Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk. Photo: AP

CAPE TOWN - Last week Elon Musk - Tesla chief executive - tweeted: “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured”. 

It caused a furore. After the tweet, Tesla shares jumped, but subsequently fell by 6 percent after speculation that the funding was not yet secured.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has now decided to launch a probe into whether Musk violated an SEC rule that essentially stipulates that public statements made by company executives must be true. There’s a claim that at the time of tweeting the funding was not yet secured. 

There’s no better business case study for illustrating the true cost of irresponsible tweeting by a company executive.  

The Tesla board now has a major headache due to a simple tweet. 

Musk’s behaviour on Twitter should serve as a wake-up call for company boards to monitor how executives communicate on social media.  

Musk is not the first leader to display negative Twitter behaviour. He wasn’t the first and won’t be the last. 

Here are some leaders whose Twitter behaviour should be avoided at all cost and some leaders whom one can learn from.

Bad Examples

Donald Trump

This week US President Donald Trump tweeted the following about Omarosa Manigault (a former White House staff member): “When you give a crazed, crying lowlife a break, and give her a job at the White House, I guess it just didn’t work out. Good work by General Kelly for quickly firing that dog!”

This tweet was seen as extremely offensive. It is one of a litany of tweets by the US president that has drawn much criticism. 

It is on the basis of his tweets that Trump has inspired negative sentiment around his presidency, which then affects his interactions with other world leaders.

Helen Zille

The premier of the Western Cape is another case study on how not to tweet. She has undergone a disciplinary process due to the following tweet: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water, etc”.

This tweet has been a subject of investigation by the Public Protector of South Africa, advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Whether Helen Zille is correct or not in what she said, the impact of this tweet has been negative and offensive to some members of society, and that should be a sufficient indicator to avoid such use of Twitter.

Magda Wierzycka

Magda Wierzycka is a South African billionaire businesswoman who is not shy to express her views in public. 

She has demonstrated unique leadership for business leaders in the financial sector for her stand against corruption. She has, however, fallen into the trap of misusing Twitter to an extent that she decided to take a break from Twitter and returned at a later stage. 

She faced a backlash for tweeting in response to the unemployment challenge that every household in the country should hire a “cleaning lady or gardener”. She deleted and apologised for that tweet and pledged R200 000 for job creation.

Besides some of her tweets, her use of Twitter has also illustrated how leaders can use Twitter to voice their concerns and take a stand on matters of national importance. 

Good Examples

Sir Richard Branson

In business circles no one comes close to Richard Branson for the effective use of Twitter. His approach to Twitter seems to be informed by a well orchestrated strategy. Most of his tweets are accompanied by great advice and linked to a blog on his personal website within the Virgin group, the company he founded.

Michael Jordaan

The banker and venture capitalist, who served as the chief executive of First National Bank, is an example of a local business leader who uses Twitter effectively for business. He tweets about innovation and some of his investments in a manner that keeps his Twitter followers informed. 

Business tweeting lesson

Tweeting is no longer not an option for business leaders. In fact, those who ignore tweeting or using Twitter run the  risk of their identity being taken over on Twitter. 

Business leaders should consider the following points in the process of tweeting for business: 

HELP – Leaders can share helpful points, such as motivational quotes and inspiring experiences. 

COMMEND – Leaders can also use their Twitter account to commend others for what they are doing, especially their employees. 

HONESTY – Authentic stories matter online. Business leaders can share some of their life experiences on Twitter, such as signing a deal, meeting someone they admire, and other positive experiences. 

Lastly, it is important to personally manage and run a Twitter account as opposed to hiring someone to manage it. People can tell when a Twitter account is missing the personal factor. The only great thing about Trump and Twitter is that he is personally tweeting and that approach allows people to know exactly what the leader thinks.

If done well, Twitter can be a great tool for marketing. On the basis of a business leader’s tweets, people can be inspired to use products and services offered by that individual’s company and organisation.

Twitter can really add value to a business if used effectively. 

Wesley Diphoko tweets about innovation and information economy. You can follow him on Twitter via @WesleyDiphoko. 

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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- BUSINESS REPORT