Tesla chief Elon Musk’s move to use his Twitter feed to cite artificial intelligence (AI) as a potential trigger for World War 3 – at a time when world tensions are flaring around weapons tests in North Korea – has come in for heavy flak at tech journal Wired.

In an opinion piece, columnist James Temperton writes: “As head of a company developing hugely complex autonomous driving systems, Musk is well placed to comment on the power and risks of AI, but taking to Twitter to make sensational proclamations isn’t the way to go. This is a complex area of research and debate. Don’t turn it into soundbites.”

Temperton adds: “The Tesla founder is a prodigious entrepreneur, but his social media soothsaying leaves a lot to be desired. Musk’s penchant for outlandish statements also serves to sensationalise important issues, remove nuance and reduce everything to soundbites. Remind you of anyone?”

Of course, leaders will always use their various social media feeds to let off opinionated steam, and – as we noted in a recent blog – may even use their firms’ brands as platforms for political causes. But as tweets and Facebook posts attract ever greater media attention, how should CEOs ensure that their social media messages are pitched correctly for their intended audiences?

“It’s the very features of social media that make it so popular,” says The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards, Kate Cooper. “It’s instant, it’s quick and you have the potential to reach so many people. But that comes with downside risks: you can’t always predict how your message is going to be received, and significantly, you can’t craft a message with the sort of finesse that you can apply to other, longer and more detailed forms of communication. In many ways, social media is a blunt instrument.”

She adds: “People make mistakes on social media, and leaders are not immune to this problem. They must seek advice from those around them on the power of this form of communication, and specialist guidance from members of their own social media teams would be of tremendous value. There is a balance to be struck between understanding the power of this medium, understanding the dangers and remaining true to your own identity.”

For further thoughts on communication issues, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Image of social media icons courtesy of Twin Design, via Shutterstock