The average tweet either makes you red (through embarrassment) or see red (through anger). Thats all very fine when you are sitting in the audience and tweeting about a particularly bad speaker. He, or people close to him, could be bugged when the tweet reaches them. You could be bugged when the tweet reaches your boss and he asks you why you were wasting your time tweeting when you were supposed to be absorbing pearls of wisdom.
It doesnt matter much among the people who use Twitter in India these days. They are mainly the young and many of the messages are comprehensible only to a particular set. You can snarl up your love life in such a public medium (whats wrong with the good, old-fashioned text message?). But thats about as dangerous as it can get.
Its very different in the US or Japan. In India, we still operate mobile jammers, says Manoj Joshi, who makes a living on the lecture circuit. We request the audience to switch off their mobiles. In the US, people are urged to switch on their mobiles (though in silent mode) and start tweeting. Thats the way you get publicity these days, the publicity that attracts a bigger paying audience for your next show.
In the marketplace, where twits match wits, may the best man win. Its in a corporate environment that things become a little difficult to fathom. What would your reaction be if you found your boss tweeting pep talks in all of 140 characters? India is used to a lot more ceremony before any interaction, says Mumbai-based HR consultant D. Singh. Tweeting in corporate circles is often considered impolite.
There is a second issue: its considered downmarket. A Richard Branson may get away with another boring day at the office. But an Indian CEO comes from a different culture. All progress and globalisation despite, most of the workforce and a good number of his executives see the CEO as a father figure, a substitute for King and God. Look at the patriarch if you are working in a family-managed business. Look at the way his teenage son is respected. Would anyone waste this for a chancy Tweet? Within the organisation, Twitter will not work in India for many, many years, says Singh.
Besides, Indian CEOs make it a matter of pride to know everybody working for them. After the organisation grows, they cant. But they still try hard to give that impression. When he tours the shopfloor and greets a worker by name and inquires after his wife, it is all stage managed. But whos to know that? Twitter is a relatively anonymous medium. Its one-to-many, so you cant get personal. For all you know, there could be a machine at the other end.
Singh introduces another dimension. Twitter works only with the young, says he. You have to send as well as receive. You have to exist — and survive — in a sea of tweets. The unprepared CEO or senior executive will drown. Twitter will only work in organisations where the average age is less than 30.
What about the outside world? Does Twitter help you connect with your customer? The jury is still out on that. But the chances are that it wont work. Twitter is supposed to be a conversation (see box). But when you have 5,000 even 50,000 followers, you will be lecturing all the time, not talking.
So why is Twitter getting so much publicity. To tweet successfully, you must have a huge ego. You must assume the world is waiting for your tweets. You must talk about holy cows — as Shashi Tharoor did — without bothering about other peoples sensibilities. Think of these attributes, says Singh. Isnt it an apt description of a CEO?
What corporate tweeters should remember
They are their brands conscience: For most consumers, an ideal CEO is someone who uses his power to make sure a brand keeps its promises.
They dont sell; they share: Twitter isnt advertising, its a conversation. Great executive tweeters dont try to sell to their followers; they try to engage them in a personal way.
They are real human beings: On Twitter, what you talk about is who you are. Every Twitter users updated history paints a true portrait of their character and what matters to them. So, the best executive tweeters are real people and sound like real people — always.
They write well: Great leaders are characteristically great communicators, and its no different on Twitter. Sure, informality is fine, charming even, but confident prose is one way people recognise leadership in this forum.
They commit: The best executive tweeters are people who have decided to join the party. They tweet a few times a day, and do so at least a few days a week. They build a community and become familiar with their followers.