Twitter Engagement In Financial Services

Salesforce.com released an interesting study regarding industry differences in Twitter engagement based on its analysis of nearly one and a quarter million tweets sent in 2013 by firms across a number of industries. One of those industries was financial services, who accounted for 94k, or 7.6% of the total number of tweets analyzed.

Oh, who am I kidding. The study is anything but interesting, and is simply the useless analysis of data that was done simply because the data was available to be analyzed. Why did Salesforce perform the analysis? Probably because they knew people would read the report, and that idiots like me would blog about it.

That said, I’m going to continue with this post…and you’re probably going to continue reading it. So much for forewarning.

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Across the seven industries studied, financial services firms came in last place in average replies per tweet at 1.7. Nice work, financial institutions (FIs)! Companies that sell toilet paper (i.e., consumer product goods) generated more replies per tweet  than you did!

 

                         Avg. Replies     Avg. Retweets
Consumer products goods       2.2              8.8
Media/Entertainment           7.7             23.6
Financial services            1.7             17.1
Retail/eCommerce              3.0             11.5
Education/non-profit          2.8             15.3
Tech/manufacturing            1.9              4.0
Travel/hospitality            1.8              5.6

Source: Salesforce.com

FIs did perform better in terms of retweets, however, with 17.1 retweets per tweet, second only to media and entertainment companies who generated nearly 24 retweets per tweet.

But not so fast. A deeper dive into the data reveals some anomalies. Two months–June and August–are serious outliers. In June 2013, FIs averaged nearly 46 retweets per tweet, while in August, FIs’ tweets generated, on average, almost 64 retweets per tweet!  Take those two months out, and FIs only averaged 9.6 retweets per tweet. Retweets of other industry’s tweets were far more consistent month to month.

20141020 Twitter2Source: Salesforce.com

What happened in June and August? I have no idea. I doubt this really happened, but I can’t help but wonder if FIs were posting pictures of nude celebrities. Why would I even think that?

Financial services companies averaged nearly 47 retweets per photo tweeted in 2013! What in the world were they tweeting pictures of? New check designs? The new digital signage in their branches? I doubt those would generate many retweets. Naked pictures of celebrities, on the other hand…

OK, so maybe it wasn’t naked pictures of celebrities. Could’ve been pictures of celebrities drunk on their weekend binges. Retweets of FIs’ tweets were highest on Monday–averaging a whopping 44 retweets per tweet. And when would those drunk pictures get released? Right. Monday. See my logic here?

20141020 Twitter3Source: Salesforce.com

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Some of Salesforce’s conclusions and recommendations need some rethinking. SF tells FIs that the “prime times to reach consumers who follow financial services companies are from 12:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. (the period with the most replies and retweets to company tweets) and from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.”

Well, hold on here. The time analysis was done from the perspective of the central (US) time zone. An accurate analysis of tweets would look at the time the tweet was sent in the time zone of the sending firm. And anyway, who the hell is up at 3am reading–and worse, retweeting–tweets from their financial institution?

SF also instructs firms (of all industries) to “designate someone to oversee Twitter every day, during all hours of the day.” Let me get this straight. It’s OK for a company to have limited call center hours, and tell prospects and customers to call back during business hours, but it’s not OK to wait a few hours to respond to somebody’s tweet? Or is SF saying that because people retweet companies’ tweets at 3am, companies need to employ people to tweet at 3am? You’ve heard of scheduling tweets, right?

Bottom line: The good news is you only wasted about 5 minutes of your precious time reading this. Oh, and please be sure to tweet the link to this post. Preferably at 3am when, apparently, there will be a lot of people around to retweet it.

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Top 10 Reasons Why Twitter Activity Is Declining

A few months ago, The Atlantic published an article titled A Eulogy For Twitter. In it, the authors wrote:

“Something is wrong on Twitter. And people are noticing. Its users are less active than they once were. Twitter says these changes reflect a more streamlined experience, but we have a different theory: Twitter is entering its twilight. Twitter used to be a sort of surrogate newsroom/barroom where you could organize around ideas with people whose opinions you wanted to assess. Maybe you wouldn’t agree with everybody, but that was part of the fun. But at some point Twitter narratives started to look the same. The crowd became predictable, and not in a good way.”

