How to run or ruin a company in 140 characters

Wed Apr 2, 2014 9:32am EDT
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By Stephen Eisenhammer and Silvia Antonioli

LONDON (Reuters) - When Nat Rothschild, the co-founder of troubled miner ARMS, insulted his former investment partner on Twitter last week, he showed the power of social media for business leaders seeking publicity - but also the perils of saying the wrong thing.

"Whilst your dad is an evil genius," the scion of the Rothschild banking dynasty tweeted to Aga Bakrie, "the word on the street is that you are extremely DUMB."

The tweet made the front pages of media around the world as journalists, used to the measured language of corporate press releases, seized on a seemingly unguarded remark showing that even powerful businessmen can descend to playground taunts.

For Rothschild, the publicity was a welcome opportunity to revive interest in his long-running campaign against Indonesia's influential Bakrie family, whom he blames for a plunge in the value of ARMS' predecessor company. Within 24 hours, his number of followers on Twitter had jumped to 1,700 from 200.

But not all business leaders have been so fortunate with their apparently off-the-cuff remarks on social media.

Last year Michael O'Leary, boss of budget airline Ryanair, was denounced by one Twitter user as a "sexist pig" after he tweeted: "Nice pic. Phwoaaarr!" to a woman, whose image was shown during a live question and answer session.

The former chief executive of Britain's Co-operative Group, meanwhile, laid open the divisions within the company in March when he accused one or more board members via Facebook of being "determined to undermine me personally" after his pay package was leaked to the press. He resigned a few days later.

Even Twitter boss Dick Costolo has got into hot water on the social media site, comparing academic Vivek Wadwha to over-the-top U.S. comedian Carrot Top, after the professor was quoted as saying Twitter's board lacked diversity.   Continued...

British-born financier Nat Rothschild leaves after a Bumi shareholder meeting in London February 21, 2013. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth