With the maturation of the major social media networks (Twitter turned 7 this year, while Facebook and LinkedIn are 9 and 10 years old respectively), social media has not only become a regular fixture in our everyday digital lives, but it’s also changed the way we communicate in terms of what we share, and how ideas move to the forefront of our collective social conscience.
Ironically, despite the reality that social media has become ingrained in the daily lives of both current employees and future workers, organizational leaders continue to overlook these important communication channels to connect, learn, and engage with those under their care. A recent study has found that less than a third of Fortune 500 CEOs are active on any given social media platform (not surprisingly, LinkedIn had the most CEO accounts, though Twitter has seen the most growth in terms of new CEO accounts).
Understandably, one major reason behind this slow adoption has to do with the ever-increasing demands for a leader’s time and resources, which can make the idea of sifting through the noise populating so many social networks seem like more of a time waster than an insightful asset to understanding the day-to-day realities of your employees and customers.
Of course, the ability of social media channels to help identify key issues and interests both with an organization’s target base as well as with their employees has often been cited as a reason for why leaders at every level should invest time in social media outlets.
However, in addition to these, there are also 3 important skills leaders can learn and develop from being active on social media; skills that social leaders have demonstrated as being critical to their organization’s success in today’s highly competitive and interconnected global economy.
1. Social leaders focus on the message, not the medium
Whenever a discussion arises about the various social media sites, one of the common criticisms that arises is how there are too many people sharing mundane details from their day for these platforms to be an informative and engaging resource. However, what we need to recognize is that this criticism has less to do with the value of these communication platforms than it does with how some users choose to use them.
Consider, for example, the annoyance of being CC’d on a email conversation thread that no longer involves you. Or attending a meeting for which you have nothing to contribute or which offers little new information for you to work with. In both these cases, we understand that the problem is not about the value of these different ways to communicate and share ideas, but with how some individuals choose to use them to converse and impart information.
Social leaders who are active on the various social media channels have learned that in order to get the real benefit from these sites you have to learn to drink from the fire hose. And that means recognizing that while there are numerous conversations, ideas, and thoughts being shared continuously throughout the day, you need to learn to let your focus drive your attention and not the other way around.
That’s why social leaders don’t direct their attention to achieving an inbox zero or creating team meetings that offer little value in terms of moving things forward. Rather, their focus is more on what information they need to provide to help their employees to keep moving forward and the best way to impart that information.
As with social media sites, it’s the information you share with your team, more than the platform you choose to use on a regular basis, that will be the deciding factor in whether your efforts will be effective in helping your employees to succeed in achieving their goals.
2. Social leaders attentively listen to others to learn and engage
Thanks to the evolution of social media, many users have begun to appreciate that if you really want enjoy the value of using the various social networks, you need to find that balance of using it as an outlet to share your own thoughts, ideas or experiences with learning and engaging with other users on what they share and discuss.
It’s a valuable lesson that leaders who regularly use social media channels have come to appreciate, recognizing how attentively listening to their employees not only allows them to understand potential problems that might arise, but also to discover untapped opportunities for their organization to grow and evolve.
There’s no question that given the faster-pace at which organizations have to operate – along with the increasingly short-term lens through which decisions are now being made – it’s becoming easier for leaders to fall into the trap of making all their communications one-way in order to expedite matters.
But that’s where social leaders have the upper edge as their active presence on social media channels serves to remind them that their employees are not there simply to do their bidding, but to contribute their own knowledge, insights, and experiences to ensure the decisions that are being made help to move their organization forward.
By spending more time listening and reflecting on what their employees have to say – and making the necessary changes to reflect the on-the-ground realities their employees face – social leaders are not only providing the right conditions to help their organization to succeed and thrive in today’s challenging market, but they’re also enabling their employees to bring their discretionary effort to that shared purpose.
3. Social leaders praise in public and criticize in private
One thing I’ve noticed in my various social networks is how the most active conversation threads revolve around congratulating someone for a recent achievement, not to mention the numerous times people express appreciation for the kind words others impart to them or for sharing their ideas with others in their respective networks.
Unfortunately, as social media sites mature, we’re also beginning to see more meltdowns, feuds and fights erupting between public individuals, people whose actions often inspire others about what’s acceptable or fashionable to do while in the public realm.
Naturally, these types of conversations get most of the attention, not only because of the participants, but because of the hostility communicated in these interactions. Of course, in these conversations, most people tend observe on the sidelines, preferring not to wade in to take sides or worse, being dragged into the conflict.
Conversely, when conversations of a positive nature arise on these social media sites, it’s typical to see many people jumping in to share the good news – regardless of whether the news comes from a celebrity figure or someone they know from their own lives. Of course, this is not surprising as joining in the celebration of a positive event allows us to look more positively on our own accomplishments and efforts, fuelling our own internal drives to keep at it to sustain these buoyant feelings.
And this is what social leaders understand – through using social media channels, they see first-hand and in real time just how powerful and influential negative events can be, even on those not directly impacted by them. Conversely, they also witness how positive events can ripple out within their connections, creating the kind of momentum and environment that encourages employees to persist despite the current challenges.
That’s why these leaders have learned to offer criticism in private and in a manner demonstrates their commitment to helping their employee to overcome the problem. They also understand how openly praising team members will motivate their employees because they see firsthand how their efforts will be recognized and appreciated by those in charge.
Being able to strike this balance in how they communicate is why so many social leaders are viewed by their employees as being firm, but fair in how they lead their organization.
There’s no question that despite its detractors, social media has joined technological developments like email and instant messaging in becoming an integral part of our digital lives, a reality that becomes more and more apparent with each new generation of workers now arriving in our workplaces.
Granted, the growth of new communication channels, not to mention the increasing complexity and uncertainty in today’s global market, puts many new challenges on leaders on how to both navigate these outlets and find the time to allocate to these resources.
However, if their organizations are to remain competitive in this new business environment, leaders need to demonstrate their intent in changing the communication paradigm – from one where communication is a one-way street downward, to a collaborative channel that seeks to engage and empower their employees to help their organization to succeed and thrive in the years ahead.