Tanveer Naseer

Leadership Coach, Speaker, and Writer

What Twitter Can Teach Leaders About Effective Communication

As the number of people who use social media sites continues to grow, it’s only natural that there will be more discussion and debate over how these sites are used for communication and the dissemination of information. In fact, over the last few weeks, I’ve had several discussions with friends and colleagues about how the growing popularity of Twitter might impact the way the site is used or the kind of content that users share.

Of course, one point we need to recognize is that Twitter is nothing more that a communications outlet. There’s no magical powers like that which can transform a frog into a prince at work here. Instead, this is simply another tool that allows people to exchange information and ideas, either from simply broadcasting them to a general audience, or by fostering relationships and conversations in which to transfer such information.

When viewed from this vantage point, there are some practical guidelines leaders can draw from using Twitter on how to effectively communicate with the various departments and employees within their organization.

1. Focus on the message, not the medium
Whenever a discussion arises about Twitter, invariably one criticism that surfaces is the large number of people who use the site to share various mundane details from their day. However, what we need to recognize is that this criticism has less to do with the communications platform itself as it does with how some users choose to use this site.

Similarly, with the ever-increasing rise in new communication technologies, it’s easy for leaders to get distracted by obsessing over what platform they should use to communicate with their employees, when they should be focusing instead on the information they provide. As with social media sites, it’s the information you share with your team, more than the platform you use, that will be the deciding factor in whether your communications will help your organization in reaching its objectives.

2. Praise in public, criticize in private
One thing I’ve noticed in my Twitter stream is how people enjoy sharing tweets that congratulate others on their efforts or that show appreciation for the kind words others impart to them. Even if these tweets are not directed at you, it still feels good seeing such positive comments being shared and spreading out into other people’s Twitter streams.

Now compare this to when you see someone lashing out or criticizing someone on Twitter. Even though it’s not literally happening in front of you, it still feels uncomfortable and awkward seeing this interaction happening in the public eye.

Likewise, leaders need to understand the impact of their feedback, not just on the recipient but on everyone else on the team. While criticism is a valid form of feedback, it’s important to recognize that it’s best done in private and in a manner that doesn’t make the employee feel under attack, but being given a helping hand to resolve an existing issue. It’s when things are going well that a leader should take out the bullhorn to help spread the good news as it will not only make the recipient of this praise feel good, it will also keep your team motivated by seeing that their efforts are recognized and appreciated.

3. Spend more time listening to others so you can learn and engage with them
With the exception of celebrities, the reality is that no one is interested in hearing you simply talk about yourself. Instead, if you really want to get any value out of using Twitter, you need to strike a balance between using it as a listening tool and an outlet to share your own information or ideas.

For those in leadership positions, it’s easy to fall into the trap of making all communications one-way, where the leader does all the talking while the employees simply listen and execute whatever plans the leader puts forth. However, it’s important that we not forget that our employees are not there simply to do a leader’s bidding, but to contribute their knowledge, creativity and insights to the shared purpose of the organization. Spending more time seeking, listening and incorporating their input into your plans will not only improve your company’s ability to grow, it will also build and encourage the active participation of your employees.

4. Put people first and let profits come later
Regardless of what people share on Twitter, one thing that is clear is that they’re not using this site because they want companies to try and sell them on their products or services. Rather, the majority of people are on Twitter for the opportunity to interact, learn, and help others by sharing interesting ideas, content or insights on all sorts of topics and issues. While businesses are using Twitter to connect with their target audience, the more successful ones understand that their objective in using the site should be to engage with their audience, helping them with whatever issues they might be having, and not simply using it as an outlet to push their latest advertising campaigns.

For leaders, the lesson to be found here is understanding that your team is not interested in hearing messages about how ‘buying-in’ to this project is going to result in this amount of profit for the organization. Instead, they want to see the purpose and meaning behind the venture; of how not only the company will benefit from it, but also everyone in the team in terms of their own goals.

Although there’s bound to be further discussion and debate over the future of these various social media sites as they grow and evolve, the manner in which people communicate and share ideas and information will remain consistent, providing a great resource for leaders who wish to understand how to better communicate and engage with the various employees that make up their organization.

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  1. On June 10th, 2010 at 2:31 PM Gwyn Teatro said:

    This is a great analogy! As well, how we conduct ourselves on Twitter can also portend our behaviour not only as leaders but also as individuals going about our daily life.

    Another great post, Tanveer

  2. On June 10th, 2010 at 3:29 PM Anne Perschel said:

    Tanveer – Be they great, average or less than – our minds are on the same track. Your points are well taken, and I’d like to take one ever further. You use Twitter as an example of leaders needing to use the bullhorn when things go well to boost morale.. Public praise for the one who commits the action also provides others with a strong message about what the leader values.

    Having my tweets re-tweeted is positive reinforcement. In addition, noting the pattern of what gets re-tweeted probably shapes what I tweet to some extent.

    Imagine companies with their own internal sites, sending tweets to praise and reinforce behaviors that align with company mission, values and goals. Now that’s innovation.

