Andrea Learned

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Twitter Beckons, Business Leaders Go Missing


The long established brand emphasis on raising business-to-consumer awareness (B2C) has lead to neglect of the as-important opportunities in developing business-to-business (B2B) thought leadership. In a world where value-sharing and trust-building have become so crucial to communications, this oversight has left a hole of epic proportions. And, while the legal department may still have to work through their fear of the idea, a whole new level of impact and influence can be gained when a company leader dives into the world of social media.

This neglected opportunity was apparent when I participated in the GreenBiz Forum (earlier this year), a corporate sustainability gathering of passionate, dedicated and forward-thinking leaders. In many cases, to celebrate and share what these individuals were speaking about, the other social media-loving attendees and I could only point to a corporate Twitter account or website. For us, this was the definition of being hamstrung.

When deep wisdom that should be broadly heard is on the table, it is human nature to want to connect it with a human leader, not a brand name. The @BigCorporation Twitter handle and the Big Corporation site, no matter how well done, simply do not inspire the same trust or compulsion to share.

Leaders Gone Missing

Social media’s personal engagement and community building strengths lend themselves to an exchange on the human, not “brand” scale. Those energized through active use of social media often become information curators. And, counting myself as one, we are definitely driven more by excitement around the people sharing game-changing information toward a greater good. The brand then shines in reflection.

Think about it in the case of the company you represent. What would you hope for the takeaway from a leader’s speech or panel participation? The same old brand news that could be found anywhere? Or, a more intimate feeling, along the lines of: “This is a smart woman, with amazing ideas on the topic! I’m definitely going to follow her writing and sharing on Twitter.”

Michael Dell is a good example. Even though plenty of what he shares through his Twitter handle may link back to his company’s content, there is something about the personal mix and the tone. As with Dell, a company’s goal should be to ensure that a variety of audiences find what feels like an intimate and more “inside” connection through the sharing of their socially savvy leaders.

And still, leading thinkers go missing on Twitter (and most any social channel). Or worse, they are occasionally visible, as in this situation: a leader gets haphazardly “prepped” a few days before a conference appearance, but having built no social capital or experience ends up looking irrelevant. The leader’s lack of understanding, prioritizing and commitment to a consistent presence on Twitter shows. And, how.

Important social conversations around the variety of industries will continue to happen, with or without the participation of leaders — and far beyond the occasional milestone conference or announcement. By not actively being on at least one of the social channels (Twitter being my admitted bias), they miss out on benefits that may include “listening” as research on both customer and partner markets, or casual but telling discussions about future innovation and supply chain development opportunities, for example. No corporate communications/social media team could really catch and understand all of the possible nuances in the deeply experienced leader’s stead.

Lurking Encouraged

For corporate leaders today, resistance to Twitter is futile. So, if it helps convince you to just get on the platform, think about it initially in terms of information and input rather than broadcast or output. On this front, note what (now former) Twitter CEO Dick Costolo said in a recent New York Times Magazine profile:

Everyone wants to know and stay up-to-date on what’s happening in their world and be connected and know what’s going on. That’s what Twitter provides. So I think that irrespective of whether you want to tweet, everyone can get value out of Twitter right away.

The best path to a full Twitter commitment starts with the listening. From there, an individual leader is likely to learn so much (with some guidance), that he or she will be compelled to put a toe in the water toward real participation on the platform. Of course, a toe in the water often leads to the full dive, if my experience working with leaders is any indication.

If that still doesn’t convince you to invest the time to listen and eventually tweet, perhaps Henry Mintzberg’s piece on engaged management and the importance of being “connected” at the ground level will:

So let’s get beneath the cloud of leadership theory, to the ground of management practice. Maybe then more so-called leaders will do the right thing, namely cease leading by remote control, disconnected from everything except the ‘big picture.’

The Twitter Edge

Leadership is evolving fast these days, with more emphasis than ever on developing authentic engagement with the full range of stakeholders — customer to employee to supplier to investor. As such, empathy and communication skills are the new “core competencies” for leading effectively. Being on social media, and especially being proactive on Twitter, can become one of the most productive ways of achieving the now-expected level of authentic engagement toward long-term trust-building.

When leaders are regularly on Twitter — even if only to monitor key topics, there is much less chance they’ll be disconnected from important changes in consumer, vendor or market tides. Instead, those who lead through social media will notice ideas, conversations and research as they happen. Along the way, they will have prepped themselves to more nimbly and wisely grow their companies. And, they will have grown a ready community to help.

Whatever your industry, incredible Twitter conversations are happening.

Leader, we miss you.

This article first published in HuffingtonPost, March 10, 2015.

Photo thanks to Morguefile.