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The CEO apology, in 14 tweets

(LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)

When Uber CEO Travis Kalanick rattled off a series of 14 tweets Tuesday afternoon, most of the attention was on what he said rather than how he said it. While Kalanick may have intended to apologize for the controversy that erupted after one of Uber's executives suggested digging into the personal lives of journalists, he was chided for the sorry-not-sorry nature of his remarks.

Yet his decision to issue that apology via a "tweetstorm" — a series of tweets on a single subject — was also a head scratcher. As late-night comedy host Seth Meyers joked, "No one wants to read anything on Twitter in 13 parts. It's not a season of 'Mad Men.'" (A request to Uber for comment was not immediately returned.)

Using a series of tweets, rather than a single one that links to a blog post or press release for more information, has become an increasingly popular vehicle for corporate communications. But that might be misguided. "If what you're really trying to do is apologize, Twitter is not the best way to do it," says Peter LaMotte, chair of the digital communications practice at public relations firm Levick. Tweetstorms have the potential to come across as aggressive and somewhat cold, plus they are harder to re-share than a single statement is.

LaMotte says that Kalanick is the first CEO he has seen use the approach in an apology-like way. But tech leaders, in particular, have been turning to it lately to get out a variety of messages. In September, Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff fired off a 25-tweet explanation about what tech companies face ahead of their public offerings. Last week, T-Mobile CEO John Legere used 11 tweets to explain his position on net neutrality. And venture capitalist Marc Andreessen has become well known for his multi-tweet screeds on topics such as the banking industry and how startups burn through cash.

As a platform for apologies, however, several communications experts say it can be lacking.

A series of tweets can come off as "a little rant-y," says Mitzi Emrich, chief social strategist at the public relations firm MWW. That's partly because the tweetstorm, she says, is more typically a tool of social activists "protesting about something done wrong." As a result, the rapid-fire series of tweets can come off as "a very aggressive form of communication, [like] 'I'm going to give you all a piece of my mind.'"

Choosing a different medium is perhaps more effective when it comes to the softer side of communicating. "Through a video, you feel a sense of connection with people," LaMotte says. "And a well-written long-form letter conveys more of an emotional connection than you can with 140 characters in rapid succession."

In addition, if the point of an apology is to widely get the message out so that the company can move on, a series of tweets can be difficult to follow in a user's feed. Again, we'll turn here to Meyers, who apparently has a future as a P.R. adviser: "I'm going to get your first three tweets, then a Fantasy Football tweet, then your next two, then a sweet pic of the Biebs. At that point, I'm not going back to your apology because I've got Biebs on the brain."

Moreover, if one of the main points of using social media is to make your message easy to share, says LaMotte, a tweetstorm effectively voids that. "No one's going to retweet each individual tweet."

Still, it's possible the format has a certain currency with tech elites on Twitter. Davia Temin, founder of an eponymously named communications firm, says she generally likes the idea of executives using a tweetstorm: It has a feel of spontaneity and authenticity, and the flood of comments can prompt greater visibility for the CEO's remarks. If an executive is using it to lay out a position or discuss an industry issue, it can be "a brilliant use of the medium," she says. "People report on a tweetstorm more than a blog."

Yet even Temin says that if Twitter alone is used for an apology, it can limit the audience. She suggests CEOs use all forms of media — blogs, videos, Facebook posts and, yes, maybe even a sequence of well-crafted, heartfelt tweets in conjunction. "You want to have this apology be ubiquitous," Temin says. "That can include a tweetstorm, but it can't be limited to it. And it can't miss the emotional bar."

Read also:

Uber CEO apologizes. Kind of.

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