The authors goes on to give their hypotheses for the decline. If you are–or have ever been–active on Twitter, the article is well worth the read.

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I can relate to the points in the article–I’m not as active on Twitter as I used to be. Nobody died and made me spokesperson for the millions of people whose Twitter activity has declined, but here’s my take on the top 10 reasons why we’re less active on Twitter:

10. Because we don’t care what inspirational quote you came upon this morning that has you motivated to attack the day (especially when inspirational quotes are the only things you tweet);

9. Because we don’t care what cutesy thing your 5 year-old said this morning. I have three kids who have said what your kid said–at least twice–and my kids are all smarter, better looking, and more athletic than your kids;

8. Because we don’t care what the celebrity who just died meant to you;

7. Because we’re watching the same freaking soccer match you are, and we can see for ourselves that some guy just scored a GOOOOAAAALLLLL!!! (oh, and, that you apparently didn’t get the memo that now that the World Cup is over, nobody cares about soccer again);

6. Because we don’t care that the guy next to you on the bus, train, or plane is annoying (look in the mirror, jerkface);

5. Because out of the 25 links you retweeted in the past two minutes, we couldn’t care less about 24 of them, and the one we did care about we saw two hours ago, when the 1,000 other people we follow tweeted the link;

4. Because we don’t care about your loony-tune [right/left]-wing political views;

3. Because we really don’t care what those social media gurus that you worship and retweet incessantly have to say (and, anyway, didn’t their 15 minutes of fame pass long ago?);

2. Because we don’t need to read tweets of you retweeting someone else’s retweets of your tweets;

And the number one reason why we’re not as active on Twitter as we used to be…

1. Because you just don’t get it that Twitter is all about you paying attention to me, not the other way around.

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The irony here is that, as a blogger, I live and die by Twitter. No one will read this unless you retweet the link to it (that’s not entirely true–there are 7 people who will read this on LinkedIn, and 4 who will get the entire post emailed to them). One retweet from an influential tweeter could drive hundreds of hits.

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Seriously, though, I think a lot of the decline in activity can be explained by this: People aren’t getting what they want from the platform (as much as they previously did, or had hoped they would). For me, it’s a lot harder to have meaningful conversations than it used to be. That’s what *I* want from Twitter.

The authors of The Atlantic article wrote:

“For a platform that was once so special, it would be sad and a little condescending to conclude that Twitter is simply something we’ve outgrown.”

Sad and condescending maybe, but there is a lot of truth to that. But the opposite is just as true: Twitter has outgrown us.

Rethinking Social Media Marketing

Gallup released the results of a consumer survey which found (as reported on the Harvard Business Review blog):

“62% of U.S. adults who use social media say that these sites have absolutely no influence on their purchasing decisions. Another 30% say these sites have some influence, and just 5% say they have a great deal of influence. Of consumers who report liking or following a company, 34% still say that social media have no influence on their purchasing behavior, while 53% say they have only some influence. These findings raise a question: is there an inherent flaw in the idea of using social media to drive purchasing, or have companies just been using social media poorly?”

These findings raise more questions, one of them being: An an influencer, how does social media compare to other channels?

Gallup’s research has found that “consumers are much more likely to turn to friends, family members, and experts when seeking advice about companies, brands, products, or services.” But that doesn’t tell us anything about how other marketing channels influence consumers’ purchase decisions. Six in ten consumers may say that social media has no influence on their purchasing decisions but how does that compare to TV or banner advertising, or to direct mail? I suspect that even fewer consumers might say those forms of communication have a great degree of influence on their purchasing decisions.

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This, however, raises another question left unanswered by the Gallup study: Should we trust consumers’ self-determination of what influenced their purchase decisions?

There have been a number of studies conducted (look at SSRN for examples) that have attempted to prove that advertising has more of an influence on consumers’ decisions than consumers may be willing to admit.

