By Vince Bond Jr., Crain News Service
DETROIT (Feb. 10, 2014) — The Twittersphere is probably the last thing on the mind of new General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra.
But she's officially in the Twitter big leagues now, a place where only a few C-suite auto executives are comfortable.
Ms. Barra's newfound superstar status ensures that her every tweet will catch the attention of journalists, analysts and consumers the world over, opening up avenues for scrutiny that executives never felt before the Twitter age.
Whether she leverages the Twitter spotlight to do damage control like Tesla CEO Elon Musk or to promote products like GM colleague Mark Reuss did with the Corvette Stingray is yet to be seen, but experts say the social pulpit has intriguing possibilities.
For one, it allows executives to engage with the public in an unfiltered environment—free from public-relations teams—on a one-on-one basis, and get their messages across as they see fit. The outspoken Mr. Musk, for instance, runs his own Twitter account without "any support or consultation" from the communications team, a Tesla spokeswoman confirmed.
"It allows [them] to be the advocates for the brand, or the ambassadors of the brand," said William Ward, a social media professor at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. He added: "They could be a real model for how the rest of the employees could do it."
Ms. Barra's lightly used Twitter account erupted in December when news of her succession went public. Her follower count, which stood at fewer than 100 according to a Detroit News report, grew exponentially within hours of the announcement and has since crossed the 5,500 mark.
Few were watching her first tweet back in April 2013 that garnered a modest three retweets and four "favorites."
Ms. Barra's only two posts since the announcement racked up more than 200 retweets combined. If she nurtures her presence on the site as her following grows, it's possible Ms. Barra could eventually do Musk-like numbers, where hundreds of retweets are commonplace.
Members of GM's social media team say Ms. Barra's human resources background could come in handy.
"You'll see her post occasionally," said Phil Colley, a GM social media strategist. "I don't know if there's going to be a regular cadence for it. It's going to be whenever she sees fit to get involved. Like anybody else, like we've done with Mark, we will give some best practices and some recommendations on what we think could be done.