Bill Clinton has just become the latest serving or former politician to join the ranks of Twitter. In just a few weeks, the former US President has racked up over half a million followers and seems to have caught the bug.
— Bill Clinton (@billclinton) April 25, 2013
Twitter-love is far from an American phenomenon. A recent study found that 75% of politicians are on Twitter worldwide. In the UK, 62% of MPs are actively using Twitter, including the Chancellor @George_Osborne who started tweeting on Budget Day.
For our elected officials, Twitter provides them with the opportunity to gain a ‘voice’, demonstrate a willingness to engage and the agility to maintain conversations. By building engagement, they also build loyalty, explain positions more clearly and, crucially, shorten the gap between them and the electorate.
So, why do so few bosses of our leading companies currently share this approach?
Portland’s research has discovered that only 28 Chief Executives of companies listed on FTSE 350 Index have Twitter profiles. What’s more, 22 of those have never tweeted, making a grand total of 1.7% of the index who are actively taking part in the conversations on Twitter.
That picture is reflected in the US, where just 19 CEOs from FORTUNE 500 companies (3.8%) have accounts.
There are some notable exceptions. News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch has earned following of 400,000 with a Twitter feed that blends business insights with a stream of consciousness.
Trying to learn transcendental meditation.Everyone recommends, not that easy to get started, but said to improve everything!
— Rupert Murdoch(@rupertmurdoch) April 21, 2013
Virgin’s Richard Branson has led the way and put social media at the heart of his company’s communications. Sir Richard uses social media company-wide to tap into conversations that its customers and stakeholders are having and find out what they’re doing right and wrong. He is also not afraid to open himself up to questioning.
— richardbranson (@richardbranson) May 17, 2012
O2’s Ronan Dunne is another CEO who’s taken to Twitter in a big way. Initially dismissive, he embraced the platform once he saw how customers and staff were using it. He recently admitted to searching Twitter for the term “02″ every night before he goes to bed!
Of the CEOs in the FTSE350 who do actively tweet, the platform serves a variety of functions.
Hossein Yassaie of Imagination Technologies (@hy42) uses Twitter socially and to comment on current events, Richard Steeves of Synergy, Oliver Cooper of Perform Group, Ruby McGregor-Smith of MITIE Group & Samir Brikho of AMEC are focussed on promoting their businesses and CSR activities, while Sebastian James of Dixons Retail (@dixonsseb) uses twitter to communicate directly with employees.
Twitter is now so ubiquitous and mainstream that I believe more business leader should get on board.
Not only is it a brilliant tool for listening, but it gives you an opportunity to build an audience and use your followers to amplify, monitor and engage on topics quickly.
Naturally, there will be issues and there will be some pain, but there are mechanisms available to minimise the risks and systems of engagement to push out messages more thoroughly.
Many of us at Portland have had experience in setting up engagement projects in unhelpful atmospheres – I ran digital communications at No10, for example – and there are ways to take part without opening yourself up to the aggressive and inane.
By fully embracing social media, CEOs can get their messages across whilst demonstrating an open mindset and human face.
Mark Flanagan is partner for digital at Portland and tweets @markflanagan_
The Sun is setting on the era of free news.
The website of the UK’s favourite red top newspaper is set to disappear behind a paywall in the autumn.
This follows the announcement by The Daily Telegraph that it is also going to charge for access to its website.
On-line readers will be prevented by a metered paywall from accessing more than 20 stories a month without a digital subscription.
These changes follow what’s been happening across the other side of the Atlantic.
The Washington Post and the San Francisco Chronicle are to follow the lead of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal and charge for online content.
But the Sun and Telegraph may not find the change as easy as their American counterparts.
Publishers on both sides of the Atlantic know they will face resentment when readers find themselves charged for something once free.
But in the UK, there is the added problem that they are also going be able to continue to find high quality and comprehensive coverage without paying.
Unlike the US, Britain has a large publicly funded news organisation, the BBC, which pumps out vast amounts of free content all day long.
And the Daily Mail and Guardian have chosen a different course in which they distribute content for free and try to maximise advertising revenue around it.
It is a strategy which has helped the Mail website, whose product is much closer to The Sun than the content in its own paper, become the world’s most popular news site.
The big question for The Sun is whether, in such hard times, its readers will be prepared to hand over cash – even with the carrot of unique Premier League clips.
When making the decision, they had the experience of News International’s other UK title, The Times, to guide them.
The Times already operates a ‘hard’ paywall which allows no access to content without subscription.
According to The National Readership Survey, the result is the Times is now read by fewer people than any other general quality newspaper brand.
To be fair, there is no easy solution for publishers. Print is declining and the internet has destroyed the appeal of the content bundle, which is what a newspaper is.
Online subscriptions will support quality journalism so businesses need to experiment with multiple revenue sources in the new era.
The calculation for The Sun and Telegraph is that, even with a much smaller level of readership, the revenue from subscription will provide a sustainable income.
It is claimed that The Times, with a smaller readership, is in better financial health than the Guardian which continues to give all its content away.
For my money, however, the flight to paywalls runs counter to the way audiences want to consume media in a digital age.
Users are now comfortable with content discovery through search and social media.
And if your content is not easily findable on Google or shareable on social media, then, over time, you are going to lose readers and become less influential.
We already have clients who tell us they don’t want material given to the paywalled publications – precisely for this reason.
It will be fascinating to see the impact of the on-line moves by the Sun and Telegraph.
Their owners hope they will prove a turning point in the quest for a sustainable business model for newspapers.
But they could also help speed up their own inevitable decline. Only time will tell.