A Tweet of a $40 billion oil deal came from a most unusual source late Sunday. It said: "I want to inform my dear people that Wednesday the 12th [of May] we will be signing investments of $40 billion with oil companies from India, Japan, Spain and the U.S."
Is it true? Well, probably, considering it came from @chavezandanga, better known to the rest of the world as Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. It has been confirmed that the message did come from Chavez's Twitter certified handle, and it showed up on his 271,000 followers' feeds.
He Takes Nasty Tweets in Stride
Chavez, a master at dominating media outlets with his controversial views, is a new adopter to Twitter, but he's caught on fast. His account went live at the end of April, and he reportedly hired 200 people to review all the comments sent to his handle.
About 18% of the comments sent to him are negative and cover the gamut from human rights violations to poor economic conditions. Venezuelan officials expect the account to reach 1 million followers by the end of the month.
Chavez reportedly jumps online regularly to reply to some of the off-color comments with jokes. "I don't care, it's a form of contact with the world," he said in televised interviews.
He reportedly has more followers than anyone from Venezuela and topped the opposition TV channel Globovision, with its 237,000 followers. His translated bio says: "President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Bolivarian Soldier, Socialist and Anti-Imperialist."
Tweeting on Business and Economic Issues
Chavez's last five tweets discuss everything from his upcoming meeting with a delegation from China, to the opening of new police training centers, to the review of assembly candidates. Most of the tweets hit on business and economic issues.
Social media strategy consultant Jay Baer is surprised by Chavez's use of Twitter. "Regardless of your view of his politics, I question whether Mr. Chavez has been told about the 140 character limit," Baer says. "I'm expecting 9,231 consecutive tweets denouncing the West."
Chavez follows five people, one of whom is linked to Fidel Castro. The account is listed as reflexionfidel, and isn't certified by Twitter, although it links to a site called Reflections of Fidel.
Venezuela's immense oil reserves were basically depleted over the last several years, without any of the revenues being reinvested into new production. Now the country is looking for help from foreign investors to produce and refine the oil. The news of the oil deal came through Sunday, and DailyFinance talked to oil industry experts who say it's on the up and up.
"Yes, it's likely true," says energy economist Jim Williams. "He's been looking for partners to invest in the depleted Venezuelan oil reserves."
From Five-Hour Speeches to 140-Character Tweets
Williams said that what's most surprising about the tweet is that it fit in 140 characters or less -- given that the president's weekly radio shows drag on for five or more hours.
"Chavez has a way of making a grand entrance, and found yet another way to do it with Twitter," Williams says. "What is hard to imagine is that Chavez can say anything short enough to be appropriate for Twitter."
Social media strategist and social media author Paul Gillin is an old hand at Twitter, but was still blown away by how many followers Chavez has gotten in such a short period of time.
"It's a great approach. He's going to the people and letting the news percolate up to the media instead of the usual other way around," Gillin says. "One short tweet is getting announced to the world. It's pretty amazing."