One of the things that drives me nuts about studies like Gallup’s is that it asks consumers how influential something is on their “purchase decisions” as if all decisions are influenced by the same things, and to the same degree.

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The HBR article, after wisely raising the question about the potential inherent flaw in the idea of using social media to drive purchasing, takes a wrong turn, and drives the article straight off the cliff. What did it do? It got prescriptive.

Here are Gallup’s prescriptions to “positively influence purchasing through social media” and my take on them. Gallup advises social media-using marketers to be:

Authentic. Gallup says that consumers are “more likely to listen and respond to companies that seem genuine and personable” and that “companies should back away from the hard sell and focus on creating more of an open dialogue with consumers.”

My take: What, exactly, is an “open dialogue”? How is this different from what companies are already doing on social media? How would I, as a social media-using marketer know if I’m really creating an open dialogue or not? What impact on sales, and on customer relationships, would focusing on “creating an open dialogue” have? And, anyway, is there any proof that the majority of companies using social media focus on the “hard sell”? Consultants should be administered mild, but uncomfortable electric shocks when making nebulous recommendations like “be authentic.”

Responsive. Gallup says “companies must be available to answer questions and reply to complaints and criticisms” and to “actively listen to what their customers are saying and respond accordingly.”

My take: No argument here (other than the minor quibble that nobody should have to recommend that companies “actively” listen, as if passive listening were a viable alternative). But Gallup is now confusing things. Using social media as a customer service or support tool has a lot of merits. But the recommendation to “be responsive” is in the context of positively influencing.” Sure, you could argue that a positive customer support interaction has a positive impact on future purchase intention, but that would be true of any channel the support interaction occurs in, and not just social media.

Compelling. Gallup says that “companies must create compelling, interesting content that appeals to busy, picky social media users” and the content should be “original to the company and not related to sales or marketing.”

My take: Brilliant! Why didn’t I think of creating and providing “compelling, interesting content”? Here I’ve been, creating dull and boring content for lazy, apathetic social media users! Stupid me! Forget for a moment that this is a useless recommendation. The real crime here is that how can you provide a recommendation on how to use social media to positively influence purchasing if you don’t know what how consumers’ preferences and intentions are established? In other words, is there any proof that compelling content–if we could really measure “compellingness”–positively influences purchase intention? Show me the proof and I’ll accept it. Show me how to distinguish “compelling” from “not compelling” and I’ll tell the world what a genius you are.

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Bottom line: It’s time to re-think social media marketing.

If the tone of the Gallup study is correct–that social media marketing isn’t having a strong influence on consumers’ purchase decision–then maybe the correct response is to re-think the goals and objectives of social media marketing.

Maybe the purpose of social media marketing is something else besides influencing purchase decisions and intentions.

If we take a customer lifecycle approach and break down marketing activities to…

Awareness->Consideration->Preference->Purchase->Engagement->Re-purchase

….then maybe we have to admit that social media marketing isn’t as good (i.e., effective) as mass media advertising, or particularly good at driving consideration or preference. Maybe the best application of social media marketing is for driving engagement.

If that’s true, then recommendations like “be authentic” and “provide compelling content” aren’t wrong, they’re just useless. What we would need, then, is better understanding of exactly what “authentic” and “compelling” is and isn’t. But that would be in the context of how those concepts drive engagement–not purchase intention.

Facebook’s Real Crisis

The author of a New York Times article titled Facebook’s Existential Crisis reports:

“Checking Facebook throughout the day is  a 10-year-old habit I can’t seem to shake, even though it has less and less relevance in my daily life. Facebook no longer feels like a place to share updates with friends, catalog your life events, or play games with them. For me and most of my friends, it is no longer the place people share photos or chat with their friends, or comment on their location. If it is none of those things, then what, exactly, is Facebook? And what will its purpose be in the future? Mark Zuckerberg is well aware of Facebook’s swirling existential crisis and has a plan to deal with it.”

My take: Ah, the short-sightedness of youth. Too bad the New York Times is no place for that.

