When Facebook launched publicly in 2004, few could have predicted that it would become the important tool that it is today. In the early days there weren’t many users, and most were busy sharing status updates about what they ate for lunch or playing trivial games, rather than using the site to build businesses, network with other professionals or engage with customers.
Times have changed, and social media has become a crucial part of the business landscape. While most businesses realize that social media plays a vital role in sales and marketing functions, many leaders are just beginning recognize that social media is changing their role and how they interact with their constituents.
Collaborate, Communicate and Engage
In the past, management and leadership students learned a top-down management style, where the leader made decisions, and his or her decrees filtered down through the rest of the organization. Modern business education programs focus on a more lateral management style, in which students learn to lead in a collaborative style that recognizes employees’ unique talents and abilities.
This spirit of sharing and collaboration among leadership extends to social media. More than ever, managers are expected to collaborate, communicate and engage with others using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In fact, according to one study, more than 80 percent of people believe that having their leaders visible and active on social media gives their organization a competitive advantage over other companies.
This perception is mainly because leaders who are active on social media tend to better represent the traits modern employees expect from their leaders. Rather than the technically proficient “command and control” style leaders of the past, people now expect their leaders to be transparent, open to new perspectives and willing to experiment and change. They want to know what’s going on within their organizations and be confident that leadership will be proactive in developing responses to the challenges of the modern business environment.
Social media fits into this equation because employees often view leaders who Tweet or post regularly to be more transparent, trustworthy and courageous. Not only is the leader sharing an “insider’s perspective,” he or she is also opening the door to further engagement, from both internal and external sources. Leadership isn’t something that’s happening behind the closed doors of a corner office; it’s happening in plain view and in a collaborative manner.
Using Social Media Effectively
While most managers understand the importance of social media, many find the prospect of managing Facebook, Twitter and a blog daunting, especially given their already busy schedules. However, successfully using social media to build your leadership skills and profile is less about quantity and more about quality. Consider using social media to do some of the activities you’re already doing privately; for example, instead of emailing an interesting article to your team, share a link on Facebook or Twitter to send it to a wider audience. This offers a glimpse into your thought process or what’s on your mind, especially when you share it with a line or two about why you find it interesting or important.
You can also use social media to share good news and publicly praise your team. Adequate reward and recognition consistently rates highly as a motivator for employees, and taking your praise for a job well done to an external audience not only improves employee morale but also boosts your image as a leader who recognizes talent and hard work.
Finally, leaders can use social media to encourage collaboration and seek out new perspectives. Ask questions and look for ideas and inspiration; a Twitter follower may have an insight that you hadn’t considered before that may let you know what your audience is thinking or even help solve a sticky problem. Asking for feedback and ideas is not considered a sign of weakness, but rather it shows commitment to new perspectives which so many people value in their managers.
As social media continues to evolve, leaders will learn new ways to use it as a tool for both learning and educating others while also building their own skills and profile as leaders. By embracing it now and understanding its potential, today’s leaders will be well-positioned going forward to manage the changing cultures of their organizations and thrive in the new business environment.
About the Author: Lana Robinson holds a master’s degree in leadership. When she’s not blogging, she trains leaders in effective communication.