Posted May 29, 2009

CEOs tweet in news story reported completely on Twitter CEO Jay Steinfeld tweets this warning: “So as with happiness, it takes sadness to appreciate it. Sunshine: rain. And maybe, capitalism: socialism?”

Is the USA drifting away from capitalism toward a European-style hybrid of capitalism and socialism? Let’s tweet some CEOs and see what they think.

Turns out that the top tweeting executives nationwide widely agree with former CEOsJack Welch of General Electric and Steve Case of AOL that the country has made a detour, but a necessary one, to get around the economic wreckage. Most recommend a quick return to the interstate of capitalism.

MORE COMMENTARY: Del Jones’ Twitter page

Tweeted Ken Robbins, president of Response Mine Interactive, an Atlanta tech company that helps companies boost revenue from search engines and interactive media: “Government (Gummit) controls business. I ate Chinese 2 days ago. The restaurant had 9 licenses/permits on the wall. (1of2).”


This is not your typical treatise on the challenges facing the U.S. economy. This story is largely an interpretation of what the executives say, because all interviews, top to bottom, were completed on Twitter. Undertaking an experiment, USA TODAY might be the first major news outlet to report an entire story on the Web’s hottest new hot spot, limiting itself to the growing number of CEOs it could reach via the tweet. There were no phone calls. No e-mails. No next-day delivery. Of course, nothing face to face. Only tweets from Welch, Case and 19 other top executives. Even most of the photos of CEOs published with this story were downloaded to USA TODAY by a link provided via Twitter.

For those yet to be baptized into the latest social networking craze, Twitter is a site that lets people “follow” what others write with an important restriction: Any single piece of prose distributed via Twitter, called a tweet, is limited to 140 characters or less.

That’s restrictive, to the point that the preceding sentence, at 267 characters, would require a major haircut to be launched into Tweeterdom.

“140 character thing is a pain but forces u 2 distill your thoughts 2 the very essence of the subject. good luck on the piece,” tweeted David Morris, CEO of Dillanos Coffee Roasters, a wholesaler of beans to coffeehouses in 50 states. He employs 80; he has 25,500 followers on Twitter.

USA TODAY exchanged 427 tweets with the 21 executives, mostly over three days. Twitter may be the latest in social media, but it hearkens back to the 19th century when newspaper correspondents filed by telegraph. Stop. Or even almost 27 years ago when USA TODAY was launched with sentences squeezed to fit because so few stories were jumped to inside pages.

Conspicuously absent from this story are Twitter executives: CEO Evan Williams, Chairman Jack Dorsey and co-founder Biz Stone. Do any of them ever look at Twitter? If so, they chose not to respond to numerous tweets for comment from USA TODAY and other tweeters who saw that USA TODAY was after them and enlisted in an unsuccessful quest to get their attention.

Even as USA TODAY and its enlistees were trying to hunt down the executives, Elisabeth Hasselbeck tweeted that they were on the set of The View. “about to head upstairs for show: just hung out with twitter guys(founders)&their’em,” Hasselbeck tweeted.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that the Twitter executives declined requests for comment, although the requests were many. USA TODAY did not phone or e-mail Twitter headquarters. And, the Twitter executives weren’t alone. Many others did not respond to USA TODAY’s tweeted requests for comment, including Virgin Group ChairmanRichard Branson, Oprah Winfrey and Sun Microsystems’ Jonathan Schwartz.

One explanation may be that many of the best-known executives have hundreds of thousands of followers. Williams had 771,768 followers as of late Wednesday, and Dorsey and Stone each have more than 600,000. They are swamped with tweets, so many that they may not have time to cull through even those that are directed at them. However, Tony Hsieh, CEO of online retailer Zappos, had 658,901 followers late Wednesday, and he found time to deliver a one-tweet response.

“Capitalism will always be part of the US economy, but I think more people are realizing there’s more to life than money,” Hsieh said.

Even though Schwartz didn’t respond, it’s of no consequence because his tweets are written by an imposter, as are those of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, tweeted Amy Dean, co-founder of, a site that exposes tweeters posing as celebs, athletes and executives. Some use ghost tweeters, including Guy Kawasaki, former Apple whiz and now venture capitalist, Dean says.

An interview request from @jonesdel

Twitter is new to most CEOs, and many had been testing it for only a few weeks or days when this landed on their screens: “@jonesdel: Reporting USA TODAY cover story entirely on Twitter. Topic: Is U.S. economy evolving away from capitalism? Your thoughts please.”

Back came the Robbins tweet: “Government (Gummit) controls business. I ate Chinese 2 days ago. The restaurant had 9 licenses/permits on the wall. (1of2).”

OK, sounds like Robbins is an opponent of regulation?

“US has moved to fascism- Private “ownership”, but gummit control by rules, regs, statutes, agencies. Free-market being bled out.”

Please go on.

“Observed in Decl. of Ind. [king has…] sent swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.”

