A boss’s Twitter account can do a business more harm than good Business

Q: Should business leaders be on Twitter? I realize we can’t all have dozens of millions of fans like Elon Muskbut even a few hundred subscribers can be good for networking, marketing and thought leadership?

A: I may have made a mistake five years ago when my grandson, Bede, helped me get on Twitter. I thought it was a brave move, but decided not to tweet. So, so far I only have two subscribers. I don’t know where they come from – they have nothing to follow. I continue to limit my written comments to this column and simply visit Twitter as a “stalker”, using my account to check what others are saying about me on social media.

There were some sobering moments, especially after my one and only Question Time appearance, when a few tweeters used colorful language to describe my performance. I have now become accustomed to the occasional political activist making a sweeping and inaccurate attack on my credibility, but overall the ability to see what is being said has been beneficial.

Twitter was especially helpful when a tweet told me I was speaking at an event on a different date than my diary. It also helped to see comments posted by delegates after attending one of my speeches. Constructive criticism is almost always more helpful than generous praise.

By contrast, Timpson’s managing director, my son James, has a very active Twitter account, with over 131,000 followers. Several years ago, he decided that tweeting was a good way to spread his news about our company. At first, his tweets were aimed primarily at our colleagues, but his words inevitably began to be picked up by a much wider audience. We haven’t advertised in print or on TV in over 30 years, but James’ Twitter account has become a great substitute.

His tweets have the advantage of being really personal. These are snippets of his day-to-day experience, with no hint of a professional PR firm pulling the strings in the background. Often backed up by a photo or two, James records some of his store visits, describing fellow frontline stars and a few special customers. It emphasizes the vital role people play in our business and the importance of heroic customer service.

Tweets describing his prison visits helped explain why more than 10% of our recruits are ex-offenders. A recent tweet about Laura being named a ‘Menopause Champion’ led to her spending the next three days fielding requests for radio and TV appearances – good news for us and a even better news for the menopause lobby.

Luckily, James has plenty of stories to tell, including our free dry cleaning for clients going to a job interview and every co-worker’s birthdays. But when using Twitter, keep your fingers crossed; things have been known to go terribly wrong.

Content is critical. With a 280 character limit, every word counts. Always remember that it only takes a second for your message to reach thousands (or even millions) of people. Before you hit “Tweet,” proofread your update and check for typos and spelling errors. Getting a misplaced letter in words like “hit” and “prize” can make an innocent post go viral for all the wrong reasons.

Although many tweeters boast of huge follower numbers, that shouldn’t be the main focus of CEOs. They should always be able to demonstrate that their tweets are good for business. That said, I’m pretty sure a personal tweet from the boss’s office is far more valuable than any social media created by a marketing agency.

It would be remiss of me to write about social media without mentioning some of the problems it can create. Last year I was talking to a GP about some of the significant changes she was going through in her practice. Without hesitation, she spoke of her concern about teenage mental health issues caused by increased use of social media. It’s a pressing issue for parents who didn’t grow up with Twitter, Facebook, TikTok or Instagram – all platforms their children now often use in the bedroom, late into the night. As a result of our conversation, we have compiled a “Guide to Teenage Mental Health” (free copies are available in most of our stores).

We are continually learning that with the tremendous benefits of digital technology come some unfortunate consequences. Entrepreneurs and teenagers alike need to be on their guard: an army of followers could do more harm than good.

Sir John Timpson is chairman of high street service provider, Timpson.

Send him a question at and read more answers from his Ask John column here

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This notice was published: 2022-02-13 13:00:00

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