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Apologies in advance for the snarkiness (but check the title of the blog, will ya?), but I got some news for some short-sighted Gen Yers: People change.

That’s right, junior. The fun-loving, stay-out-all-night-on-a-Tuesday-night, collaborative, save-the-world, I-will-avoid-the-mistakes-my-parents-made person you are today might not be the person you will be 10 years from now. The horror!

This might be hard for some Gen Yers to understand, but us Boomers didn’t always fall asleep on the couch at 10:30pm. There was a time when that was when we left the house to go out.

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What does this have to do with Facebook?

What the NYT article is describing is not Facebook’s “existential crisis.” It’s describing someone’s process of getting older, changing, and maturing. Sharing every detail of your life, and what you’re thinking and doing, and keeping up with what all your friends are thinking and doing, is all well and fine when you’re 17. But at 27, those things might not be as important to you, as you get married and have kids. Or at least start down the road to those things. 

Sadly, the NYT writer demonstrates no level of self-awareness to recognize these changes. Even sadder (but not unexpected as far as I’m concerned), no one at the newspaper in an editorial capacity reviewed this article and applied the wisdom of experience that comes with getting older to recognize the changes in the writer for what they are.

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Facebook doesn’t have a “existential crisis.” It has a target market problem–“challenge” might be the more appropriate word. The dictionary defines “existential” as “grounded in existence or the experience of existence.” If you have any clue what that means, please tell me.

The NYT writer and her friends–who for the past 10 years have been highly engaged with Facebook and what it offers and provides–are moving on.

Facebook’s problem is that the next wave of young people–today’s 12-18 year-olds–are not as engaged with the social media platform as the prior wave was. Facebook isn’t as cool to them as it was to today’s 20-somethings, as this new wave has Snapchat and Instagram, and other alternatives.

Facebook’s challenge isn’t too different from what a lot of companies face: Does it change with the users who fueled the early growth, or focus on driving engagement with the next wave?

For most companies, the right answer is the latter. It’s awfully tough to reinvent a company to keep up with the lifestage changes of a particular segment of consumers.

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For Facebook, it means doing something it didn’t really have to do in its first 10 years of existence: Drive engagement. Facebook is going to have get better at marketing. It’s going to have to grow up and mature as a company–just like its early users have.

Hopefully, Facebook will recognize this aging process, even if some of its users don’t. Even those that work for prestigious newspapers.

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p.s. In anticipation of the millions of you (more like the 10s of you), who will read this and say “Hey! I’m 50 and I still post to FB and check my friends’ statuses every day!” I will say this: Good for you. Grow up.

Seriously, though, you may be doing this, and you may continue to do it for the next 30 years. You’re in the minority. You’re not normal (I know that because you’re reading this). 

Oh, and please don’t tell that the “over-50 crowd is the fastest growing segment” of Facebook users. Of course it is. It’s a mathematical phenomenon. When 98% of Gen Yers already use FB, the rate of growth in that segment HAS TO BE lower than when the percentage of Boomers who use FB grows from 10% to 15. Please don’t try to use your mathematical ignorance in an argument against me.

11 Rules For Becoming A Better Blogger

Published my first blog post seven years ago this week. Nearly 900 blog posts later, I think I know a thing or two about blogging (we all deceive ourselves in one way or another).

If you want to become a better blogger:

1. Keep it short. When I first started blogging, somebody I know told an experienced blogger about my blog. The blogger’s comment: “Good stuff, but the posts are way too long.” My first reaction was “screw you — I’ve got something to say, I’ll take as much space as I need to say it.” Stupid reaction. It’s about the readers, stupid. Long posts deter readers from even beginning to read them.

2. Get to the point. Journalists (the good ones) have a rule: Don’t bury the lead. I’ve violated this rule more times than I care to admit, and I don’t plan on doing so again. Long-winded intros about what you were doing or reading this weekend is great. No one cares (get over it). Get to the damn point already.

