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FTSE 100 CEO's and Twitter: A Troubled Relationship

FTSE 100 CEO's and Twitter: A Troubled Relationship

Since it's arrival in 2006, Twitter has become a social media behemoth with celebrities, athletes and politicians racking up followers in the millions, and tens of millions more taking to the platform to discuss, rant and joke about the issues of the day. For many, checking your Twitter feed in the morning has become as routine as brushing your teeth.

But there is one group of people who are conspicuously missing: the corporate CEO's.

On the one hand this is somewhat understandable given the way scandals and embarrassing stories tend to develop a life of their own once they reach the tweeting masses. But should CEO's really be so afraid of the consequences of a mistimed comment or ill advised photo that they don't use Twitter at all and are there any business leaders out there who have turned this risk into an opportunity to interact positively with the public?

Here at Talkwalker, we used our social media monitoring and analytics expertise to analyse the Twitter accounts of FTSE 100 CEO's to see how active they were socially and what kind of people they were following.

Only 7 FTSE 100 CEO's Active on Twitter

This was the stark truth revealed by our analysis. Or put another way 93% of FTSE 100 CEO's are inactive on Twitter. What's more of the 7 FTSE 100 CEO's that are on Twitter none are in the top 10 companies by market cap . So who are these brave few who are boldly going where few British CEO's fear to tread?

By order of the most active tweeters this month:

  1. Sage Group CEO, Stephen Kelly, (@SKellyCEO)
  2. AMEC Foster Wheeler CEO, Samir Brikho (@samirbrikho)
  3. London Stock Exchange CEO, Xavier Rolet (@xrolet)
  4. Pearson CEO, John Fallon (@johnfallon)
  5. National Grid CEO, Steven Holliday (@NGSteveH)
  6. Aberdeen Asset Management CEO, Martin Gilbert (@MartinGilbert83)
  7. ARM CEO, Simon Segars (@simonsegars)

ftse new owner activity

Of these select few, Sage Group CEO Stephen Kelly appears to be the social media beacon of hope in the UK at least. Since being appointed CEO just over a month ago, Kelly has been busy taking to Twitter to communicate with his followers by posting photos, replying to the those who contact him and generally raising awareness of Sage Group's activities around the world. His activity is not in vain either, as his followers on Twitter have interacted with him regularly through both retweets and replies as can be seen in chart below.

ftse new audicence activity

Who would you follow if you were a FTSE 100 CEO?

Although there was no one person who all the active CEO's followed:

5 of 7 follow Robert Peston (BBC Business Journalist) and the UK Prime Minister David Cameron

4 of 7 follow Martha Lane Fox (businesswoman, founder of, Bill Gates, Richard Branson

3 of 7 follow Eric Schmidt, Stephen Fry (British celebrity), Nick Robinson (BBC political journalist), Rupert Murdoch, Boris Johnson (London Mayor), Christine Lagarde, George Osborne, Elon Musk, Marissa Mayer, Hilary Clinton, Bill Clinton

This is generally representative of the type of people FTSE 100 CEO's followed: well known business figures, politicians, journalists, media organizations, the odd celebrity/athlete and people in the communications industry. In addition, certain CEO's followed niche startups and specialised opinion leaders linked to their particular industry.

So while CEO's are quite particular in the way they construct their list of follows, their effort is not matched by the amount of tweeting they do.

FTSE CEO's lag behind politicians on social media

By way of contrast, UK politicians appear to tweet much more often that British CEO's - roughly double in fact - and their efforts are matched by activity from their respective audiences. Of course, much of this activity will be somewhat negative, but politicians appear ready to weather this storm in the name of visibility on social media. In order of number of tweets over the last month:

Nigel Farage 258

Ed Miliband 173

Ed Balls 80

Nick Clegg 80

George Osborne 77

David Cameron 71

Boris Johnson 52

Alex Salmond 35

(It should be noted that figures for David Cameron do not include tweets published from the UK Prime Minister account)

uk pol audience activity final

Richard Branson, the social media powerhouse

There is one British business leader however who bucks the trend.

By more or less every measure, audience activity, audience mentions (number of times his twitter handle is mentioned), audience replies and audience retweets – Richard Branson far outstrips his peers. Branson is not only more active than FTSE 100 CEO's he is also significantly more active and visible on social media than CEO's of US technology giants whom one might expect to be leaders in this area. The following chart shows the number of times Richard Branson's twitter handle is mentioned relative to other CEO's and gives some indication of his dominance on Twitter:

Branson dominance

Branson 80,000+ mentions also far outstrip top performing UK politician Nigel Farage who was only able to muster around half the number of mentions of the Virgin Chief at just under 39,000 for the month.

Sentiment for Richard Branson's twitter feed is also high showing that his dominance on Twitter is not the result of large outpourings of negativity but is actually largely positive.Particularly impressive is the continued high sentiment for Branson around the time of the Virgin Galactic crash.

branson sentiment double

It is perhaps this point above all that shows that, far from being a potential source of a crisis, skilful use of Twitter can actually be used to help handle a crisis effectively.

Note: It has come to our attention that Sebastian James, CEO of Dixons Carphone, a recent FTSE 100 entrant, is also active on Twitter (@DCSebJ). Although James has not been particularly prolific over the last month, it is notable that his tweets have had a lot of traction. His 5 tweets over the last month (Dec. 7 to Jan. 7) have generated 249 replies from his audience as well as 103 retweets. This may be due in part to James’ substantial Twitter following of close to 20,000, a far greater number than any of the other FTSE 100 CEO’s that are active on Twitter.