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Release Date: April 29, 2009
Executives exploring Twitter as business tool
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Todd Brink's cigar-bearing image and his thoughts about music, chick flicks and process improvement have made him a Twitter rock star of sorts.
The Wisconsin executive has nearly 3,000 Twitter followers. What's more, he is ranked No. 1 among the Twitter Elite in Milwaukee on Twitter Grader, a free service that lets people measure their power and reach on Twitter
It may seem an unlikely classification, but Brink represents a growing breed of executives who recognize the power of the tweet as a way to connect with customers and build brand loyalty.
Brink (@toddbrink) is director of process improvement for Boldt Construction Co., a national contractor with 1,500 employees based in Appleton. Brink stressed he is representing himself on Twitter and not Boldt Construction, although many of his tweets are work-related.
In case you're wondering, Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that lets you get your message out instantly to a community of followers by simply answering the question, "What are you doing?" In 140 characters or less you can post a response that becomes a tweet.
"I talked to (Boldt's) president and said we need to be out here because it's a tool for communicating with our customers, our architects and partners who are out there," said Brink, who joined Twitter six months ago.
Brink doesn't quite know why he's so popular on Twitter but believes the reason for his cult following might be the image portrayed in his avatar: A cool-looking guy sporting dark sunglasses and a cigar. Not exactly your traditional corporate image, but it works for Twitter, where it's all about authenticity and transparency.
That's part of the allure of Twitter for many corporate executives: the ability to express one's personal identity or brand while networking with peers in their respective industries.
"I'm out there as myself, but I'm also out there as a process-improvement guy," says Brink. "My main muse for Twitter was to try and contact other leaders in the same field to trade ideas. There's no reason why a process-improvement guy shouldn't have a conversation with an executive from a shoe company. Normally, our paths would never cross."
Many executives are embracing Twitter to enhance their brands and meet their business objectives. But it's been slow to catch on with CEOs locally.
"They're so overwhelmed with everything going on from a business perspective, (Twitter) is not something they can worry about," says Julia Taylor, (@JHTaylor) president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee. "If you're a CEO, even if you don't tweet, you should engage to know what people are saying about you or your company."
Many chief executives initially dismissed Twitter as a waste of time and a potential invasion of privacy. In a bad economy, however, as companies look for ways to market their products and engage customers, top executives are changing their tune about Twitter.
Twitter has responded. It recently launched ExecTweets, a site where users can find and follow top business executives who are on Twitter.
Sue Marks, (@SueMarks) co-founder and CEO of Pinstripe Inc., a 140-employee Brookfield talent management and recruitment outsourcing firm, was skeptical when she joined Twitter last June. Not any more.
Today, Marks is a big fan. She uses Twitter to learn new things, to connect with other recruitment professionals and to monitor what people are saying about Pinstripe.
"I thought it would be a stupid waste of time," said Marks, who has 2,189 followers. "There's this fear that nobody's going to follow me. If you are putting things out there that are of value and authentic, it's going to ring a chord with people."
Nationally, one of the most popular chief executives on Twitter is Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com. Hsieh (@zappos) has amassed 486,858 followers since joining Twitter in 2007.
A big part of his success is that he tweets himself and shares insight on company culture and his personal life. Hsieh shared his perspective in an e-mail on why he thinks CEOs should be on Twitter.
"I think Twitter is great for helping humanize a company or brand," Hsieh said. "Twitter is a great way to connect on a more personal level with both employees and customers. . . . We've found that Twitter helps build our company culture."
Tannette Johnson-Elie writes about how small businesses and start-ups are using networking and business associations to tap the expertise needed to grow. She can be reached at (414) 223-5172 or by e-mail at email@example.com.