Elon Musk is the perfect example of how a CEO’s reckless social media use can adversely affect a company. While Musk’s distinct personal brand is credited with attracting a very passionate and vocal customer and fan base, it isn’t all upside. A single tweet in 2018 caused a $2 billion drop in Tesla’s value. Elon is on a wild Twitter roller coaster ride and he is taking multi-billion companies Tesla and SpaceX along.
Some highlights of Elon Musk’s hair-raising journey:
- Tesla’s stock dropped 7% after Musk’s April Fools’ day tweet stating Tesla was going bankrupt.
- Tesla’s market value dropped by $2 billion in one day after Musk called one of the divers involved in the rescue of a Thai soccer team a “pedo.”
- Musk and Tesla each paid a $20 million fine last year after the SEC charged Musk with making “false and misleading” statements (in the form of tweets) about him potentially taking the company private at $420 per share.
Ultimately, these infractions led the Tesla board to strip Elon of his Chairmanship of the company.
The Wall Street Journal dissected 4,925 of his tweets. The analysis reveals Musk has tweeted more each year since 2015. He tweets at all hours (during the workday and late at night), and an unusually large proportion of Elon’s tweets are replies. The intensity of his tweets make him look more like a community manager than a CEO. The Wall Street Journal’s conclusion: he should tweet less and focus more on execution.
Although Musk said he simply tweets “what he thinks” and he doesn’t believe in “carefully crafted corporate bs,” he has recently apologized for some of his tweets and said he would exercise greater control over his communications.
Elon Musk (and other CEOs) should create a set of public Twitter principles, announce them, and stick to them.
Since Musk is already considering a more mindful approach to tweeting, we will help him out with a few ideas he could apply:
Follow the SECs guidelines
Elon Musk is more similar to Tony Stark than a typical CEO. However, since Tesla is a public company, Twitter etiquette applies to superheroes as well. Musk had to pay a $20 million fine after claiming Tesla will go private with $420 a share — the SEC didn’t appreciate the marijuana-related humor.
The SEC imposed even stricter monitoring on Elon’s tweets after he breached the Commission’s initial agreement in February 2019. He tweeted an inaccurate number of Tesla cars to be shipped to Europe. As a result, Musk must now be pre-approved to share information about Tesla’s performance, earnings, or operations. Having someone pre-approve his Tweets has kept Musk out of Twitter trouble since February.
Define tweeting hours
How can Musk have enough time to run his companies while maintaining such a rigorous Tweeting schedule? Establishing non-tweet hours can soothe investors’ worries and allow Musk to better focus on work. With the hour restrictions he will also be less prone to impulsive tweets like this one:
If he saves such tweets “for later” he is more likely to realize they are not worth publishing.
He could start his new Twitter regime with an app that limits his phone usage.
“You’re gonna go a little bonkers if you work 120 hours a week,” Musk recently said in an interview. He has attributed some of his recent controversial behavior to his work schedule. Splitting his workload can be a solution to the toll the long workloads are taking on his mind and body.
A short temper (on or off Twitter) is a symptom of exhaustion. He has already mentioned his burnout is driving erratic behavior.
Working fewer hours is likely to lead to better outcomes. Not only for his company’s sake, but for his health.
Ration his responses
“Think before acting” should be the number one piece of advice for any social media user, especially public company CEOs. Many Twitter responses may not contribute to improving your personal brand’s reputation.
Musk has been going out of his way to respond to as many Twitter users as he can. He should ration his responses unless the interaction is critical for his business’s success. Responding to random users — trolls — is pointless. Avoiding Twitter spats with critics should be one of Elon Musk’s core Twitter principles.
We recommend having someone very close to him use a social media management platform such as Hootsuite to monitor criticisms and only jump on himself on the most critical issues.
humor involving sensitive aspects of your company should be as just avoided as discussing politics with a group of people you just met.
Casual humor is great but it can backfire
Humor from CEOs shows their human side, but humor involving sensitive aspects of their company is like talking politics and religion with people you just met: don’t do it. To avoid situations such as the April’s fool tweet, Elon Musk should commit to not joking about Tesla’s performance.
All tweets referring to the company–humorous or not–should increase the public’s confidence instead of taking away.
Elon Musk has more Twitter followers than Tesla and SpaceX combined. His social media visibility is a double-edged sword. If used wisely, his visibility can benefit his companies greatly. If not, it can harm clients’ and investors’ confidence in him and his ventures. Leaders who have major social media followings need to be aware of these implications and approach their communications strategically.
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