Elon Musk says CEOs should tweet more, but his tweets have been a double-edged sword
- Elon Musk told CEOs on Wednesday to tweet more as it has "worked quite well" for him.
- But, experts say posting on social media can cause major issues for executives and their brands.
Elon Musk gave some advice to other CEOs on Wednesday: tweet more.
"I would encourage the [brands'] Twitter handles to be more active and for their CEO and CMOs to be more active on the system," Musk said during a public meeting with advertisers on Twitter Spaces. "I would encourage people just to be more adventurous, that's certainly what I've done on Twitter with Tesla and myself and SpaceX and it's worked out quite well."
Musk, the richest person in the world, has created something of a brand for himself on Twitter and is easily one of the most recognizable and vocal CEOs online. He's known for posting memes, cracking jokes, and even starting a few feuds on Twitter.
At the same time, Musk often acts as the sole spokesperson for Tesla, SpaceX, and now Twitter. He announces rocket launches, Tesla software updates, and new Twitter features on a near-daily basis. Musk dissolved Tesla's public relations departments years ago and within days of taking over Twitter axed all but one member of the social media company's team of representatives.
Social media expert Matt Navarra told Insider that Musk has discovered a way to generate a lot of free media coverage from being a "big character online," but there are signs his personality on social media could spell trouble for Twitter.
On Wednesday, Interactive Advertising Bureau CEO David Cohen asked Musk how marketers should think about Musk's personal brand and how it could impact Twitter's corporate image. Just this week, Musk tweeted out a masturbation joke and an image of a Nazi soldier, two examples of tweets that brands would likely want to avoid advertising next to.
Musk's presence on social media has caused issues for Tesla in the past. Most notably, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) charged Musk in 2018 with fraud after he tweeted that he would take Tesla private, with "funding secured." Musk was later forced to pay a $20 million fine and stripped of his role of chairman at Tesla.
Tesla was also required to pay an additional $20 million and the SEC ordered the electric-car maker to oversee Musk's future public communications. Since then, the billionaire has attempted to appeal the settlement and faced another SEC investigation regarding a tweet that asked his followers last year whether he should sell 10% of his Tesla stock.
Ultimately, legal experts say posting on social media is too risky for most CEOs.
A tweet could damage companies in a number of ways — from offending customers to threatening unions or launching regulatory investigations, said Gerard Filitti, senior counsel at The Lawfare Project, an international non-profit legal think tank and litigation fund based in New York City. Executives' comments on social media could also fail to translate to younger generations with different values and worldviews, said Anat Alon-Beck, a business law professor at Case Western Reserve University.
"The danger of social media is that it's so immediate, and so ephemeral, and feels so much like a conversation, that it's easy for anyone to say off-the-cuff things that were ill-considered," Ann Lipton, a business law professor at Tulane University, said.
Musk isn't the only executive to get in hot water over public statements. Earlier this year, Whole Foods CEO John Mackey said he had "muzzled" himself for 13 years after his comments in a 2009 radio interview comparing Obamacare to fascism sparked calls for a boycott of Whole Foods.
Risks aside, most executives would struggle to build the type of branding through tweeting that Musk has mastered, said University of Michigan business law professor Erik Gordon.
"Most CEOs come across as artificially fabricated spokespeople," Gordon said. "And with good reason. Their messages are crafted and redrafted by a team of public relations, investor relations and legal bird dogs. The CEO messages sound as if they were written by a computer."
So while Musk may have built up a huge following with his off-the-cusp tweets and jokes, for most CEOs, the risks of tweeting are likely too great.
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