Should CEOs Be All A-Twitter?

If you’re a CEO, must you greet and tweet?

Evidently, many think not. The Wall Street Journal reported recently that most executives “have generally steered clear of social media even as their companies have embraced it to commune with customers and pursue new business.” Why are they reluctant? It’s too easy to say the wrong thing, it takes too much time, and it has not proven to be effective.

But not every CEO sees Twitter that way. Former Medtronic CEO Bill George, now a management professor at Harvard Business School, thinks that the right kind of tweeting can help a CEO showcase his or her authenticity. “People want CEOs who are real. They want to know what you think,” George told the Journal. “Can you think of a more cost-effective way of getting to your customers and employees?

As provocative as George’s comment is, we believe that Peter Drucker would have sided more with the reticent CEOs on this one.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s CEO, Tweets at a 2009 conference. Photo credit: Robert Scoble

The fact that Twitter isn’t proven to boost business is one factor. In the same way, Drucker didn’t mind advertising, but he counseled against blind faith in its powers. “No one really knows if advertising does anything, or, if so, what,” Drucker warned in The Age of Discontinuity.

Drucker would also likely have been skeptical of the power of Twitter to communicate effectively. With customers, it’s the products that matter—not personalities (arguably save for some rare exceptions, like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs).

With employees, the benefit may also be slight. “All one can communicate downwards are commands, that is, prearranged signals,” Drucker wrote inTechnology, Management and Society . “One cannot communicate downwards anything connected with understanding, let along with motivation. This requires communication upwards.”

Still, if there’s one point on which Drucker certainly would have agreed with George it’s the need for leaders to be authentic. “The effective executives I have seen differ widely in their temperaments and their abilities, in what they do and how they do it, in their personalities, their knowledge, their interests—in fact in almost everything that distinguishes human beings,” Drucker wrote. Therefore, he advised: “Be yourself.”

In other words, if you do decide to communicate via social media, make sure you are what you tweet.

What do you think: Must an effective CEO be on Twitter, or is that a distraction?