Anything else?

“We may have capitalism but we no longer have free market capitalism. We have not evolved. Our system has devolved. :-)”

CEOs’ opinions regarding the fate of capitalism range widely: “US is not evolving away from capitalism, it is evolving towards a better form of it – one that is more balanced and responsible,” tweeted Nova Spivack, CEO and founder of San Francisco technology venture Radar Networks. “I am generally in favor of more regulation of giant corporations, healthcare reform, energy and financial industry oversight, etc.”

“Gov role now to correct greed driven excess in markets,” tweeted Stuart Blake, founder and CEO of legal services provider The General Counsel. “What do you think it was like as US evolved from agri econ to industrial in 1800’s? US must now evolve into global econ w/ethics.”

Some CEOs, including Hsieh, tweeted requests to be interviewed by e-mail or phone, but were told that rules were rules. Even background information was restricted to websites linked to from tweets, but there was an abundance of background information to be found. Many of the websites were found using what are known as “hashtag” searches on Twitter for #capitalism and #socialism. Those sites often leaned to one fringe or the other, but others had useful information, such as a Rasmussen survey in April that found just 53% of Americans believe capitalism is the superior economic system, although it remained solidly ahead of socialism because 27% were undecided.

Chris Jenkins, CEO of executive search firm Harrington & Reed, says the new capitalism is spelled “Capitol-ism,” due to the intervention from Washington, D.C., and he tweeted a link to his May 5 blog entry headlined “Observations on Whether We are Moving Away from Capitalism,” where he criticizes government intervention into the private sector.

“The government takes $1,000 in taxes, wastes $800 on bureaucracy and inefficiency, and pays the employee the remaining $200 of his own money,” Jenkins wrote in his blog. In a tweet he added: “Nothing like the citizens funding the government takeover of their own jobs. Feels good short term. socialism or worse long term.”

“history affirms that capitalism works but that a widespread societal quest for ‘security’ can be it’s enemy,” tweeted Mark Oakes, CEO of Concentric Security, with expertise in anti-terrorism solutions. Then, later: “In the event there was any question relative to my earlier tweets, I firmly believe capitalism will win out!”

Another blog link from Twitter suggested that a generation of investors has been lost due to the market collapse, but former GE CEO Welch tweeted to USA TODAY and his thousands of followers that he was unconcerned. “hold that thought and watch what happens when Dow goes thru 10,11,12. ‘Experts’ love to focus on today not tomorrow.”

Companies and the CEOs they hire are largely to blame for capitalism’s erosion, tweeted Alexandra Gibson, CEO of Gibson Design Management. “Bob Nardelli was a disaster @ Home Depot & then hired as head ofChrysler? Govt is bailing out bad leaders & sending message …”

“A pure Capitalistic Economy would let Chrysler fail then another company would come in and buy them for pennies on the dollar, ” tweeted Jeff Mello, co-founder of BuzzCal, a website that alerts sports fans to when their favorite teams are playing.

Morris agrees. “a huge problem is that the irresponsibiliy of those large company CEOs has painted a negative portrayal of ALL business…”

“we WILL end up paying for the free lunch we’ve been enjoying. Capitalism/entrepreneurship is in the human DNA. Drift is temporary,” tweeted Larry Strassner, CEO of Russell & Mackenna, which makes cottage-style furniture.

John Q. Public gets chance to weigh in, too

Twitter allows interviews to be conducted in private using what is known as a direct tweet, but most CEOs, including Welch and Case, had no objection to being interviewed publicly where all could read what was being said, and at times weigh in.

“maybe capitalism itself is evolving,” tweeted in Martin Montero of Austin, who describes himself as a social media practitioner, cyclist and knowledge junkie, among other things.

Mr. Case, do you care to respond to Mr. Montero? “Of course it is. Has evolved and will continue to,” tweeted Case, now CEO of Revolution.

After tweeting that the government needs an exit strategy from a necessary intervention, Case tweeted: “As we learned with Iraq, there are typically unintended consequences, and it is always easier to get in then get out.” Another tweet from Case: “So I support Obama’s economic intervention, but would be very concerned if gov’t doesn’t pull back in year or two.” CEO Jay Steinfeld tweets this warning: “So as with happiness, it takes sadness to appreciate it.Sunshine: rain. And maybe, capitalism: socialism?”

One other CEO was quiet. It might have been coincidence, but shortly after USA TODAY began reporting this story, it won over a prestigious Twitter follower: Barry Diller, CEO of IAC/InterActive, who started Fox Broadcasting.

Unsolicited, @BarryDiller was now following @jonesdel. Yet, Diller did not respond to tweeted requests for comment, and for more than a month Diller had only a single posted tweet, dated April 21.

Tweeted Diller: “I have no interest in Twitter,” and by press time @BarryDiller was nowhere to be found on Twitter.

Does he have an interest in capitalism? The answer to that might force one to pick up the phone.