Tesla CEO Elon Musk has more Twitter followers than Ford, Chevy, and Chrysler combined

Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] CEO Elon Musk approaches buzz like no other car company executive. According to Advertising Age, "Tesla Motors has no advertising, no ad agency... and that's no problem." That's right, Tesla's advertising budget is $0. In contrast, let's look at what other big automakers spend on advertising. For context, automakers typically rank as the biggest ad spenders in any industry. Here is a sampling — Chrysler: $1.97 billion, GM: $2.15 billion, and Ford: a whopping $2.56 billion. Clearly these automakers must demolish Tesla Motors on social media... right? Wrong. It turns out, shockingly, that even Tesla's CEO, Elon Musk, personally outperforms these automakers on Twitter. But that's not all.


Instagram: Forbes

Chris Kerns on Marketing Land* reports, "On Twitter, Musk (@elonmusk) is an anomaly. He not only has more followers than his own car company (@Tesla), but he also has more followers than @Ford@Chevrolet and @Chrysler— combined. His personal account gets mentioned on Twitter more often than any American car company and sees more engagement than any of them. All without the help of ad budgets and teams of social media strategists." So, let's take a look at three key Twitter tactics Musk uses to dominate social media.

Above: Elon Musk Twitter feed (light blue) crushes other automakers and even edges out his own Tesla brand (Source: Marketing Land*) 

Elon Musk social tactic #1: Make your channel a must-follow

How is Musk different than other corporate leaders on Twitter? "CEOs use their social feeds to echo press releases and share the same safe content that spreads the word but surprises no one. While these tactics are great for managing risk, they can feel sterile and foreign in a social environment. As you could probably guess, Mr. Musk heads in the other direction."

Above: Working on Top Secret Tesla Masterplan, Part 2. Hoping to publish later this week. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 10, 2016

Musk realizes that, "by sharing news on Twitter before it’s available from any other source, he makes his Twitter account a required follow for technology fans and anyone else interested in the Tesla Motors, SpaceX and SolarCity brands... corporate plans come straight from his Twitter account and out to the masses, with no press releases filtering down his tone or voice."

Elon Musk social tactic #2: Leverage the platform

Musk also avoids common pitfalls on the medium, as often a, "CEO decides he or she needs to be hip and jumps onto a platform without first understanding the parlance, culture and norms of that world. What usually results is a stiff, out-of-place message that is ripe for ridicule. How does Musk avoid that trap? By taking advantage of what makes Twitter work."


Above: Landing pic.twitter.com/dRWGyyTtCH — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 18, 2016

A quick analysis of, "his content patterns show that not only does he understand his audience, but he understands the norms of the platform. While most of his tweets (over 85 percent in the past month) have been just text, he also leverages imagery to post exclusive pictures, GIFs and videos of new technology and achievements."

Elon Musk social tactic #3: Be human

Musk's posts haven't been force fed through PR flacks and lawyers. "One of the great things about Musk’s Twitter feed is the sense of personality that comes through with almost every message. Because he is a social media regular, you don’t just get product announcements and industry news; you get a sense of the man behind the account... He’s been known to tweet pictures of dogs snuggling, jokes about his own procrastination, and let his fans in on what he’s doing behind the scenes."

Above: @elonmusk now 2Pac — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2016

He knows how to have a good time on Twitter. "Not only does Musk talk about his plans for world domination, he also brings a light-hearted approach to his social posts. He’s smart enough to build rocket ships but also recognizes that he can have fun with the public’s perception of him."

Above: Twitter profile pics Elon Musk uses — he's clearly not afraid to poke fun at himself (Source: @elonmusk)

So, even with no advertising at all, it turns out that Tesla, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, tops the list of all brands with cultural traction beating other automakers and even ranking ahead of giants like Apple, Nike, and Coca-Cola. Perhaps part of that influence can be attributed to Musk's embrace of social media channels, particularly his savvy use of Twitter. In any event, it's refreshing to see a CEO create so much buzz for his company without spending a dime on advertising.


*Source: Marketing Land