Elon Musk is one of those celebrity CEOs who evokes strong emotions from Internet commenters. Success breeds a fair amount of hate, and Musk has been very successful. It’s how he responds to the haters that makes him stand out, though. When he is attacked online, Musk usually fires right back, and he’s a textbook example of the art of dealing with lies and accusations.
Elon Musk vs. Robert Reich
In September 2020, Robert Reich, a researcher at UC Berkeley, picked a fight with Musk after he cut employee pay while Tesla stock (and Musk’s net worth) skyrocketed. On Twitter, Reich called Musk a “modern-day robber baron.” Instead of a well-polished response crafted by his PR department, Musk fired back from his own personal account, calling Reich a “modern-day moron” since Tesla employees were also given stock in the company.
Elon Musk vs. Short Sellers
Musk has had a belligerent relationship with short-sellers as well, whom he despises as a general rule. In April 2017, he trolled Tesla Bears on Twitter after Tesla stock made Tesla the second-most valuable automotive company in the U.S. After the 2021 Gamestop short squeeze, Musk again took to Twitter to condemn short-sellers as scammers who are selling something they don’t even own. Say what you will about him, but there’s no denying that Elon Musk doesn’t hold back when he feels strongly about something.
Musk is a great case study in the attitude a highly-visible leader needs to have. His communications feature hallmarks of effective thought leadership. He’s authentic, outspoken, and isn’t afraid to criticize things he finds objectionable. If someone in the media hits him, he’ll hit right back. While some may argue that Musk is Tesla and other brands might not be as successful with a brash, Musk-like CEO at the marketing helm, the fact remains that he provides a powerful example of how to successfully deal with online haters.