Rupert Murdoch is no stranger to the media, but in a recent change of pace for the media boss, the coverage was actually positive.

What did the Australian-born billionaire do to distract the press from its usual interest in the dubious legality of reporting techniques at his British newspapers and his controversial political views? Something very simple: He helped out a disgruntled Wall Street Journal customer via Twitter.

And to make things even more interesting, it appears that Murdoch himself is the man behind his 140-character public pronouncements. The exchange went like this:

Edward Barr @esbarr_: @rupertmurdoch second time in one month no WSJ at my door. In today's world that is beyond inexcusable#especially@$438peryear

Rupert Murdoch @rupertmurdoch: @esbarr_ Yes. Where are you?

@esbarr_: @rupertmurdoch Lexington, KY 40502, a great product that I miss when not there on timely basis#thanksforthepromptreply

@rupertmurdoch: @esbarr_ thanks. If you don't hear from customer service in 24 hours tweet me again.

According to the HBR Blog Network, Rupert is a rarity among CEOs in his personal use of Twitter. A post by Gretchen Gavett rounded up the research on social media in the C-suite:

July 2012 study conducted by DOMO and found that only 4% are on Twitter and 7.6% on Facebook (by contrast, 34% of the U.S. population is on Twitter, and 50% is on Facebook). But an IBM survey of 1,709 CEOs found that, while only 16% use social media, the number is expected to grow to 57% in five years. (A pretty comprehensive list of CEOs taking the plunge can be found here.)

So should you follow Murdoch's suit and join this select group of business leaders on Twitter and reach out to your customers online? Your first reaction may be a panicked look at your to-do list and an inner groan at the prospect of yet another thing to distract you from weightier responsibilities. But according to HBR there are plenty of potential upsides to CEOs personally wading into the Twitter mix.

"The fact that there's this clearly sophisticated consumer in the middle of the country that is so hungry for this service that they're going through this trouble to communicate about it in this very brave new-world medium that Twitter has become, is great visibility for the paper," Anne Morriss, the co-author of Uncommon Service, is quoted as saying in the post.

Probably Murdoch also turned Barr into a vocal ambassador for the brand--just imagine how many people he told about his customer service surprise. ("You'll never guess who tweeted me today!")

But the downsides (besides the simple time cost) are also plain to see. Stupid tweeting is worse than no tweeting at all and responding to some customers online in this manner could condition more of them to expect the same treatment. Plus, the jump-to-it effect on employees of having a company's boss respond to a customer on Twitter would likely be dulled with repeated use.

One possible solution, according to the HBR post, is "combining an active CEO on Twitter as a brand ambassador with a smart customer service strategy" by having the CEO respond directly complaints but also including the handle of a corporate account, thus creating both the personal touch of the Murdoch approach and the ability to track and act on tweeted commitments.

If you're struggling with how much time you should devote to Twitter as a small business owner, check out the complete post on HBR for more food for thought. Then weigh in.

Do you personally reach out to customers on Twitter? Why or why not? 


Published on: Oct 30, 2012
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