Less than 5 Percent of Fortune 500 CEOs on Twitter

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on June 10, 2011

The Numbers

Over the past few years, I’ve seen dozens of articles and blog posts about CEOs on Twitter. In many cases, the examples provided are leaders like like Tony Hsieh (CEO, Zappos), Tim O’Reilly (CEO, O’Reilly Media) and Guy Kawasaki (CEO, Alltop). And while these gentlemen do a great job engaging with their customers and by doing so have created massive followings, they aren’t leading large, publicly traded companies. That’s by no means a knock on these gentleman but rather a comment on the fact that because so few CEOs of Fortune 500 companies are on Twitter, it’s hard to find many examples.

To that end, the inspiration for this post came as a result of a recent client inquiry about CEOs from publicly traded companies on Twitter.  Upon digging into the request, I started wondering about the number of CEOs at big brands were using social tools like Twitter. After some preliminary digging, I quickly realized that nobody (at least that I could find) had ever done a comprehensive list of CEOs on Twitter. Determined not to be stopped by this lack of preliminary research, I employed the services of my now former colleague, Andrea Lipizzi, to painstakingly look up every Fortune 500 CEO and see if they had established an account on Twitter.

What we found was that 5 % of all Fortune 500 CEOs were on Twitter. Unfortunately, a little less than half of those CEOs fall into the “active”* category. In fact, there are exactly 14**** CEOs from Fortune 500 companies that we could find with active accounts. We’ve listed those CEOs below along with number of tweets, followers, and users followed. If you’d like a list of these folks, I’ve also created one here on Twitter.

  • Berkshire Hathaway | Warren Buffet | 1 tweets | 62,404 Followers | Following 1 |
  • Costco Wholesale | James Sinegal | 1 tweets | 27 Followers | Following 7 |
  • Dell Inc. | Michael Dell | 553 tweets | 18,005 Followers | Following 515 |
  • Best Buy | Brian Dunn | 916 tweets | 9,859 Followers | Following 1,140 |
  • Supervalu | Craig Herkert | 15 tweets | 73 Followers | Following 17 |
  • Aetna | Mark Bertolini | 46 tweets | 279 Followers | Following 38 |
  • Google** | Eric Schmidt | 48 tweets | 318,412 Followers | Following 96 |
  • Motorola | Gregory Brown | 55 tweets | 162 Followers | Following 18 |
  • Manpower | Jeffrey Joerres | 341 tweets | 61,583 Followers | Following 48 |
  • eBay | John Donahoe | 23 tweets | 2,514 Followers | Following 55 |
  • Campbell Soup | Douglas Conant | 51 tweets | 522 Followers | Following 604 |
  • Fiserv | Jeffery Yabuki | 18 tweets | 191 Followers | Following 5 |
  • American Family Insurance Group | Jack Salzwedel*** | 789 tweets | 754 Followers | Following 29 |
  • Medtronic | Omar Ishrak***** | 3 tweets | 538 followers | following14 |

*Note, I’ve defined “active” as having at least one follower, a profile picture and at least one tweet.
**Was CEO up until 4/4/2011 — now Executive Chairman
***Currently President & COO but will be CEO in November
****Omar Ishrak, the new CEO of Medtronic, is new to Twitter as of June 13

The 12 “inactive” accounts or those that had claimed a name  but hadn’t yet tweeted or have their accounts set to private include:

* Retired in 2010

Why Aren’t More More CEOs on Twitter?

While we know there will be more CEOs from big (and small) companies over time, here are a few reasons why more CEOs haven’t adopted Twitter yet:

  • CEOs are busy people with tons of demands on their time.
  • The stakes are high – if you make a mistake, you can end up in the front page of the Wall Street Journal… and not in a good way.
  • Financial risk makes it tricky to talk about meaningful drivers to the business (the SEC doesn’t take kindly to potential insider information).
  • Twitter is hard to learn so learning “on the job” while the world is watching can be unnerving.

Benefits of CEOs being on Twitter

While it’s true that getting on Twitter can be scary as a CEO, there are some compelling reasons for these leaders to be on a social platform with over 200 million users. In particular, two CEOs out of the list above that do a good job at being social, embracing their employees and customers. Michael Dell (Dell) and Brian Dunn (BestBuy) have both have used Twitter enough times to get the hang of it and I’m told in both cases that these execs manage their own accounts. I haven’t interviewed them directly but watching their tweet streams and talking to some of their colleagues, here are some of the advantages that I can see them deriving:

  • Realtime Feedback – Michael and Brian are closer to their customers and thus know what customers like and dislike about their company… firsthand.
  • New Product Ideas – Because these CEOs can interface with their customers AND employees directly, they have an open line of communication to get new ideas in a digestible format. Even better, they can ask more questions publicly or privately if they want to know more.
  • Brand building – If you haven’t noticed, social is pretty hip these days. Having a CEO that tweets or blogs shows that they are working hard to stay in touch with new trends.
  • Discovery – CEOs that are on Twitter are naturally going to be more inclined to see more news, updates and points of view than if they weren’t actively engaging on Twitter.

If I’ve missed someone or you want to add an exec at your company — Fortune 500 or not — that does a good job on Twitter, please feel free to include in the comments below.

By: Aaron Strout

Aaron is the President of WCG, one of the three agencies under the W2O Group umbrella. He is a regular contributor to Marketing Land and a co-host of video podcast, Live from Stubbs.

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4 Responses

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  1. Nice post. Thanks for the research

  2. Ok… 1. the comment thread is almost better than the article itself. 2. Kudos to Andrea for her research effort. 3. Aaron, so eloquent, “Over the last four years on Twitter, I can honestly say that I learned more than in my 6 years spent in undergrad and grad school. To have access to not only the content but also the conversations and the back stories behind them has been invaluable. I’ve also had unprecedented access to people I NEVER would have met or gotten to interact with had I not been involved with social.” and 4. I would love to see a comparison to AGE. What is the average age of a F500 CEO? It’s got to be 60+. Now, what’s the average age of an active Twitter user. I think as time goes by we will see a rise in the number of CEO’s who are active on Twitter, many of whom will credit their network with the position of leadership they hold. Great article. I look forward to sharing this will all my CEO friends.

  3. Gareth Jones said

    Nice post Aaron. I think the biggest win is where the advantages on being in touch with the employees comes into play. It’s as powerful and transformational, if not more so, than engaging with your customers. Unfortunately, whilst a few are getting the need to engage socially externally, V few are doing it internally. Further, I don’t know of any examples where the organisation has allowed both external and internal to collaborate completely openly and freely.

    Also, interesting to note that quite a few in the list have what I call “celebrity” follower/following profiles – lots of followers but following very few in return. This is not engagement.

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Early adoption and social adstock linked to this post on March 25, 2012

    […] tend to lag behind the general population in personal social media use. Of Fortune 500 CEOs, only about 14 are active on Twitter—less than 3%.  Among US internet users in general, that rate jumps 333% to 13% of the […]

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