3. Lose the colloquialisms. Blog posts are written — not verbal — forms of communication. The little things you say when speaking — like “So, I was talking with my friend the other night…” — can be eliminated when writing. Especially the words like “so.”  Also, no need to say “I think” — we know it’s what you think. And please: Don’t use the acronym “IMHO.” You’re a blogger — your opinion is anything but humble. It’s easy, when listening to verbal communication, to process (and ignore) the colloquialisms. But in written forms of communication, colloquialisms are barriers the reader must deal with to get to what’s really important.

4. Looks matter. Is there anything more daunting to read than a 15-line paragraph, in 8-point font, in pink text on a red background? Regardless of the quality of your content, it helps if your post is inviting to read. White space (and a lot of it) is good. Some pundits will tell you to include a photo or picture. OK, but relevancy here would help. Irrelevant stock photos of happy shiny people will make your blog look like every other stupid blog out there.

5. Lose the long list of links. It’s great that you’re a nice person and want to link to everything and everyone you’ve referenced in your post. But when every fifth word is a link, it distracts the reader. Put the list of links at the end of the post if you must include them. Wikipedia can have every other word be a link. Not your blog post.

6. Don’t do multi-part blog posts. Nothing will turn off readers faster than seeing a blog post title that starts “Part 1.” Or worse, “Part 4”. You’re writing a blog, not a book. If you a 7-part post to write, create an e-book. Nobody wants to read part 1 today, and wait until G*d-knows-when until you write the next part, and then wonder how many more parts to go.

7. Go off-topic very sporadically, and with great care. Wanna see the mittens I knitted this past weekend for the Church fair? Yeah, I didn’t think so. There’s a fine line here. I’ve got a lot of things to say about the state of politics in this country, but the readers of this blog don’t come here for my political commentary. So no politics. On the other hand, off-topic posts like Out-Of-Office Messages are my most frequently-read posts. Go figure.

8. Write stuff you want to read. I’ve read countless blog posts telling me to “know my audience.” Nonsense. Avinash Kaushik isn’t a blogging God among the web analytics community because he “knows his audience.” He’s a blogging God because his audience wants to know him. Or more accurately, to know what he knows.

9. Don’t force it. One of the best pieces of blogging advice I ever received came from a loyal reader (a few hours away in Eastern Massachusetts) who told me “you know, you don’t have to post every day.” Your readers aren’t sitting on pins and needles waiting for today’s post. Sorry to burst your self-absorbed blogging delusion.

10. Develop a formula. I (nearly) never struggle to write a post. I read stuff that triggers a post, and it goes directly into the writing process: 1) Someone said something; 2) Why they’re wrong; 3) What the right answer is, and why I’m right. For a good example of a blog with a good formula (not to mention following some of the other rules, here) check out Seven Sentences.

11. Obsess over quality, not quantity. It’s really easy to get 10,000 hits on your blog post. Write about politics or sports or Beyonce. Post pictures of Miley Cyrus doing lewd stuff. Assuming you’re not selling advertising on your blog (or maybe even if you are), you’ll do a lot more to build your reputation by worrying about how the good the posts are than how many page views you’re getting.

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These are the things I’ve learned in seven years of blogging. There are, however, a few things I haven’t learned:

1. How to create good blog titles. I’ve often wondered how many more hits I may have gotten if my posts had better titles. Or if my blog itself had a better title, you know, like Bank Marketing Strategy.

2. When to publish posts. Lots of advice on when’s the best time to publish. I just write and publish. Probably losing out on thousands of views.

3. How to drive traffic to your site. Personally, I’ve never been comfortable with tweeting 100 times to publicize each post. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Again, I’ve probably lost out on thousand of hits, but oh well.

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WHAT DID I MISS?

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For more tips on blogging, see How To Blog (The Snarketing 2.0 Way)

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Note: The source of the picture at the beginning is Hugh MacLeod. He owns all copyrights to it. I’m using without permission. Please don’t sue me, Hugh.