    Thanks for the thought food.

  3. On June 11th, 2010 at 10:12 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    @Gywn – Thanks Gwyn; I appreciate that and I’m glad you enjoyed this piece. I agree with you that how one chooses to use these sites can be very revealing, if one takes the time to listen and observe what’s being shared and how.

    @Anne – Thanks Anne; no matter what state our minds might be, I welcome having such good company.

    It’s an excellent point you bring up Anne, of how the things that get retweeted on Twitter influences over time what we share with others on this site. The idea of external influences impacting how we communicate is something I wrote about in an earlier piece “Changing our Behaviours – A Lesson From the Birds” which looked at a recent study on how noise pollution is affecting birdsong and what correlations we can draw for our own behaviours.

    That’s also an interesting idea you have about using sharing praise through company intranet outlets. I know some companies have been looking at implementing their own Facebook-style sites to encourage innovation through collaboration across various departments. I think having employees being able to congratulate team members and having that ‘retweeted’ internally would definitely be a great motivator for improving productivity and innovative drives.

    My thanks again, Gwyn and Anne, for sharing your thoughts on this piece.

  4. On June 10th, 2010 at 8:29 PM Frank Dickinson said:

    Man you have got this leadership thing down pat my friend.

    Great analogy!

  5. On June 10th, 2010 at 9:27 PM Jim Matorin said:

    Twitter is a positive tool, but really varies by demographic, thus overrated. The younger, the more gibberish. As a leader, real time, real feedback still can be achieved via classic tools – one on one, a phone call, or email. Breaks through the clutter. Authentic.

  6. On June 11th, 2010 at 10:15 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    @Frank – Thanks Frank; I appreciate that. I hadn’t expected to draw these connections between Twitter and leadership when I was having these conversations, but I’m glad that I can share this light-bulb moment of inspiration with my readers.

    @Jimmy – Hi Jimmy. See, I think your comment helps to reinforce the first point I made in this piece; that the focus shouldn’t be so much on the platform but the message. Is there extraneous fluff being shared on Twitter? Sure, but the same can be said for conversations had on public buses, in movie theatres before the film starts, etc. The key is to separate those messages from the communication platform so that we can figure out which one works best for us.

    For example, extroverted leaders would probably feel more comfortable with face-to-face conversations while an introverted leader might prefer email. There’s nothing wrong with either approach, unless that is in both cases the leader is doing all the talking and not making time to listen. Thanks to the open-nature of Twitter, we get to see first-hand what works in being able to transfer information and ideas and what approaches leave such content stuck in limbo because recipients aren’t receptive to how the message is being relayed.

    Thanks again Frank and Jimmy for your thoughts. Appreciate as always your contributions to these discussions.

  7. On June 15th, 2010 at 10:17 AM Meryl K Evans said:

    Tanveer, love the connection between good tweetin' and leadership. Every single point is a biggie for both.

  8. On June 15th, 2010 at 2:12 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Meryl; I'm glad you enjoyed it and the links between effectively using Twitter and leading others.

  9. On June 15th, 2010 at 7:46 PM Dianne Crampton said:

    I could not agree more. And, this speaks to internet blog posts and comments as well.

    For example, I recently read a review about a business book on a blog written by a business competitor that flammed a book written in language for front line employees rather than academics. The reviewer, on his blog, came across very mean spirited. It was odd behavior so I research the blogger who promotes himself to be the go-to-guy for CEO’s.

    On LinkedIn his comments are snarky. On Facebook, he has less than 40 friends.

    Putting negativity out on Twitter means it is on the internet forever. So, your advice is very sound because once negativity is launched it can reflect back on your business for years.

  10. On June 16th, 2010 at 6:08 AM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Hi Dianne,

    Thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog. It's unfortunate that some people still seem to view the various internet social platforms – social media, blogs, etc – as their own personal soapbox instead of what it should be used as – a platform to foster conversations, exchanging ideas and developing relationships that will help everyone gain new insights.

    Of course, those who choose to simply use the internet as a one-way form of communication, of talking to instead of talking with others, are welcome to do so. They'll just be missing out on the real benefits of using these communication platforms.

    Thanks again Dianne for your comment and I'm glad to hear you enjoyed this piece.

  11. On December 14th, 2010 at 3:59 AM Dana Watts said:

    Great post and connection to leadership, I will use it tomorrow as I train & introduce our administration to Twitter! Thanks.

  12. On December 14th, 2010 at 4:39 PM Tanveer Naseer said:

    Thanks Dana; I'm glad you enjoyed this piece and that it will help you train your administration on using Twitter. Would love to hear how it goes and what ideas it brought forth in your team following your presentation.

  13. On July 30th, 2012 at 9:12 PM Karen said:

    Twitter's "magical" power is that it uses the pull techique and draws people of like mind together. Twitter as a listening tool – brilliant – thank you! Your point on how some users choose to useTwitter.- it is so unlike facebook in this way I find and minute-by-minute posts of mundane grows old fast!

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