More and more CEOs are flocking to Twitter. Who can blame them? It's where a lot of action--and attention--happens. According to a 2016 report by Twitter and Research Now, 93 percent of people who follow small- and medium-sized business on Twitter intend to purchase from the business they follow.

It doesn't matter whether you're the CEO of a Fortune 50 company or the CEO of a mom-and-pop, your Tweets matter. But, as with any social media platform, there's a right way to use Twitter and there's a wrong way. Here's what we can learn from some of the business moguls who've used Twitter to drive a positive impact. 

They show humanity.

Effective CEO Tweeters reap the biggest rewards from Twitter when they use it to show that they are more than a big name cashing in an even bigger paycheck. They use Twitter to demonstrate that they take the time to engage with customers. Take Tim Cook. Over the years, he's made a habit of tweeting about his interactions with Apple customers:

Visited Retail Stores in Palo Alto today. Seeing so many happy customers reminds us of why we do what we do.

-- Tim Cook (@tim_cook) September 20, 2013

Had a great time meeting customers and our team at the Apple Store Boylston St in Boston. Enjoy your Apple Watches! pic.twitter.com/7AOGyCSW9i

-- Tim Cook (@tim_cook) June 17, 2015

A quick visit with customers and our fantastic team at the Apple Store, Mall of the Emirates. Thanks Dubai! pic.twitter.com/utFFVGyImr

-- Tim Cook (@tim_cook) May 21, 2016

When CEOs spend time on the front lines with customers, they show that they prioritize customer service. In doing so, they forge deeper connections with followers, many of whom are customers or prospects. Case in point: according to research published in MIT Sloan Management Review in 2016, "people respond favorably to CEO tweets that share customer stories and/or refer to customers; they lead to more followers, likes, and retweets."

They don't sell.

CEOs shouldn't think of Twitter in its conventional sense, as a selling tool or an advertising platform. The most effective Tweeting CEOs use Twitter to engage in conversation--not to push a product or service. 

Let's take Virgin CEO Richard Branson. Branson rarely Tweets about Virgin's products and services. Instead, he uses Twitter to offer life and business advice, as well as to promote philanthropic efforts. In a company blog post, he explained, "Selling a product through social media doesn't work - it's better to simply communicate with your customers in an authentic way and have fun." A scan of his Twitter feed over time reveals that he models his words in Tweets. 

Urging everyone that can to donate to @BritishRedCross for the #HurricaneIrma Appeal: https://t.co/U0m3Kf1APM pic.twitter.com/McMLxp0k14

-- Richard Branson (@richardbranson) September 9, 2017

Understanding empathy, as well as the experiences of people from different walks of life, is a key skill for business leaders https://t.co/wzCA4oVJBq pic.twitter.com/IOdOO2g569

-- Richard Branson (@richardbranson) December 15, 2018

Stuck in a rut? My top tips on trying something new in 2019 https://t.co/RLl4K39XVs pic.twitter.com/NIBRNJ3Pd4

-- Richard Branson (@richardbranson) January 1, 2019

When CEOs use Twitter to impart lessons, wisdom, and advice, they bleed authenticity and are more likely to engage with their followers.

They take responsibility.

CEOs who use Twitter receive a flurry of tweets from disgruntled customers. Effective CEOs will take responsibility and own up to customer service missteps. 

Take Elon Musk, who has certainly had his ups and downs with Twitter. He was headed uphill when he responded to a disgruntled customer who tweeted

@elonmusk had a terrible experience with very pushy sales guy from tesla stanford shop while shopping for model x.

-- Bobby Gupta (@Bobby_Gupta) September 16, 2017

Musk's response?  

Def not ok. Just sent a reminder to Tesla stores that we just want people to look forward to their next visit. That's what really matters.

-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 16, 2017

In another example, Musk received the following tweet: 

@elonmusk the San Mateo supercharger is always full with idiots who leave their tesla for hours even if already charged.

-- Loic Le Meur (@loic) December 11, 2016

Here's what Musk had to say: 

You're right, this is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.

-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 11, 2016

You're right, this is becoming an issue. Supercharger spots are meant for charging, not parking. Will take action.

The best part? Within a mere six days, Musk took action and implemented a policy change. 

Effective CEOs take responsibility for their company's actions, They don't play the blame game or make excuses.  A willingness to accept responsibility is a hallmark of a great leader.  

They solicit ideas. 

Effective CEOs recognize that Twitter can be an effective platform to crowdsource ideas. 

On Christmas day in 2016, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, tweeted

If @Airbnb could launch anything in 2017, what would it be?

-- Brian Chesky (@bchesky) December 26, 2016

One year later--to the day--Chesky revealed that Airbnb would be launching split payments for groups up to 16, in response to one of the most popular ideas. 

Chesky's brilliance did not go unnoticed. In response, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey Tweeted, 

Following in the footsteps of Brian Chesky: what's the most important thing you want to see Twitter improve or create in 2017? #Twitter2017

-- jack (@jack) December 29, 2016

Not only does crowdsourcing ideas increase engagement (Chesky received thousands of responses to his Tweet), it leads to unique insights from diverse groups that can move waters for product development. 

Twitter can be a powerful tool for all executives to forge stronger relationships with customers. Your success on Twitter requires a time and energy investment. When you embrace Twitter in the right ways, the paybacks can be extraordinary. And this is why Elon Musk's public declaration of his love for Twitter is a sentiment felt by so many CEOs. 

14 hours after Musk's love declaration he received a retweet: 

You should buy it then

-- Dave Smith (@redletterdave) December 21, 2017

His response? 

How much is it?

-- Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 21, 2017

Musk fans can only wonder how serious he was. 

Published on: Jan 18, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.