Why Walmart Execs Are Smart To Stay Off Twitter

The Harvard Business Review thinks that Walmart senior execs should be on Twitter. It wrote:

“Last week, Walmart found itself in a Twitter tussle with actor Ashton Kutcher over the company’s controversial low wages. Kutcher tweeted at the company, saying “Walmart is your profit margin so important you can’t Pay Your Employees enough to be above the poverty line?” with a link to a post on The Wire about the employee food drive. The Walmart PR account tweeted back, saying, “It’s unfortunate that an act of human kindness has been taken so out of context. We’re proud of our associates in Canton.” Throughout the back-and-forth, Walmart came off as defensive and tweeted facts that some have recognized as a bit murky: ‘We think you’re missing a few things. The majority of our workforce is full-time and makes more than $25,000/year.'”

The author of the blog post went on to say:

“Think how differently this might have unfolded if a senior executive actually responsible for labor practices had read and responded to Kutcher’s comment — and all of the other tweets that stemmed from the exchange.”

My take: I am thinking how differently things might have unfolded — and can only conclude that nothing would have been different. 

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Social media gurus cling to this notion that all senior execs at companies need to be on Twitter. Nonsense. Debunked that bad idea here

In this particular example, however, there’s one overriding reason why Walmart senior execs were wise to stay out of the Twitter fray (and it’s the reason why the PR person should have stayed away, as well):

The cards are stacked against a controversial company. 

By “stacked” I mean, the Twittersphere has already decided innocence or guilt long before the firm in question says anything on Twitter in response to an attack or challenge. 

Other people have observed how left-leaning the Twittersphere is. But even right-leaning, hard-core free-market capitalist tweeters aren’t going to come to Walmart’s defense on Twitter. 

Defending Walmart on Twitter is like rooting for the New York Yankees at Fenway Park. 

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At the recent BAI conference, former Walmart CEO Lee Scott told a story about how, back in 2008, he met (secretly) with a Democratic presidential candidate (whom he would not mention by name). 

Scott told of how he came armed with employment statistics disproving the candidate’s public statements regarding Walmart’s employment practices.

According to Scott, the candidate asked “Why are you showing me all of this?” To which Scott reportedly replied “So the next time you say what you said in public both you and I will know you’re lying.” Little surprise that the data presented to him did nothing to change what he said about Walmart. 

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Social media gurus preach about how social media can help companies connect with customers and prospects. But they apparently ignore the downside of this proposition.

Namely, that participating in social media may do nothing to improve a controversial reputation, and that, in fact, may actually harm it. 

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The author of the HBR blog concludes that:

[T]he key is not immediacy, but seniority.

I see absolutely no evidence supporting this claim.

Did the Twittersphere assume that the Walmart PR response to Kutcher came from low-ranking employees? Doubtful. I would bet that a lot of Tweeters, as I do, assume that the Walmart PR account follows guidelines established by senior execs. And that, possibly, the response was actually vetted with senior execs before it was tweeted.

Ask Brett King, whose blog post about how his travails regarding how his HSBC account was closed, whether or not he cares whether or not the CEO of HSBC responded on Twitter or not. Betcha $5 he says he would have appreciated a timely response from anyone at HSBC over a late response from a senior exec. 

The general public doesn’t know most Fortune 500 execs from Adam. They want a response — which they interpret as being the “official” response — regardless of who at the company comes from.

And in the Walmart/Kutcher case, I would argue that Walmart’s best response would have been “@Ashton We believe your stats are off. But this is not the most effective place to have this discussion. Let’s meet in person.” 

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The author of the blog goes on to say:

“We are left with half-truths driving the corporate use of social media. Nominally employed to foster transparency, frontline communicators are actually there all too often to form a barrier between the public and corporate executives.”

Funny, because it’s blog posts like the one in HBR which create the half-truths (like the key is not immediacy, but seniority). 

Again, I see little evidence supporting this claim. I certainly can’t speak to anywhere close to a majority of firms, but the financial services firms I’ve spoken to are hardly creating “barriers” between the public and their senior execs. 

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Bottom line: HBR got it wrong. Walmart senior execs shouldn’t be on Twitter. They were wise to stay away.