The Pope Tweets, So Why Not CEOs?

So the Pope plans to tweet. Which makes him, at age 85, more savvy about digital content than most Fortune 500 CEOs.

CEOs tend to wonder why they should be on Twitter, or what they’d say, or what value tweeting could possibly bring to them or their companies. But here’s what Pope Benedict has already proven: People want to hear from their leaders. Within 24 hours of announcing and setting up his account, the Pope got 370,000 followers. That’s before a single tweet.

How does that rack up in the Twitter universe? For one thing, CEOs are pretty much nowhere to be found. The most followed person on Twitter is Lady Gaga, with 31.7 million followers. She’s just ahead of Justin Bieber, Katy Perry and Rihanna — and then comes President Obama with 24.1 million followers.

After Obama, every top tweeter is a performer or sports figure or entity like CNN, until you get to Bill Gates at number 37. Gates has 9 million followers — and he actually aggressively tweets, almost entirely about issues related to his philanthropic work.


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Rex Tillerson, CEO of the biggest company, ExxonMobil, doesn’t have a Twitter account. Neither does Michael Duke, CEO of the second-biggest company, Wal-Mart. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon and Fortune‘s business person of the  year, doesn’t tweet. Neither does Keith Wandell, CEO of Harley-Davidson. Surely lots of Harley fans would want to follow Wandell.

Warren Buffett has a Twitter account and 117,603 followers. He’s tweeted exactly once — on Feb. 20, 2009, to say he was about to start tweeting. That’s a lot of disappointed followers.

On the other hand, Jeff Immelt, GE’s CEO, tweets quite a lot, but hardly anyone seems to care — at least compared to Lady Gaga, or even a deficient tweeter like Buffett. Immelt has 6,327 followers.

Certainly Twitter is not a stand-alone content strategy. Just tweeting doesn’t do much. But it can be an effective part of a broader plan to win an audience. You want those brief little tweets to take people to other content — videos, books, products, news, etc. And you want to pump out tweets that matter, so that followers will re-tweet, spreading the word. As Mo Rocca says, re-tweeting is the new applause.


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