the account to share good news but also apologise for events such as its network being out of service. He says Twitter can be used as an important gauge to discover what people are feeling and find interesting but warns other CEOs never to be “disingenuous”.

He adds: “Understandably business leaders are nervous about a public showdown, but I believe that responsibility comes with the job. The trick is to be consistent in your approach – I make sure all personal account queries are responded to by our experts in the customer service team, for example, and engage where I am best suited to the job.”

Will King, founder of CEO of King of Shaves has gone one step further than other CEOs by combining the brand’s account with his own personal profile. He says with “confidence in deep hibernation” across the globe, personal interaction is “critical” for long term brand health.

“Gone are the days where what brands told consumers would be unquestioningly listened to by consumers. Now it’s what customers say about a brand that matters. If you’re a CEO you should be fully embedded in a world of digital dialogue; for if you thought a week was a long time in crisis management, nowadays it’s less than a day to determine the outcome of a crisis,” he adds.

CEOs not on Twitter may even be viewed as “conspicuous” by their absence, according to TBG Digital’s commercial director Lee Griffin.

He adds: “Social media has made service levels and customer satisfaction topics that are openly discussed in the public domain. I would urge CEOs to embrace Twitter as possibly the best way to be part of the conversation and to seek training in how best to use it.”

Separately, Edelman’s 2013 Trust Barometer found there is a widening gap between the trust people have in business and the trust people have with the leaders of those institutions to tell the truth – with consumers trusting regular employees who they relate to rather than chief executives. In the UK, CEOs are less trusted (39 per cent) than the global score of 43 per cent.

Richard Edelman, Edelman president and CEO, says CEOs should look to aim for credibility through “more democratic” leadership of their businesses by engaging with staff and consumers more about their operations. Indeed, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff has previously said what is widely referred to as the social revolution is actually a “trust revolution”.

Edelman told Marketing Week: “It used to be the case that people would trust a business because of their CEO but our theory is that it’s exactly the opposite now. Experts and employees are twice as credible than a chief executive as a spokesperson, so if you’re just putting your CEO out there you’re not being very astute.”

Percentage of ‘top global CEOs’ that use social media
Source: Weber Shandwick

Site 2010 2012
Facebook 4% 10%
LinkedIn 4% 6%
Twitter 8% 2%
Google+ n/a 2%