We’ve written about Elon Musk and his tweets before—but even after his sometimes rash online statements have caused problems for himself and his company, Tesla, he nonetheless keeps on tweeting on. And while that behavior might be problematic for his businesses, for the rest of us, it makes for a great example of what companies can learn from analyzing social media posts.
MUSK CONTINUES TO BE ACTIVE ON TWITTER
The Wall Street Journal recently put together an analysis of Musk’s tweets, noting that his use of Twitter has increased every year since 2015. He also tweets at all hours, which squares with his description that he works 120 hours a week. (A note to the non-math majors: there are only 168 hours in a week, so if he’s working this much and still finding time to tweet, he might not be getting any sleep.)
But if you lived under a rock, you might be asking, “So what? Who cares what one business owner does or says on social media? Social media doesn’t really matter!” Twitter has only been around since 2006, and initially it would have been hard to believe that what anyone said there would affect business operations.
Except Musk’s tweets, and the news coverage they provoke, prove that social media communications do matter.
TWEETS ABSOLUTELY CAN AFFECT BUSINESS
The WSJ noted that Musk uses Twitter for marketing and customer service as well as debates with critics and criticisms of the media. Some of those efforts work tremendously well—like when a customer complained that his car’s delivery had been “a nightmare,” and Musk promptly responded that he was “working on this exact issue right now.” But many of his other tweets, unfortunately, fall flat.
For example, on April 1, 2018, Musk made an “April Fool’s” tweet about Tesla going bankrupt. Tesla’s stock promptly fell 7 percent.
In June 2018, Musk tweeted, “The actual amount of time I spend on Twitter is tiny. My tweets are literally what I’m thinking at the moment, not carefully crafted corporate bs, which is really just banal propaganda.” That’s right: he claimed that his tweets were more truthful and accurate than his companies’ public statements.
Then, in July 2018, during the rescue of 12 boys and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand, Musk got in a Twitter war with one of the rescuers, eventually labeling him a “pedo.” He’s now facing a defamation trial for that comment, and his defense is fascinating: he’s basically claimed that nothing anyone says on Twitter means anything.
In August 2018, Elon Musk claimed in an interview that he worked 120 hours a week. He responded to a suggestion that he needed more sleep by tweeting—at 2:32 in the morning—that more sleep was not an option. The market reacted with understandable concern, leading to an 8.9 percent drop in Tesla shares.
The SEC has gotten involved with his most alarming tweets, like when he tweeted in August 2018 that he was “considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” That led to a “trading frenzy” … until it turned out that there was no funding and no real plan to go private. Both Musk and Tesla ended up paying $20 million for the false statement and agreed on what was supposed to be a “pre-approval” process for Musk’s tweets.
Only that didn’t really work. Since then, Musk has continued to tweet, and he’s continued to get himself—and Tesla—in trouble. In February 2019, he incorrectly claimed that “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019.” The SEC promptly launched an investigation into whether he should be held in contempt.
We could go on, but the point is this: social media is, or at least can be, an important part of business communications today.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Your company probably doesn’t have an Elon Musk, but you might still have employees who are shooting off on social media. And while their lack of notoriety can be an advantage, it also plays against you. How would you even know what they’re saying or where they’re saying it? Are they active on social media, and if so, where? Are they making comments about the business online? Would you be able to find those missives, analyze them, and preserve them for any legal or regulatory action that became necessary?
If your organization has a problem employee, you need to extend your analysis of their behavior beyond what happens in the workplace. Musk and his tweets prove that comments on social media can, and sometimes do, affect a business’s bottom line. Don’t let them slip through the cracks.